October 6, 2008

Cyber Reunions: Web Makes It Easier to Reconnect With Your Past

By Jessica Yadegaran

It was the first message Marlee Wallingford ever received on Facebook. And it was a simple one: "Did you go to Salisbury Central School in 1968?"

She did, in fact, attend that elementary school in Lakeville, Conn. The message was from Mark Jackson, an admirer of Wallingford's when she was in fifth grade. He was a third-grader who liked to imagine they "had a moment" when she ran into him playing tag 40 years ago.

"I never forgot her name," Jackson says via e-mail from New York City. "She was one of those girls who the boys talk about as the prettiest. Every guy can name that girl in his life, and always wonders what she got up to. So I had to check. Facebook makes these kinds of curious inquiries possible in ways that couldn't have previously happened without the technology."

Wallingford, who now lives in Walnut Creek, was tickled to reconnect. Thanks to the Internet, reunions like this are almost easier than meeting local friends for coffee. From Facebook and MySpace to Linked In and good-old-fashioned Google searches, it seems everyone is reuniting with war buddies, old flames and childhood friends. Experts say rekindled friendships are positive, powerful and remind us of our roots.

"These connections are important because many of us feel so disconnected to our past," says San Francisco dating coach Annie Gleason of Get a Love Life. "It gives us the option of keeping up and reconnecting at a time when our lives converge again -- for example, when we move, marry, retire, have kids or get divorced. We live in a fragmented world where friendships are often transient, and it gives us a sense of continuity."

But when there's a shot at romance , you have to be just as cautious as you would be with anyone you meet online, Gleason says. Wallingford's cyberman is happily engaged. But, often, when people find old flames it's not what it was or what they think it should be, Gleason says. "You've got to approach it in a realistic kind of way so you're not making up a story about them," she adds. "Navigate it as if you're meeting up with an old, dear friend."

School rides

That's how Gleason approached a reunion with a friend she'd lost touch with after high school. She always wondered what happened to Erik, the guy who gave her rides to and from school in Santa Barbara on his motorcycle. A 15-minute Google search nearly 10 years ago revealed that Erik had settled in Oakland and played fiddle in the local contra dance community. Before she knew it, they were meeting for dinner. He told her she was his first love.

"I had no clue," she says. "But that didn't come back for us."

Gleason and Erik have kept in touch casually since then. Other people's reunions fuel closer friendships. Chloe Hedden of Oakland found and met up with her college friend, Joey, at Burning Man this summer. They hadn't spoken or seen each other in five years. In fact, in the past month, 15 people from elementary school have "friended" Hedden on Facebook, she says.

"If they live in the Bay Area I've definitely made a point to get together with them," Hedden says.

Lia Fischer and Joyia Bryant have met up for lunch twice since Bryant found Fischer on Facebook a month ago. The women went to elementary school together in Redwood City. After eighth grade, however, Fischer switched schools and they lost touch. The reunion has brought back positive memories: Family hikes. Slumber parties. Playing with Bryant's pet mice and bunnies. Here's a good one: Fischer and her dad used to say the word "beautiful" in an exaggerated, deep voice.

"To this day, my mom and I say it the same way," says Bryant, who now lives in San Carlos. "It really stuck with us."

Fischer's family was an early proponent of e-mail and the Internet, and Bryant was there when they got Prodigy online servivce. As a 10-year-old, she thought Fischer was checking the mailbox in front of her house.

"When you find a childhood friend, it reminds you of home and youtvh and friendship," says Fischer, who lives in San Francisco. "It's fun."

Long-lost daughter

Sometimes, it's life-changing. Dena Heath of Walnut Creek helped her dying sister locate a daughter she'd given birth to and put up for adoption 33 years ago. It took Heath two years of Google searches, but she eventually located her niece, Aimee, a physician living in San Diego. They've seen each other several times since that reunion five years ago.

"She's come up to meet all her cousins and aunts and uncles," Heath says. "I flew down for her baby shower. She's a wonderful woman."

The reunion motivated Heath's brother, Mike, to search for a child he fathered back in 1964. They spent endless nights on the Internet until they finally found Barbara and reunited with her three years ago.

"They're absolutely best friends now," Heath says. "I can't tell you the impact this has had on our family. I was just searching and had no idea where this rabbit trail would lead me."

Reach Jessica Yadegaran at 925-943-8155 or [email protected]

Originally published by Jessica Yadegaran, Contra Costa Times.

(c) 2008 Oakland Tribune. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.