So, your relationship went down the pan. Maybe you were devastated – maybe you were relieved. Maybe you’d got over it before it ended – maybe you’re still struggling to cope with it x months on. But no matter how insouciant you were about it before, there’s one event that will almost certainly blow your cool; the arrival of your ex’s new beau.
Perhaps you saw it on Facebook, from one of those nauseating “x loves y soooooo much!!” statuses. Perhaps you found out via the grapevine. Worst of all, perhaps you saw it right in front of you and were powerless to stop it. But – especially if you’re from the ‘over it’ category – why care? After all, you didn’t care when you ended it. You were probably deliberately a little bit heartless, for all your superficial ‘I just want to be friends’ sheen. You might even have found someone else. So why is her presence so infuriating?
I’ll refer you to my favourite film, High Fidelity. John Cusack might be a little bit moody about his girlfriend having left him, but it’s only when he finds out that she has a new boyfriend – BAM! – that he gets seriously pissed off. Yet when he finds out that they haven’t had sex, he celebrates with a one-night stand. His anger doesn’t stem from love, it stems from competition. The personal need to be ‘more’ over your ex than he or she is. Everything you do with someone else is a point to you – double points if you actually like the person involved. But it’s the relationship aspect which is concrete proof that they’re a step ahead of you. You are no longer the last person they dated. You are reduced to the role of ‘the ex’. And if it didn’t end well, you’re ‘the evil ex’ – the evil stepmother of relationships. From the competition between you and your ex, it becomes a competition between you and your replacement, and you have to suffer with the fact that the points system is probably skewed in her favour. Oh, come on – you wanted to watch Chelsea v Liverpool instead of seeing him. He’s hardly going to be biased in your favour, is he? (Even if it was a very important match, and you’d been committed to Chelsea for far longer than you’d been with him, and indeed you probably preferred Chelsea too…)
It’s also a minefield of double-standards. If you’ve not been particularly effusive about the merits of the relationship to other people, then what right do you have to be worried that your good name is being discredited to someone you’ve never met? You’ve hardly put him on a pedestal and showered him with compliments. But it’s more the thought of your ex and your replacement having a deep and meaningful conversation about previous relationships. “My ex,” your ex begins, “used to do this really annoying thing…”. Several derogatory, possibly defamatory, comments later, you’re the Guy Fawkes on the bonfire that can’t defend himself, while she giggles at the embarrassing stories he tells at your expense or chimes in with “What a bitch!” whenever he brings up that time you were watching the World Cup game without him on your nine-month anniversary. The fact that your replacement probably has some sort of fault, like (hypothetically) a strange upper lip, is thrown by the wayside. As is the fact that, actually, you got there first. But, not being there to correct such injustice, you are reduced to scraping the barrel as far as your own mud-flinging is concerned – and how much can you find out and subsequently mock about someone who has a private Facebook profile? Sherlock Holmes you are not. But you will always want to think that you’re somehow superior to your replacement.
And all this is so ironic given the next step – the step of replacing someone else’s ex. This time, you are fulfilling the role that you have been deriding. You are a hypocrite, because now – as the replacement – you want your new beau to think you’re better than your predecessor. Now you are the one chiming in “What a bitch!” as he recounts her misdemeanours, because you’d never do that; you are the one with a strange upper lip (hypothetically). It’s a vicious little circle. From the other side of the fence, you are terrified; can you ever replace her? Do you compare to her? What if, horror of horrors, he pretends to himself that you’re her? It’s enough to send you on a one-way ticket to Breakdown City.
It really is a merely possessive, territorial thing. Human nature and all that. But as you glare at the replacement, as she remarks her own lines around your territory, you just have to upgrade. Put things into perspective – there were fifty reasons why you gave it independence. Find another dominion to cede unto you. Or be your own sovereign state – who needs a clingy dependency?