On your boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend

I’m obsessed with my boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend, or rather, with my boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend’s self-presentation. I feel good with him — secure, everything — after a year of togetherness. I feel as pretty as I normally do, which is not that pretty, yet also not (I hope) overly concerned with my face. And yet I can’t stop looking at pictures of her face, her outfits, her new nails. I no longer remember when or why I started.

The other day, I started looking through her tagged images. From there I started looking through her friend’s Instagrams for pictures of herself she’d untagged. I noticed she had untagged a photo of herself with my boyfriend, taken with what seemed to be a selfie stick, from about a month after he and I started dating, when he said he was no longer seeing her. I want to ask him about it, but I don’t want him to know what I’ve been up to — not because it’s wrong, but because it will make me seem pathetic in his eyes. I’m sure she’s not spending hours looking at pictures of me.

Am I pathetic? Am I…sympathetic? How do I find enough sympathy for myself to stop doing this, and should I try to get sympathy from him, or will I only get — only deserve — scorn and pity?


On general principle, never be jealous of anyone with a selfie stick. That being said, as much as it would please you, I seriously doubt that your boyfriend would react with scorn and pity if you were to bring up a year-old Instagram of him and his ex. You’re aiming a bit too high with scorn and pity. Those are soap opera emotions, which I suppose is my polite way of calling you a drama queen…

Read the rest over at Real Life Magazine.


43 thoughts on “On your boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend

  1. Notsophia says:

    Holy fucking shit I needed this thank you.
    Been creeping on the rebound-from-our-temporary-breakup’s instagram and it was fucking killing me.
    Now to identify that sick sticky part of me. Hmmm.

  2. Anna says:

    “They fill your need for chaos. They keep you fueled. It’s better than taking a razor blade to your thighs”
    I’ve been thinking for a good ten minutes about how to deliver my commentary on this in a polite, understanding, respectful way. But basically, however much I respect you CQ, if you said this in front of me I would be very tempted to punch you in the face.
    I just counted, I have 28 hypertrophic scars between my left inner arm and outer thigh. Double that number for the “normal” looking scars and add countless other faded scars. No amount of cosmetic treatment or foundation is ever going to cover this shit up, and that’s fine : badge of honour, I’m still alive.
    I have defended your advice to people to “go kill themselves”, mainly bc it was well placed and hilarious, and not harmful to anyone.
    I have admired the writing you accomplish on your own and for other online media.
    I’m really trying to come up with reasons I would be OK with you comparing a petty obsession for instagram photos of your partner’s ex with slitting your thigh so deep that you feel like you’ve dissected your own body: you clearly see the separations between the dermis, the hypodermis and the little adipose tissue remaining on you. Let’s agree on the fact it’s decent writing, it proves your point in a shocking way. I don’t care about you being considerate, I don’t think this analogy could cause anyone serious pain. I’m also trying to avoid making this a personal issue, but for some reason, I am truly disappointed.

    • The Coquette says:

      You’re disappointed because you think I was being flippant about self-harm. I wasn’t, nor would I be so insensitive as to deliberately say something to trigger someone who I knew had a history of cutting. I understand your reaction, though.

    • Gaybeard says:

      Just to screen my response: I’m sorry that you’ve experienced self-harm and I’m more sorry for the pain and desperation you must have felt that led you to it.

      Respectfully, I don’t think CQ was making an idle comparison to self harm. Cutting is a widespread phenomenon and is not limited to a single source of mental disorder. The reasons people cut are numerous and it’s not exclusive to suicide attempts.

      All that said, despite a history of depression and anxiety I have never self harmed or fantasized about it so I don’t really know what I’m talking about. The only personal exposure I have to it is my partner’s younger sister. I’m not trying to deny your experience, defend CQ, or argue an abstract point. This comment is meant to support you and to assure you that CQ wasn’t betraying the trust you’ve placed in her or talking about cutting to be sensational. Not that it’s any of my business, but I strongly doubt that Coke talking about self-harm is abstract or outside of her personal experience.

      • WhoAmI says:

        I second this. The idea was to compare it to the kind of cutting that comes from the same impulses, not to say all kinds of cutting are comparable to that. I think.
        But I totally get why you would be angered to see those two ideas put so close to each other, and take it as a personal issue. Cutting IS a very personal issue.

      • Deal with it says:

        Sensitive snowflake is sensitive. Anna, you’ve latched your personal traumas onto your very own spiral, and misconstrued the point CQ was making. Get over yourself and learn to separate reality from personal trauma. Cutting is common, and a lot of times it doesn’t involve anatomy and the destruction of muscle tissue. That’s your world, not her remark. Next time recognize what’s what, and deal with it.

          • Deal with it says:

            Disagreed. There is a need. Though she’ll most likely remain uptight, dizzied and pissed off…continuing down her misdirected spiral…until she eventually realizes the nature of her hyper-sensitivity is her. And then just maybe she’ll let go and breath refreshing logical air and stop the melodramatic victim bullshit.

          • Lily says:

            I love the irony here: Often folks use self-harm as an attempt to manage emotions themselves because those around them say: “Hey, get over it, you’re too sensitive. DON’T FEEL THAT.”

            And here we go: Someone makes themselves vulnerable and shares about their personal experience, and you respond by saying “DON’T FEEL THAT. Shut it down.”

            You really think that’s an effective way to help someone cope with strong feelings? If so, you’ve got some emotional learning to do.

            If you don’t think it helps, why say it?

          • Deal with it says:

            Was that in response to me? It’s difficult to tell. Mind you, I’m not the one who said I’d “punch CQ in the face” and am “very disappointed” over a common comparison taken way too fucking personally. It’s pretty clear Anna lives her life being offended, even when it’s nowhere close to an attack. I’m giving her some useful advice here, to take a step back, realize life is fucked up on a multitude of levels (also beautiful). This is the reality of being human. So to be so easily offended by an anonymous response to an anonymous question in a written format…I mean really? Life is not for wimps, and the easily offended wimps will always be upset, push everything away and live in fear. Anyway, cheers!

          • Anna says:

            You know nothing Jon Sow.
            Do yourself a favor, have a day off that noxious objectivist bullshit you’re huffing.

          • J Lynn says:

            “refreshing logical air”
            Hahahahaha dude, your hot air is neither refreshing nor logical. Smells like a bunch of adolescents watching South Park and having a farting contest.

            Only being rude because you claimed there was a “need” to be a dick.

          • Strangely Rational says:

            Dude, shut the fuck up.

            Self-harm is in mental illness territory, which means that someone who is doing it is ill (or at least was when it happened). You don’t mock people with “physical” illnesses for being weak or hypersensitive, do you? Like if someone had a broken leg, you wouldn’t make fun of them for not being able to run on it, or wincing in pain when someone bumped into it, would you?

            Then don’t fucking do it when mental illness is involved. I know not everyone gets that it’s the same thing, but those who don’t are only displaying their own ignorance. Seriously, you’re the one who looks bad here, not Anna for taking a risk in sharing some very painful feelings.

        • bang says:

          Buddy, youre being a condescending dick. Giving “useful advice”? “Refreshing logical air”? In what world?

    • Rainbowpony says:

      As someone who has struggled with dermatillomania, this post resonated with me.

      But my situation never threatened my life. And your feelings and experiences are just as valid as mine.

    • Emily Darling says:

      Hey Anna- I totally get where you’re coming from. I get really upset when people joke about self harm. I haven’t cut in over two years and I still can’t wear shorts in public without getting questions.

      I also felt a very real connection to that line from CQ.

      When I realised my abusive ex was cheating on me, I spent weeks obsessing over the other girl’s Instagram. I spent hours thinking about looking at it, dying to check again, and working with every shred of self control not to look at it. And eventually, I would always give in. And then I would break into panicked sobs (and then usually cut myself anyway.) Part of the healing process for me getting to a point where I could stop cutting was recognizing every behavior I did that was very clear self harm, and checking this girl’s social media was at the top of the list. Realizing I needed to become conscious of all behaviors that were harmful to myself, no matter how nuanced or mild, was paramount to my recovery. That was more how I interpreted this advice piece. Some people may find the comment shocking or dramatic, but I personally think its entirely fitting. The writer may not be in as dangerous of a situation as you have been in, as this looks a little more like self-sabatoge than self-harm. (In addition to it seeming like an out of proportion comparison to your experience, jackasses still make fun of cutting all the time, so being wary of who’s talking about it is reasonable. I get it, and you have a right to feel that way.)

    • Lily says:

      I’m impressed with your ability to have such a measured response. Self-sabotaging thoughts certainly aren’t the same as literal self-harm of the body. Could they be on a spectrum, though? A long spectrum, with many and varied acts in between?

    • Lynn says:

      I actually read the cutting comment and remembered myself cutting in high school, and thought that it was actually a really similar kind of thing. Like, related I mean.

      I read this with SUCH relief because it’s basically a different version of a question I’ve sent to CQ like ten times about how to deal with my feelings about a boyfriend’s ex who I was kind of weirdly obsessed with lurking and thinking about in a like, negative way.
      And the whole “controlled chaos” idea made sense and I was like, yeah that’s what I’m doing when I’m lurking this girl, inflicting chaos on myself or whatever. Same with cutting! Back then. It’s been a while, but yeah. It is a lot of like, your brain can’t stabilize itself when it’s not actively dealing with some kind of trauma, or it’s really used to trauma, so it feels a need to cause a problem (on top of the ones that you’re desensitized to) when it finds stasis. Idk. It is definitely I think valid to say that the two behaviors are on different ends of the same spectrum/coming from the same place.

  3. Grouch says:

    That post is a perfect expression of infatuation. I heard nothing in there about jealousy or envy, just obsession.

  4. sketchybones says:

    “Naturally, you do all these things for a reason. They fill your need for chaos. They keep you fueled. It’s better than taking a razor blade to your thighs, but that’s basically what you’re doing every time you click on pics of the ex — you’re causing pain so that you feel something. Yeah, it hurts a little, but it hurts in a good way, one that you aren’t quite comfortable admitting to yourself.”

    I just want to say: I needed to hear this. I’m usually pretty good at drafting analogies for things to make sense of them…for everything but myself much of the time. This put a lot of current going-ons in perspective, thanks Coke.

    Self-destructive behavior is quite the bitch on your back…mental or physical.

  5. Ava says:

    Holy shit. This post about me, even though I wasn’t the person that asked the question.

    How do I get over being this way?

  6. Radio says:

    Will this post be here forever? Like in five years will this Real Life Magazine website still exist or will it just be a broken link? And sure, Dear Coquette might not exist in five years, but this post is gold, and it needs to exist for at least a long as Dear Coquette exists.

    Could you elaborate on the idea of needing controlled chaos, though? Or point me in the right direction?

  7. Chou_Chou says:

    Oh wow. Thanks for revealing an uncomfortable truth about myself, CQ. I’ll be spending some time processing this one.

  8. velvet_reed says:

    I related so much to this that I went into my journal and wrote a 14 page entry after almost a year of not writing. Thank you Coke.

    And yeah, the first line made me LOL.

  9. t. says:

    Coq, do you think that going cold turkey on that behaviour is enough to start? Self-realization isn’t tangible enough to “replace” those things as such, so I’m not sure I could piecemeal replace one with the other, but would just stopping eventually lead me closer to inner peace? (Ditto going cold turkey on hate-lurking ppl I went to high school with..)

    • J Lynn says:

      My 2cents: I’d say yes, go cold turkey. As in a painful breakup, go “no contact” with obsession-feeding things for a good while. During the “no contact” period, fill the vacuum with stuff — work, fun, hobbies, friends & family, etc — that has actual, affirmative value to you. In time, valuing the better, replacement stuff gets easier, feels more natural, and requires gradually less willpower. Sometimes you have to firmly get rid of bad stuff in your life (in this case self-defeating behaviors), to make room for good stuff.

  10. Apricot says:

    I ended up setting my website blocker to redirect me from my exes social media and various other toxic obsessions, to posts like this reminding me why I shouldn’t. We’ll see how it goes.

  11. Brittney says:

    This hit home for me, more than these usually do. I want to “do the work”, and I get therapy is the place for that, though I’ve had very lukewarm experiences w it in the past. If I get a new therapist, do you think it’s in bad taste if I asked them to read this in the first session and said how much I related to it? Is that making their job harder, bc they need to come at the situation w their own interpretations? Or would it (as I hope) just cut out a lot of the wasted “getting to it” time.

  12. 96weeks says:

    Bookmarking this and saving it for when I need to re-read it. This happened to me. This is still happening to me. I need to leave her instagram alone. On the nose, thank you for writing this.

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