My Girlfriend's Ex And I: The Woes Of Online Stalking
Dissecting whether late-night stalking my partner's ex is a" is-she-prettier-than-me" investigation, or something else all together.
The Female Gays is a monthly column about queer women in pop culture, including but not limited to horny doritos ads, Jojo's Siwa's Disney trauma, Tiffany "New York" Pollard's queer TV show, the most recent straight actresses to play gay, lesbian Super Mario characters, and Cate Blanchett.
It’s 11:57 p.m., my eyes are heavy and desperate to close, but I Clockwork Orange them open to scroll through another few rows of her tagged photos. She roller skates? With every swipe, I regret going deeper. Next time I check, she’ll be heli-skiing. At this point, I know where she grew up and what she does for a living and who she’s dating now. I’m basically in a throuple with her and her new partner, but they don’t know it.
My thumb slips, and I like a photo from 2015. But it’s tagged;, does that count? Will she see that? I frantically Google, “Can people see you liked a photo they were tagged in?” The very first result assures me they can’t. Phew. Stalking your new girlfriend’s ex is not for the faint of heart.
Some of it’s the usual is-she-prettier-than-me investigation, but it quickly devolves into something else. I oscillate between wanting to kick and kiss her. I’m both falling in love while mining for tiny details to pick apart relentlessly, like a balm for my low self-esteem. She’s got a lotta gums, I think. But her body is unreal. I know that what I’m feeling has nothing to do with this delightful roller-skating stranger, but I still can’t help myself from stalking.
I’m not unique in this. It’s called retro-active jealousy, and it’s normal and healthy—to a point. Something tells me I’ve passed that point. “Details of your partner’s past will naturally evoke a sense of jealousy, comparison or sometimes a sense of inadequacy,” psychotherapist Owen O’Kane told Stylist. “Acknowledging this and talking through is a healthy, human experience.” So this is basically group therapy for me right now.
But, O’Kane warns, "If you become stuck or obsessive with the emotion, that can lead to a lot of distress and many other relationship problems. It’s worth remembering jealousy is often fueled by personal insecurity and has little to do with the other person. Don’t neglect dealing with your own insecurities, as this is where freedom lies.” Easier said than done, babe!
While insecurity plays a big role in why I obsess over the people my partners dated before me, there’s also a morbid curiosity about a person who was at one point that intimate with my girlfriend. They have years of memories and inside jokes. I’m just the new girl. I haven’t even decorated my locker yet, and they’re already co-captains of the volleyball team.
Then I wonder why she was unhappy with my girlfriend. I think this person is so great—how could they just walk away from them? What did they fall out of love with? Will I fall out of love with those things, too?
There’s also an unconscious urge to sabotage something good before it even begins. I can’t roller-skate, I think. What would she want to date me for? I start to put my girlfriend’s ex on such a high pedestal that I’m now trying to figure out a way to Parent Trap them back together.
Being a queer woman can exacerbate this retroactive jealousy, since there’s a trope that lesbians always go back to their exes—and most of them have deeply codependent relationships with them to begin with. (I texted my ex today to ask them how crosswalk buttons work.) My first serious girlfriend was extremely close with her ex. I never worried about them getting back together, but I envied how much my girlfriend seemed to admire her, constantly asking her opinion on things, from clothes to restaurant choices. When I finally met her ex, I realized she was just a regular person who wanted to impress me as much as I wanted to impress her. It was a relief, if not a little anticlimactic.
In many ways, I’m grateful for these women. My girlfriend and ex-girlfriends wouldn’t be the people they are without them (for better or worse). We’ll always share this parallel existence, having been close to the same person, but having vastly different experiences. I wonder what our relationships have in common and what’s different. Where does the Venn diagram overlap?
If I were to ever meet this woman I’m stalking well into the wee hours of the morning, I know she’d be lovely. We’d probably have more in common than not. And it brings me comfort to know that despite how cool and confident she seems on social media, she’s likely somewhere right now, hunched over her phone, eyes bloodshot, scrolling through the photos of her new partner’s ex, wondering if she wants to be them or bang them.