Friday, May 18, 2012

The People Before or After Us

“I just don’t understand how he could go from dating me to dating…HER” a friend lamented to me. She never met the new girlfriend but rather was referencing an encounter she’d had on the street. “The least he could do is date someone hot, someone close to my level.”

Before you discredit the friend above as a heartless superficial bitch, be honest with yourself and admit that you’ve at some point, had disparaging thoughts about someone your ex was involved with.  Despite it being pointless and pretty unhealthy, it’s pretty common to evaluate and compare ourselves against this other person. We do this for some kind of validation of self or justification, completely ignoring the obvious factor that this measurement is purely based on aesthetics rather than the elements that make a relationship meaningful. We base a lot of the attractiveness of our former lovers current counterpart…

When we see our former paramour in the arms of someone else, it’s nearly impossible to remain utterly indifferent. There is usually some kind of emotional reaction whether it be wrenching heart break, or resentment/anger or maybe we’re happy or relieved, whatever it is, we feel something, and also, if we’re honest with ourselves, judge our “replacement.”

This led me to wonder what we want for our exes. Taking personality out of the equation, I took a straw poll from people to determine whether the common consensus was in line with the above friends, dating someone spectacularly hot or whether we’d rather see them with someone significantly less attractive than we deem ourselves. The results leaned more towards to the latter, but there were a few people who voted for someone more attractive, and a few diplomatic people who said, “I just want them to be happy.” (Healthy outlooks are boring) Most of the people also considered how the relationship ended, how they felt about their ex.

 I understand both sides of the argument: if our ex moves on with someone stunningly beautiful it, in some perverse way, makes us feel better. We not only can “understand” why they’d want them, but it also (in our minds) raises our stock value, we are suddenly in the same category as someone dazzling.  (One comment I heard was about Jennifer Aniston and Angelina Jolie, “Well I mean it’s Angelina Jolie, I’d understand if my boyfriend left me for her. Who wouldn’t? At least I lost him to someone that gorgeous, plus it would mean I was on a level close to hers.”) Dating someone less attractive is viewed as a personal insult, and we don’t want to be associated with that.

Then there are those of us who want our ex to move on with someone less attractive, either to “laugh” or feel superior, like we've won and they've failed. Like we were the best they could do, that after the breakup, they begun to slip into a downward spiral never to recover.  This gives us a kind of satisfaction and self esteem boost. We want to be the happier ones. We don’t want to feel jealous, but triumphant.

The problem with this logic is that we’re lying to ourselves and placing far too much value on the physical beauty of a person rather than concentrating on substance. Doing so devalues intellect, charisma, kindness, humor, and talent for both ourselves  and others.  We are also ignoring the fact that needing to prove our worth, wanting to “win” or be viewed as a higher commodity is just proving that we are not fully over the breakup.

I have spoken in the past about break ups and what do to when an ex moves on, and while one of the things mentioned is avoid self inflicted torture (example: facebook stalking) even the best of us slip and do it. Curiosity gets the better of us. We don’t know why, but for some reason we are driven to wanting to see our ex in their new life, particularly with the person they have chosen to share that with.

The same applies to the exes of the current relationship. It’s only natural to want to know about the life before us, but searching through old photos and notes is hardly conducive to established a healthy union.  What does it matter how happy they looked on that vacation? Or how attractive your predecessor was? It doesn’t really matter, but somehow we put emphasis on it, perhaps to ensure that we’re better than the last, that we’re safe.

I don’t have any advice on how to not partake in this, because I’m, frankly, as guilty as the rest. (I fall in the wanting my ex to date someone more attractive category) but I think it’s pretty obvious why we do it, it stems from some kind of insecurity that we have either within ourselves or with the relationship.  That or we are trying to find reason with what happened,  or even worse, trying to prove something.

 Secure and happy people don’t need to criticize others to mollify themselves. The secure and happy people are the ones who answered that they just wanted their ex to be happy, and meant it. I think all we can do is try not obsess, try to push these unhealthy thoughts out of our head when they come in. Acknowledge that they’re there and let them go. Let’s be honest here, your ex boyfriend dating someone physically unattractive doesn’t make you any more/less attractive, or better in any way, shape or form. Just like dating someone incredibly good looking won’t make everything right in the world. Won’t make you feel better about yourself, your ex, or the breakup.

What we need to do is stop putting so much value and worth on how things appear and look, and instead see them for how they are. Just as important: stop focusing on the past, stop letting previous events dictate how we feel in he present and where we’re going in the future. 


  1. I can't remember all of this stuff but I guess my personal opinion is my ex's should continue to pine for me - sobbing into their pillows nightly, their hearts should skip a beat when they see someone who looks like me on the street and never date anyone else -more attractive, or less attractive- ever again.

  2. They all have. I expect that everyone I've dated is miserable knowing they're with an imitation ;)