Valentine's SEO: Finding an old flame online for free

Your senior prom beau? The bad boy your parents hated? The sexy nerd who stole your heart in college? We've all loved 'em and left 'em. So where are they now? Turns out most +45 women want to know -- and many are going online to find out.

In a new wowOwow poll of our audience of women aged 45 and older, as many as 60% said they had used the Internet to find -- and reconnect with -- long lost loves.

That's partly explained by the fact that baby boomers are now online like never before, thanks to the growing popularity of Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn and other social networking sites. But while many older users are more likely than youngsters to be logging on for research, e-mail and shopping, according to a recent study by PEW Research, just what -- or who- - they're researching might come as a surprise.

In our poll, respondents shared not only their favorite online tools and techniques for finding old flames, but also the intimate results of their searches. Some rekindled old friendships, fell in love all over again, and even married.

"Looked, found and now married," one respondent said. "We were engaged 20 years ago when I was a kid. I chickened out. I guess we were meant to be together later in life."

Others chose to stay distant, despite having uncovered a veritable goldmine of wealthy, former lovers. "I found my very first date," said one respondent. "He's the owner of a large construction company in Kansas, very rich." She went on to site a shopping list of successful men from her past - a prom date who is now an international lawyer, a college boyfriend who is a judge, and a few summer flings that are now a pediatrician, an oncologist, a dentist and a vascular surgeon.

Still other respondents are still searching, including one who posted this plea: "Jerry Wells from Kentucky, once stationed in Idaho in the Air Force ... and hopefully still alive and happy, would be in your 60's. Where are you?"

So where are these women looking on the Internet? In our poll, as many as 36% went no further than Google. That's certainly a good start. It's free and easy to use. Simply enter the name and the last city in which you've heard an old love interest lives. If that fails, try the city where he attended high school or college. And if that fail, try searching his parent for leads. One wOwer found her long-lost love living in his parents' old house, which he had inherited at their passing.

About 12% of respondents had signed on to Facebook, MySpace or LinkedIn to reconnect with former heartthrobs. Again, these sites are free and are user friendly. As an added advantage on these and other social networking sites, there's a good chance forgotten loves will be looking for you, too.

Respondents also made use of free online phone books, with many sites allowing you to search multiple cities for phone numbers and addresses and the added option of paying for a more thorough background search.

Beyond free Internet tools, our respondents also turned to paid membership sites like Classmates.com and Reunion.com, which connect former students from elementary grades to college. There's something fun - romantic and otherwise - in tracking down friends from Chemistry class, if not someone you shared chemistry with.

Similarly, for those from military families, Military Brats Registry offers a comprehensive database of people raised on bases at home or overseas.

Be warned, though. Even with these and other tools, many respondents said they came up empty, and even a bit sadder for having tried to reach out and failed -- even if it's sometimes for the best. Taking solice in a Garth Brooks song, one respondent resigned herself to the notion that "God's greatest gifts are unanswered prayers."

Deborah Barrow is the Editor-in-Chief of wowOwow.

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