Typically, the retrosexual must be 25 or older, because true retrosexing calls for some degree of reconnection or rediscovery, not to mention experience. Retrosexing is more common in large cities, where the chances of randomly bumping into an old friend or lover are always higher.
The popularity of social-networking sites — okay, really just Facebook — has made retrosexing all the easier. Whereas potential retros used to have to wait for their five- or 10-year high-school reunions to have old acquaintances fall into their lap, now they can simply search Facebook for high-school classmates and fellow college alumni, and re-establish contact without too much gumshoeing.
Why we turn back
Finding each other on Facebook might be how it starts. But how does retrosexualism gain traction, prompting the transition from innocent reunion to romantic attraction?
Consider Gillian and Chad, both 26, who never dated, but were part of the same circle of friends in high school. Their fledgling relationship epitomizes the most common type of retrosexualism: now that they're older, they're reconsidering a previously unexplored romance.
After graduating high school, they ended up at different colleges and lived for several years in different cities. They saw each other occasionally over the years, but neither one ever contemplated romance. Then, about a year ago, both of them ended up in New York City, where they started seeing more of each other in larger groups, gradually planning one-on-one meet-ups. As they became familiar with each other's adult self, Gillian and Chad increasingly drew nearer. Recently, they started dating. And while a romance when they were younger would have been unlikely (she was a bit too serious for his class-clown self), Gillian thinks she knows why she went retro.
"As we get older," she wrote in an e-mail, "it becomes easier to retrosex . . . with old friends, because we've more or less finished 'growing up' and have less to prove to each other about our lives outside of high school. I also think we're more likely to be impressed by our high school acquaintances . . . because we're often surprised by their accomplishments. It's like, one day you meet somebody, and they're no longer the dork or loser or loudmouth in high school — they're a professional man. Which can be intriguing and appealing."
(The reverse can hold true, too. That guy who was hot 10 years ago might not have held onto his good looks, yet somehow he hasn't lost his appeal, because you're "still seeing them through the lens of their high-school appearance and persona," says another occasional retrosexual, 26-year-old Sarah.)
Regardless, it's easy to find yourself falling for someone with whom you share a history, whether that history was meaningful (you were involved) or fleeting (you were in the same biology class).
Gillian, who has had two retrosexual encounters over the past few years, describes the strange intimacy of hooking up with someone you knew as a teenager: "There's a level of familiarity . . . that can actually make things awkward at first. Like, you're seeing this guy who you've gone through so many years with, but now you're both naked. [It] can be almost comical. . . . But it can also be amazing, because there's this sense of connection that, although it might not be a true love connection, is unique in that there's a finite number of people in the world you knew in the high-school context." (For Chad's thoughts about all this, keep reading.)