PRESIDENT OF THE SWEETIE OF THE MONTH CLUB:
I’m dating a guy who is really super great, and we have a really solid relationship. He has a large group of friends from his hometown in the city that we live in, and they’re a really fun group of people. Unfortunately, one of those people is his ex girlfriend who he dated for a number of years. Things ended badly between them so he doesn’t really like to hang out with her, but a lot of people in the friend group are still close with her, including even the significant others of the core group. This means sometimes it’s unavoidable that she’s around.
I’ve only been around her a few times, and I really hated it. The whole time I felt very self conscious and anxious. For some reason I’ve fixated on the idea of comparing myself to her, and the fantasy that everyone in the friend group is comparing me to her. I wonder if people think she’s nicer, funnier, cooler, prettier, etc than me. I’m naturally a kind of shy and reserved person, and she’s very fun and outgoing which makes the situation even worse.
I want to talk to my boyfriend about how I’m feeling about this situation, but I’m not sure how. I previously told him that I felt fine when she was around, so this will involve me telling him that I wasn’t truthful in the past. Obviously I wouldn’t want to do something so drastic as to ban him from seeing her, she’s part of the friend group after all, but I want to navigate this in a way that’s fair to me as well. Also part of me wonders if I’m having a complete overreaction and that I need to calm down. People move on to date others and stay friends with their ex’s, right? And those new significant others don’t pitch a fit about it, right?
There are so many weird stock images of men with two girlfriends where do I begin????
Do not waste any more time beating yourself up for feeling jealous or competitive. Stop that. That will not help you and we all feel that way from time to time—sometimes for weeks or months on end. Certain people just push all of our insecurity buttons making it hard to ever be around them without a gut deep feeling of burning envy. It happens. It doesn’t mean that you’re a bitch or that you’re tearing other women down and don’t want good things for women as a whole. That said, it also doesn’t mean that you need to act on those feelings of insecurity and comparison.
Just because you feel a certain way does not require you to act on those feelings.
It’s ok to feel something that you deem “unreasonable.” Of course, feeling jealousy or envy rarely is totally without reason at all, unfortunately that reason is so frequently internal rather than external. That is to say that this woman does not seem to be trying to make you feel bad, nor does she or your boyfriend seem interested in one another. This leaves one culprit for your seething: your insecurity. WHICH BLOWS BECAUSE WHEN THINGS SUCK IT SHOULD ALWAYS BE SOMEONE ELSE’S FAULT. And it’s not your fault per se, but it is a personal, internal problem, because again she has done nothing save for the unforgivable crime of having a personality that you wish you had and existing.
Your work is two (or-more)-fold: firstly, you need to figure out what it is about her that makes your skin itch with envy. I’d turn to writing for this and make a list or two of things about her which make you feel bad. And then take her out of the equation. For example: It’s not that she’s outgoing that bothers you, it’s that you’re insecure about being shy. It’s not that she’s cool, it’s that you’re worried about impressing people. Try to tease out what you’re worried about, what scares you.
Secondly, you need to figure out what to do with these insecurities that is actually productive and helpful for you. (Placing them in your boyfriend’s ex’s lap is neither). That may be new boundaries for yourself (getting a heads up if she’s going to be at an event); that may be therapy (a strong recommendation of mine if you’re this hurt by an ex of his that isn’t doing anything); it may be a conversation with your boyfriend where you explicitly ask for what you need to hear from him from time to time.
I think you should start by talking to your boyfriend so he’s on board. Here’s what I would say (but you’re brilliant and you’ll nail it on your own, I’m sure): “Look, I wish this weren’t the case, but I find myself feeling insecure around your ex. I’m going to start working on it, because I know this is my thing to own. I’m bringing this up so that you and I can both know what’s happening when we see her, not because I want you to change your behavior. I know you aren’t interested in her, and that’s not my concern. When I’m around her I find myself getting anxious and comparing myself to her, which may not be reasonable, but it’s what’s happening right now for me. I just need you to back me on this so that if I leave a party early because I ‘don’t feel well’ or if I’m a bit more withdrawn after we hang out, you’ll know why.”
Once you’ve laid that out, it might help to think about what support your boyfriend can provide that would feel good, since we all like doing things for the people we love to make them feel better. “One thing is that I feel like I’m not as outgoing as she is, and that may not bother you, but it bothers me sometimes. If you can not leave me alone at parties where I don’t know anyone, that would help.” Or, “Can you remind me that you love me occasionally by doing X, Y, or Z?”
Simply put, this is not a you versus her problem. This is a you versus your anxiety problem. And if your boyfriend is a big sweetie pie—as he is required to be if he’s going to date you—he’ll be there and be supportive and you guys will find good ways to navigate this together.