Old Flames: Are We Playing With Fire?

05/26/2015 04:56 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2016

A while back I posed a question to the people on my blog's Facebook page. I asked about the intelligence of meeting up with an old flame, who is now married. I said I was asking for a friend but I'm sure they are all smart enough to know I was asking for me.

Old Flame is my college boyfriend. Our relationship lasted several years, through college and both of us taking different paths afterwards: he joined the Navy like his father and brother before him and ended up in Hawaii, I became a flight attendant and moved from Minneapolis to Detroit. We did the long-distance thing for several months before I decided to end it, citing the difficulties of keeping love alive with thousands of miles between us. And that was that, until a couple decades later when social media invaded our lives

A lot had happened during those years: Being a flight attendant wasn't the thrill I'd expected, and I moved back to Minnesota where I settled on a career in retail. I'd been married for 13 years, had four children and gone through a harrowing divorce which made life very interesting for a while. He'd waited longer, finally settling down in a neighboring Minneapolis suburb with his wife and young children.

He sent me a friend request on Facebook a few years ago and on occasion, we exchanged messages. Nothing flirtatious, nothing scandalous. Lots of laughing about old times, old jokes. Old lives. Sometimes our talks went late into the evening, though. A cocktail or two would be had, and memories would bubble up to the surface, some of them still tender even after the passage of so much time. One recent chat turned into an exchange of YouTube videos of songs that reminded us of each other. That night, I fell asleep listening to INXS and dreamed about the 80's. During a recent conversation, he suggested meeting for lunch somewhere, to catch up. In my naive mind, it was no big thing. We even joked about how different we look now. But I have a habit of being blissfully oblivious as to what constitutes a societal no-no. So I checked with my best friend/moral compass, who pretty much gave me an OH HELLS NO before I could even finish the sentence.

"Well" I thought to myself. "She's married. I should check with some of my single people." And that's why I asked my readers, since many of them are in the same divorced boat with me.

I was being vague with my readers because I'm pretty sure Old Flame reads my blog and I didn't want to be rude. Also, I'm a Minnesotan who is also a Libra and terrified of offending people.

The response was, like with my friend, a loud and clear NO FREAKING WAY regarding getting together with Old Flame. Regardless of intentions, no matter how innocent it may seem, most of my awesome readers felt it was a terrible, no good, very bad idea.

We ended up not meeting, and communication has dwindled. Which is probably a good thing, right? RIGHT?? See, I am so clueless. It's frustrating.

So many of the comments were disparaging of my Old Flame. His character was questioned, people discussed the integrity of his marriage. "No happily married man communicates with old lovers. Period." I understood the emotions behind these statements, after all, I write a lot about infidelity and cheating, so it makes sense that most of my readers have experienced it. We are a cagey bunch, you know. Once bitten, twice shy and all that jazz.

It made me wonder if it's a no-no to be friends with former loves only if your marital status isn't the same? Were my readers questioning his motives simply because I'm single? If I were happily married, as he stated he is, would it make things less shady?

One thing I did mention on the Facebook post was how I'm tired of getting attention from married guys. My flirt-o-meter may be broken, but my brain isn' when I get a text or a message from one of the married men, I know exactly what their intentions are (for the record, Old Flame never went there). It's not like my phone is buzzing with texts from married guys all the live long day, but it happens now and again. I really do feel as though I have a Married Man Magnet stuck to my forehead at times.

A couple of the comments addressed this particular issue, and what they said about it has been rattling around in my brain ever since. One woman suggested maybe the reason the married fellas come sniffing around is because THOSE are the men I'm giving attention first I was all "Bitch! Please." That stung, lady.

But then I read another comment and that really woke me up. I felt as though she could see into my head, and that freaked me out more than a little bit.


Gah. Could this be me? It's true...I adore most of my friend's husbands. But I don't feel like I give them any more, or special, attention. To me they are more like nice big brothers. And in that case, maybe what this commenter said about them being "easier to talk to" and "safe" does apply to this situation. Maybe I really am more comfortable opening up to them. Being my true self. Because there is zero risk involved.

As far as Old Flame is concerned? That's where it gets murky. Whether or not I was/am ready to admit it, there probably was a little (okay, some amount greater than a little) "what if" thrown into all of the warm fuzzies one experiences when taking a walk down memory lane.

What if that was my one real love and I threw it all away 25 years ago?
What if we only get a certain number of chances at this relationship thing and I burned through all of mine in the first half of my life?
What if I am destined to be everyone's perpetually single Aunt Jenny, showing up at parties wearing chunky necklaces and Eileen Fisher tunics, carrying a tub of my famous spinach dip?

In hindsight, I am so glad the meeting with Old Flame never took place. Looking at it from other perspectives made it perfectly clear: the past needs to stay in the past. What really clinched it was looking at the whole thing from a wifely viewpoint, one I'm not used to peering through anymore. I had to dredge up those old feelings, remember what it felt like to be betrothed and how scary it was when that bond was threatened by some force, real or imagined.

It sucked. It made me go back to those awful nights when I couldn't get a hold of my then-husband. Standing out in the front yard, leaving slightly desperate, verge of weeping messages. Finding receipts for dinners that he brushed off as "work things". That time he misplaced his cellphone and the look of terror in his eyes when I picked up my phone and said, "Here, I'll call it." He batted that thing out of my hands so fast, you'd have thought it was on fire. "No!!" he cried out. "Don't call it!"

My marriage died slowly, day by day over several months. Had I known it was in trouble, I think I would have been a bit more suspicious about things like cell phones left who knows where and receipts from steakhouses showing two dinners and two bottles of wine were purchased for a "work thing".

I know for damn sure my worry flags would have sprung to life if I'd discovered my hubby was chatting online with his old, very serious, girlfriend. The flags would have jumped off their poles and slapped me upside my dumb, blind head if I'd found out he was planning on meeting her.

So. Yeah. Probably a good thing that we didn't meet.

I'd rather keep my memories and my what ifs somewhere safe, where they won't do any harm to me, or anyone else.

Jennifer blogs about life after divorce at The Happy Hausfrau. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.