“I don’t want my ex-husband back, so why am I obsessed with his new girlfriend?”

“I don’t want my ex-husband back, so why am I obsessed with his new girlfriend?”

“I don’t want my ex-husband back, so why am I obsessed with his new girlfriend?”

'I'm becoming a bit obsessed with her, and it makes me feel bad about my abilities' - R.Fresson/A Human Agency

“I’m becoming a bit obsessed with her, and it makes me feel bad about my abilities” – R.Fresson/A Human Agency

Dear A&E

My ex husband’s new girlfriend is incredibly successful and seems (from the social media stalking I’ve done) super stylish and popular. I don’t want him back – he was bossy, unfaithful, and unkind to me – but I’m becoming a bit obsessed with her, and it makes me feel bad about my abilities, my choices, and my life in general.

I can’t stop asking people about her and googling her and everyone around her. Sounds compulsive, but necessary, which I know is insane. What should I do?

– Fixed

Dear Fixed,

Frankly, you’d be weirder if you weren’t curious. You are splashing around and you are allowed to splash around. We know plenty of happily married people who still check on their first boyfriend’s wives for snoopers. In fact, as we typed this, we both just looked for ours. Not very uplifting. And yet… compelling. Why? Because we are human beings with all the greed and fragility that that entails.

We are all nosy and social media has empowered that part of us. You’re not hurting anyone (except, potentially, yourself) and sooner or later you’re going to hit a wall: all the Google searches, the social media drill-downs, the friends sent on intelligence-gathering missions don’t they will reap nothing new.

Remember that things are never what they seem on social media. You know it. You are measuring yourself against a groomed ghost.

Here she is in Technicolor glorious, elegant, popular and successful; a reflection of your failure, all wrapped up in a nice Instagram package with a polished Valencia filter. And so you look at the information you have about this woman and you ask yourself: If you were more than all the things you see in her, would your husband have been so bossy and unfaithful and rude? If you were more like her, would the life you once envisioned with him still be at stake? (Although to be fair, it hardly seems as though, for all her accomplishments, she has earned herself a prince: cruelty is cruelty, and the details you gave us in your longer letter suggest that this is a man with much of that .Lucky his.)

There is no set timeline for how sad one feels about the end of a marriage, even if it were a marriage one could not stay in. Perhaps you need to take some time to focus on grieving the end of this relationship and what it has done to you. Sometimes, the most shocking thing about the end of a bad relationship isn’t losing the person, it’s the feeling that you’ve lost your identity. In this context, the cardboard cut-out version of the new girlfriend may seem more real than it seems to you. Until recently, you may have defined yourself based on your relationship and the life you had organized and laid out in front of you. Suddenly, your choices have come crashing down on you, crushing all the bruises and vulnerable parts, and you’re forced to do a hard reset.

You don’t want him back, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t heartbroken. Don’t underestimate the extent to which you have to rebuild after spending years with someone who took every opportunity to erode your self-esteem. And so, adding to the heartbreak is the realization that you’ve been reduced by this dynamic and that, looking at it, you’re still somehow looking to him for validation. Part of this is family pain; the pain you felt when you were controlled by him. His existence doesn’t make you feel bad for yourself; the residue of how you felt when you were with this man is making you feel bad for yourself. And, ultimately, now you’re making yourself feel bad for yourself. It is a curious self-flagellation. If you can confidently walk away from your fixation, it means it’s definitely over. And there are many levels of acceptance to that.

Take care of yourself. Be kind to yourself. This too must pass. But he speaks. Be honest with those closest to you. Laugh at your current stalker tendencies. If we were betting on women, we’d bet you’re unlikely to turn into a single white woman and go all murderous and crazy. Don’t let this fixation become another stick to beat yourself with; one more reason to be ashamed. If you hide it, it could grow in the dark like a mushroom. If you laugh at it, how can it survive? How dangerous can it get?

But take your time to process this huge loss and change. You might want to check out The Bridge, Donna Lancaster’s excellent book on coping with pain and heartbreak, and get yourself done some of the exercises, so you can be sure you’re making progress on the path to freedom. Because this is what awaits us: delicious freedom. It might not happen overnight, Fixed, but it’s waiting for you.

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