The Sunday Telegraph - Sunday
The Midults: I don’t want my ex-husband back – so why am I obsessed with his new girlfriend?
QMy ex-husband’s new girlfriend is incredibly successful and looks (from the social-media stalking I’ve done) super-stylish and popular. I don’t want him back – he was controlling, unfaithful and not nice to me – but I’m getting a bit obsessed with her, and it’s making 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. It feels compulsive, but necessary – which I know is mad. What do I do?
AFrankly, you would be weirder if you weren’t curious. You’re having a wallow, and you’re allowed to have a wallow. We know plenty of happily married people who still check up on their first boyfriend’s wives out of nosiness. In fact, as we were writing this, we both just looked up ours. Unedifying. And yet… compelling. Why? Because we are human beings with all the greed and frailty that entails.
We’re all nosy, and social media has over-empowered that part of us. You’re not hurting anyone (except, potentially, yourself), and sooner or later, you will hit a wall: all the Google searches, the social-media drill-downs, the friends sent on information-gathering missions will glean nothing new.
Remember that things are never the way they seem on social media. You know this. You are measuring yourself against a curated ghost.
There she is in glorious, stylish, popular, successful Technicolor; a reflection of your failure, all wrapped up in a neat Instagram package with a glossy Valencia filter. And so you look at the information you have about this woman and wonder: if you had been more of all the things you see in her, would your husband have been so controlling, unfaithful and unkind? If you were more like her, would the life you once envisaged for yourself with him still be in play? (Though to be honest, it hardly sounds as though, for all her accomplishments, she has won herself a prince: cruelty is cruelty, and the details you furnished us with in your longer letter suggest this is a man with plenty of that. Lucky her.)
There is no set timeline on how sad one feels about the end of a marriage, even if it was a marriage you couldn’t stay in. Perhaps you need to take some time to focus on grieving the end of this relationship and what it did to you. Sometimes, the most shocking thing about the end of a bad relationship isn’t losing the person, it’s the sense that you have lost your identity. In this context, the cardboardcutout version of the new girlfriend might seem more real to you than you do to yourself. Until recently, you may have defined yourself by your relationship and the life you had all set up and laid out in front of you. Suddenly, your choices have come down on you, pressing all the bruises and the vulnerable bits, and you are forced to make a hard reset.
You do not want him back, but that doesn’t mean you are not heartbroken. Do not underestimate the extent to which you are having to rebuild after spending years with someone who took every opportunity to chip away at your self-worth. And so, adding to the heartbreak is the realisation that you were reduced by this dynamic and that, by looking at her, you are somehow still looking to him for validation.
Some of this is familiar pain; the pain you felt when you were being controlled by him. Her existence isn’t making you feel bad about you; the residue of how you felt when you were with this man is making you feel bad about you. And, ultimately, you are now making you feel bad about you. It’s a curious self-flagellation. If you can confidently walk away from your fixation, then it means it’s definitely over. And there are lots of layers of acceptance in that.
Look after yourself. Be gentle with yourself. This too shall pass. But do talk. Be honest with those closest to you. Laugh about your current, stalkerish tendencies. If we were betting women, we would gamble that you are unlikely to turn into a Single White Female and get all murdery and mad. Do not let this fixation become another stick to beat yourself with; another reason to feel ashamed. If you hide it, it may grow in the dark like a fungus. If you laugh at it, how can it survive? How dangerous can it become?
But take your time to process this huge loss and change. You could have a look at The Bridge, Donna Lancaster’s excellent book about dealing with grief and heartbreak, and take yourself through a few of the exercises, so you can be assured that you are making progress on the path to freedom. Because that is what lies ahead: delicious freedom. It may not happen overnight, Fixated, but it’s waiting for you.
Write to us
Do you have a dilemma that you’re grappling with? Email Annabel and Emilie on themidults@ telegraph.co.uk. All questions are kept anonymous. They are unable to reply personally