For the last six months or so, my ex’s new girlfriend’s blog has occupied a Toxic Waste corner of my brain previously reserved for YouTube clips of other people’s humiliating public falls. When I’m having a especially bad day, I Gchat her posts to my best friend Julie so she can confirm how pretentious and mediocre this girl-let’s call her Pretentia- is. Julie is game for this because just yesterday I reassured her that based on extensive Facebook stalking, she’s hotter that her boyfriend’s ex.
Thanks to social networks, it’s become a super-common insdoor sport to gather around a laptop for a thorough dissection of the women in your boyfriend’s past (or ex boyfriend’s present). Find her most unflattering angles in Facebook photos, smirk at misspelled hashtags on her Instagram, and whoever comes up with the funniest burn wins. Yet after all this cathartic cattiness, you don’t even feel better, you just feel empty. Yay?
The first time I stalked her Instagram was shortly after my ex and I hooked up for the last time, when I’d heard he was dating someone new. The first photo on her feed was of him with a baby- a goddamn baby. From the caption, it was clear that they were dating. It wasn’t their baby, duh, but that wasn’t the point. After I finished crying in the work bathroom, I was in full-on-search-and-attack mode. If this girl had a deleted LiveJournal post from 1999, I’d have found it, read it, and sent it to everybody I know with a cruel subject line.
It’s a paradox. Normally I’m a card-carrying feminist, but Pretentia’s social-media footprint turns me into evil Cady from Mean Girls, sniping: “I have this theory that if you cut off all her hair, she’d look like a British man.” Most of the women I know are the same way. They have tons of female friends, donate to Planned Parenhood, and are outspoken about women’s issues-but pull up a photo of their ex’s new girlfriend, and they morph into a hateful Greek chorus of girl-on-girl crime. It turns out that being prochoice is the easy part of supporting the sisterhood. This stuff? Trickier.
It’s not just my friends. According to a study out of Western University, 88 percent of 18-to 35-year-olds Facebook-stalk their ex’s and 74 percent have sniffed around the Facebook page of their ex’s new partner. It’s impossible to know how many of those people are women gleefully pointing out their ex’s new girlfriend’s acne over wine and pizza with their friends… but I’d wager it’s a lot. Psychotherapist Leslie Bell, PhD, author of hard to get: 20 something women and the paradox of sexual freedom, told me there are multiple reasons we animorph into giant dickheads in this scenario. Your girl-hate may be sparked by lingering feelings of your own romantic investment in the dude. “You’re sort of still preserving him as good in your mind in a way. On the other hand, you have no attachment to the new girlfriend, so there is nothing lost in critiquing her and taking her down.” If the breakup was on of those volatile shit shows where you were brutally dumped and yet he still inevitably comes up in conversation when you’ve had a few drinks.. let’s just say I hope her Instagram’s private.
You may not even be safe in the cloistered sancity of your own wine-and-pizza party says Bell: “You’re doing this with friends, but there’s certainly a sense of vulnerability. The tables could turn, and you could be the next victim.” I disagree to some extent. It’s actually a shameful but powerful bonding exercise. But at the same time, the ubiquity of the nasty habit certainly makes me more wary of befriending new women and getting a spear in the back. It’s deffinitly crossed my mind that Pretentia and her friends have stalked and judged me based on my Twitter jokes, my weight, my nose, and a million other tiny, inconsequential things that I’ve judged the shit out of Pretentia for. In my saner moments, I realize that Pretentia isn’t The Worst- in fact, I’d probably like her if I met her in line for an H&M dressing room. No, I’m guilty of the highest girl on girl offense: blaming a girl when i should be blaming the guy.
My ex and I had an unhealthy relationship (I know. Shocking). I was constantly trying to be “better” -funnier, smarter, skinnier, hotter, more successful- so he’d stop being distant and actually commit. When he’d committed to Pretentia, I was astounded. Not because she sucked or anything. She is pretty, seems relatively smart, and likes him. It was just that she didn’t seem so objective, next-level amazing. That was who he wanted all along? He wasn’t keeping me at arms length because he wanted a Rhodes scholar and part-time Hollister model who works with underprivileged children? Why did I bust my ass so hard to make him like me?
Then it occurred to me that many obsession with Pretentia had very little to do with her. It had to do with my complete misunderstanding of what he wanted all along. He wasn’t the right guy for me, but I fell for him anyway, hard enough to spend the next three years teetering on a thin line of between self-improvement and self-destruction. All I was doing was dumping the weight of these insecurities on her giving myself an anxiety-nausea-sadness hangover by keeping up with their relationship via social media, which prolonged my obsession. This went on more or less until I met my current boyfriend, someone who loves me for who I actually am… and, uh, would probably be disturbed to find my ex’s girlfriend’s insta on my computer history.
So I let her go. I quit checking her social-media pages, even when it felt like an itch I needed to scratch. eventually, the itch faded. If you’re reading this, Pretentia, I’m sorry I was a creep, and I’d be down to get a drink sometime.