Why do we care who our exes date? Why does it burn us up that they decide to date someone that we just deem so inappropriate for them? To begin with, it’s clearly none of our business, but of course that won’t stop us from having an opinion. Joe Jackson wouldn’t have written his famous song “Is She Really Going out with Him?” if this weren’t a common phenomenon.
Ostensibly we have the excuse of the wellbeing of our kids, yet let’s be honest: that’s only part of the equation. I find myself judging the new girlfriends of ex lovers as well, and we have no offspring in common.
I think there is an element of pride involved here. I remember when I was in college, and an ex boyfriend told me that he was dating someone new. I was shocked at his choice. She was a heavy-drinking tomboy, whom I deemed crass and masculine. In my youthful arrogance and ignorance, I considered her beneath me. I felt distressed at the thought that he liked us both, fearing that revealed something negative about me. Instead, what it really revealed is how different he and I were. I was more of a black-wearing, feminist intellectual, and he liked to drink beers in the basement of his all-male eating club. While I was not only wrong to judge her, I also later realized that I was kidding myself that he and I had anything in common other than sexual attraction.
Nevertheless, often our exes’ new girlfriends bring out in us deep-seated fears of inadequacy. That’s why so many of us judge them for dating much younger women. It highlights our vulnerability over the marching of time. We’d all like to look how we did in our twenties. When my ex started dating his current girlfriend, she had the exact same pixie haircut that I did when we met. Even my ex admitted that there was an uncanny resemblance between us. We shared a laugh over how he was unconsciously dating a young Molly.
Yet frequently we seek out people who are the exact opposite of our exes, hoping to have a brand-new experience and outcome. My ex is a 5’3” Puerto Rican with the passion and drama that are often associated with the Latino culture. The first person I dated when we split was a very tall, white guy who never got ruffled about anything and had little affect. I learned a lot from him, including that what I thought was an inherent part of my own personality was really part of a dynamic that I had built for 13 years with my ex.
However, sometimes we even go back to people who have the same issues as our exes, hopefully to get them right the second time around. My ex was appalled about some of the characteristics that a new boyfriend had at the time because they had been qualities that had bothered me about him. Yet in this new guy, they were more palatable, because he also had an outgoing, magnetic, social personality that my ex never did. And in the process of dating him, I learned how to deal with some of those issues better. It was a kind of opportunity to learn from the mistakes that I made with my ex husband.
When I look at my own choices, I realize then that the people that I date are not a reflection on my ex. While there are things that I want that are polar opposite from him, I also have come to admit that he had a lot of the qualities that I needed and still need in a partner.
So now when I am tempted to shake my head in disbelief over my exes’ choices of new mates and start changing the pronouns of Joe Jackson’s song, I ask myself to try to be objective and see what how they might benefit from the partnership. For example, my ex husband’s girlfriend is much more temperamentally suited to him because she has a similar emotional nature. That doesn’t mean that there is something lacking in me. It simply means that he has someone that understands and relates to him better.
As my yoga teacher often says, “Stay on your own mat.” There is no need to get our panties in a bind and compare ourselves to the new girlfriends (or boyfriends) of our exes. Like I said in my last post (this must be my current theme), self-acceptance is the key to finding happiness…and the right partner.