Pre-internet and social media, to know what your ex or their current partner was up to, you had to become a stalker. You had to be prepared to nose around extensively in their lives, and this was a signpost for recognising obsession. The idea of following someone or making a nuisance out of yourself put a boundary in place. It either forced you to start grieving or left you relying on your imagination. And the latter in and of itself often became a signpost to start grieving too.
Of course, now you can make yourself suffer just by peeking at their social media each day. Or it could be intermittent torture. You know, where you steer clear for weeks or months on end only to cave and have a ‘quick peek’. Maybe you were having a rough day or feeling nostalgic, so you scratched the itch and promptly felt wounded.
When you see that your ex or their new partner appear to be so happy, so moved on, so not suffering over you, you feel rejected. Why them and not me? What was wrong with me that I couldn’t be treated like [their new partner]? How are they so happy, so ‘couply’ when I could barely get them to act half decent? How come they’re going to museums and farmers markets? They never did stuff like that with me! They’re already hanging together at family events? It took three years for me to be invited to something! They’re quarantining together? How is that even possible when they never wanted to move in with me?
Let’s get something clear: Social media apps like Instgram, Tik-Tok and Facebook provide snapshots of people’s lives, including made-up and exaggerated ones.
Our usage of it, including our perception of other people’s happiness, is often more about what we project, not reality. The less we actually know a person or the more we envy or even hate them, the less context we have.
I know somebody who posted all sorts of pics of the things her now-ex did for her. The treats, the trips, their seemingly perfect life and the declarations of love and being “together forever” filled their socials. So you can imagine people’s surprise when she wound up in the newspaper talking about how he’d beaten her black and blue.
The question you need to ask yourself when you’re comparing yourself to snapshots of an ex and their new partner’s life is: Why does it matter?
Why do you need to convince yourself that someone who clearly didn’t meet your needs and treat you with love, care, trust and respect is treating someone else ‘better’ than you?
Examine what you are getting out of this. What’s the hidden agenda? What’s the payoff? Why would you deliberately seek out ways to make you feel inadequate and to create the picture of your ex being superior and super special? Why are you trying to make the outcome of the relationship the fault of your worthiness? Who and what does this person or the feelings about them remind you of from the past?
And no, you don’t have the full picture of what’s going on, but here’s something I know to be true:
Much of the time, our pain over someone else seemingly getting a ‘better’ version of our ex in a ‘better’ relationship is about us confronting how little we settled for and for how long.
Sham relationship or not, we’re wounded by how little crumbs we settled for. And even if in the cold light of day, our ex hasn’t actually spontaneously combusted into The Perfect Partner TM, we have to recognise that we did not come from a place of treating and regarding ourselves with love, care, trust and respect.
We resent, for instance, their new partner getting our ex at a museum or doing family outings or whatever. Sure, we wanted that, but we never really lived being that person. We shape-shifted, morphed and adapted to accommodate our ex. This meant that even the slightest hint of their discontent, real or imagined, caused us to shut down our needs and wants. Hell, we weren’t actually ever trying to be us and lived in a near-constant state of anxiety. We operated off of the premise that if we were ourselves, if we had standards, if we said no, we wouldn’t have a relationship, so some crumbs were better than no crumbs.
It galls us that we were actually OK with waiting three years or whatever, when someone else is like, ‘Nah, I do that kind of thing in the first few months.’
When we’ve told ourselves that something is wrong, not possible, that there’s something wrong with us, and then we see that this isn’t the case, it hurts. It pisses us off that even if it’s still crumbs in the grander scheme of things, we were willing to settle for less crumbs than someone else. And now we feel shortchanged. It’s like ‘But if you could give more crumbs, why did you only give me what you did?’ Um, it’s still crumbs!
Relationships are co-created. Their new partner hasn’t taken our ‘slot‘. Whatever our relationship is or was is about how each person entered into it and showed up. All humans need to be in relationships where they can grow, where they can break out of old patterns. We have a right to stop settling for less from ourselves and others, as do they.
We actually don’t know how ‘happy’ or ‘better’ or whatever our ex is with their new partner. What we do know is that we definitely settled for less than love, care, trust and respect–and that’s the real problem, not what our ex does with someone else. We must address why we settled for less so that we don’t have to be in that place again. Grieving the loss of the relationship, being honest about our anxiety and what we’ve avoided, will help to set us free.