Update Status, Love Reunited…

Looking for love? Then look no further than your very own group of Facebook friends. We meet one couple who, thanks to social networking, are saying ‘I do’ following 14 years apart
Tuesday , 05 February 2013
Feel the love on Facebook
Feel the love on Facebook
Abi and Julian found 
each other again on Facebook
Abi and Julian found each other again on Facebook

Searching for love is big business. In the UK alone, singletons in the UK generate a whopping US$5.5bn worth of business a year searching for love. And while social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter attract their fair share of criticism, being branded intrusive, damaging to relationships and the cause of a breakdown in face to face human interaction, there is a plus side to the enormity of today’s online addiction... its success at playing cupid.
With over 500 million active users, it’s no surprise that Facebook really does have the capacity to connect. And whether you admit it or not, we are all prone to the occasional face-stalking session or search for an ex. But what is becoming increasingly common is that this harmless online flirting with an ex or friend from the past is progressing into rediscovered love or new found romance. Facebook ‘rekindlers’ as they are now dubbed are becoming more and more common, suggesting the Internet is the place to look for love. According to a British YouGov survey in 2011, one in five relationships start on the Internet, while 46 per cent of 20-40 year olds agreed it was easier to meet someone through social networking than in person.

Online ease
Thanks to the privacy of the Internet, searching out an old friend or flame online has never been easier. And with the comforting barrier of a computer screen and the power of the delete button, we don’t have to worry about nervous chatter. Instead, connecting online gives us the capacity to hone our banter on the keyboard, creating the perfect online persona to give us the confidence we need to make contact with someone from our past. In essence, social networking helps us make it over the first hurdle – getting a green light to be allowed back into another person’s life.
But at some point, we must leave behind the safety of our cosy little cyber world and, after building up the perfect new relationship online, brave reality in the outside world. And in truth, the idea of rekindling with an ex can bring up all sorts of daunting emotions and questions, from ‘Has he really changed?’ to ‘Will he hurt me again?’
Thankfully, for those getting cold feet, according to California State University’s Lost Love Project, those who rekindled a youthful romance five years or more after splitting had a 76 per cent chance of staying together, with two thirds resulting in engagement or marriage. Indeed, experts found that many of these relationships had ended, not because of unsuitability, but because of issues associated more with youth, such as moving away to study, or lack of parental approval. So, it seems  that not only is timing crucial for a successful relationship, absence really does make the heart grow fonder.

Lost love
One couple who can vouch for this, and who will no doubt be raising a glass to Mark Zuckerberg on their wedding day later this year, is 36-year-old Abi Clarke and 35-year-old Julian Wensley-Smith, who rekindled their friendship online in 2008. If it wasn’t for Facebook, these two friends, who first met at playgroup at the age of four, would not be planning nuptials, having spent 14 years of their lives apart with Abi living in Dubai and Julian in the UK.
“I cannot see how our paths would ever have crossed again if it was not for Facebook,” explains Julian. “If we had passed in the street we would have probably kept walking, as neither of us would have had the confidence to start up a conversation.”
And Abi and Julian didn’t even have the concerns of a past relationship to worry about, having only known each other as childhood friends. “Julian and I first met when I was four at our local playgroup,” recalls Abi. “We then went to infant and junior school together but were never in the same class,” she adds. “Julian was the odd boy with the heavy fringe and I was the boffin who was at school to learn and not socialise with boys. How things have changed!”
For Abi, Julian was never more than just another boy at school, but he always held a flame for Abi. “When I first knew Abi, she was the quiet girl who didn’t say much,” says Julian. “She was a pretty girl, but it wasn’t until senior school that I really noticed her. When I was about 14, we passed in the corridor and both politely said ‘hi’ and continued walking. It was the first time I looked at Abi through teenage boys’ eyes and decided she was rather scrummy. Abi doesn’t remember this!”
Julian didn’t pursue Abi and it wasn’t until a few years later, when he was 18, that his heart fluttered again. “I saw Abi from a distance at our local shops and the sight of her literally stopped me in my tracks. She was jaw droppingly beautiful with long dark hair, big brown eyes and olive skin. She walked confidently, like a girl who was going places. Abi didn’t see me that day, but I remember it vividly.”
It was to be another 14 years before the pair would reunite to become more than just friends. In 1997, Abi moved to Dubai to work as an air hostess while Julian stayed in the UK to pursue a career in healthcare. Abi fell in love with the Dubai way of life and went on to meet and marry her first husband in the city, before moving to his native New Zealand in 2003, where she gave birth to her first daughter Charlotte. It was all a far cry from her home back in Winchester and from Julian, a successful Emergency Care Practitioner.

Worlds apart
But things didn’t work out between Abi and her husband, and in the summer of 2005, she and Charlotte moved back to the UK. Once settled back into life at home, Abi logged onto Facebook, where the pair stumbled across each other and became ‘friends’ once again. At the time, Julian’s profile stated he was ‘engaged’ and living in Winchester, while Abi was dating. But a sudden change in Abi’s status in 2008 caught Julian’s attention. “I remember adding a ‘single’ status to my profile at the end of a particularly nasty break up and it prompted an immediate response from Julian,” explains Abi. “I remember seeing her status go to ‘single’ and thought this can’t be right. I messaged Abi stating she must have made a mistake and in a rather tongue-in-cheek manner, offered my position as a boyfriend until she found someone decent,” laughs Julian.
His audacity intrigued Abi and the couple began chatting, soon discovering they had similar interests and humour. Timing was also on their side, as it transpired Julian’s wedding had been cancelled. As Abi puts it, “we had something in common... Julian had lost faith in women and I had lost all hope in men!”
But this wasn’t a relationship of desperate measures. After building up a friendship on Facebook, the pair plucked up the courage to meet in person at the local pub. “I agonised for days about whether to go or not,” says Abi. A last minute text from Julian restored her faith and she realised he was different to the men she had met before. “He sold himself to me right then,” smiles Abi. “It was like I had known him all my life (which technically I had). But I wasn’t looking for the man of my dreams. He just appeared and I knew after only a month that I preferred my life with Julian in it than without.” For Julian, meeting Abi was just as he imagined. “She still looked as beautiful as I remembered,” he recalls. “After talking all afternoon, I walked home with a skip in my step and we haven’t looked back since.”

Better together
So what do the pair feel it was that finally brought them together despite knowing each other a lifetime? “Timing is everything,” answers Abi. “We reconnected at the right time in our lives. With life experiences, and especially having a child, I was forced to come out of my shell, let my guard down and be the person I am today,” she explains. “Also, I think the healthy banter which started over Facebook has cemented the relationship we have now. Its amazing how shared experiences, can cement a foundation for lasting love. Also, I don’t think Julian would have been gutsy enough to say what he said to get the ball rolling face to face!”
“I believe fate kept us apart and brought us back together at the right time,” explains Julian. “After hitting it off on Facebook, meeting up seemed like the natural thing to do and from that first date, I knew that Abi was the one I wanted to spend the rest of my life with.”
The couple’s advice to others? With the month of love upon us, why not look a bit closer to home? Look up old friends online and see if that old friendship is worth a fresh look. If the rest of the world is anything to go by, Cupid may well be hanging up his bow and arrow any day now and leaving it to the Internet to play matchmaker.  

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