how do i stop this unhealthy obsession with my new boyfriend's ex-girlfriends?
September 30, 2012 3:03 PM   Subscribe

how do i stop this unhealthy obsession with my new boyfriend's ex-girlfriends?

let me begin by saying that i'm 23, and this is only my second serious relationship. my first lasted for four years, and i was the one who ended things. due to a number of reasons, but one of them was meeting my now current boyfriend.

the problem? i'm incredibly naive, and i've never dealt with the issue of exes before. i lost my virginity to my first boyfriend, and we were each other's first serious long-term relationship. my new boyfriend is several years older than me and way more experienced. he has had lots of girlfriends, at least two or three of which were long-term relationships lasting 1-3 years.

he and his most recent girlfriend broke up right around the same time that i broke up with my boyfriend (which, coincidentally, was right around the time that we met... all of this went down about six months ago). they were together almost a year and a half, and he said that while she officially ended things, part of it had to do with the fact that he wasn't interested in marrying her. or something to that effect, leading me to believe that the split was perhaps it was more mutual.

i decided to do a little cyber-sleuthing (i know, i know) and found her facebook profile... and let's just say that the amount of time i spend looking at it is bordering on obsessive. i check it almost every day for new pictures, posts, anything to clue me in on what kind of person she is and whether she is some kind of threat to me. she's gorgeous, by the way, and from all accounts appears to be a perfect match for my boyfriend. she seems sweet, smart, talented, and oddly enough, the type of girl i'd probably be close friends with, if in fact her profile in any way represents her true personality. she has the same taste in music, movies, etc. as me. (although great minds think alike, right? it makes sense that i'd like someone who was also attracted to someone as awesome as my boyfriend.)

still... i seem to keep trying to convince myself that i can't compete. and that maybe my boyfriend harbors secret longings for her and compares me to her. i'm ashamed to say that i found the website of another old girlfriend of his, and the story is exactly the same... she's awesome and beautiful and hilarious and seems pretty much perfect.

i feel worried that there's some kind of predetermined timeline to this guy's relationships... and it's preventing my full enjoyment of the relationship itself. and at the same time, it's all in my head. he's been nothing but kind and sweet and wonderful to me. (aside from one awkward moment a few months ago when he let slip that his ex-girlfriend and his mom were "super close," which of course has made me even more paranoid.)

help me!
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (17 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I'll let other people talk about the brain side of this, but if I can offer one piece of very practical advice:

Go to her facebook page. Click "Block." You will be unable to see that she even exists on Facebook, much less stalk her. There's more to this than just Facebook, but you need to stop feeding the obsession even if you can't kill it overnight. So this way, you'll be unable to casually look at her page.
posted by Tomorrowful at 3:10 PM on September 30, 2012 [12 favorites]

They are exes for a reason. Something happened that made them no longer compatible, end of story. It's not a competition since you're *with* him and he's not with anyone else. Stop thinking about whether you're good enough for him... live your life and make sure that he's good enough for you.
posted by Hawk V at 3:19 PM on September 30, 2012 [5 favorites]

You need to think less about the quantifiable stuff, and more about the connection between people.

On paper, there are men I have dated that would look like they would be a better match, or superior in some way... but my husband is so much better for me that it isn't even a competition. The same is true for him, he dated some gorgeous women before me, but never felt that same spark that he and I have.

It might help to find someone to talk to about this insecurity, although I don't know you I know that these things are rarely just about a relationship. If you find a great therapist and can untangle some of this stuff, I think you'll be much happier.
posted by Nickel Pickle at 3:20 PM on September 30, 2012 [5 favorites]

Of course he compares you to her. He compares you to Adriana Lima, he compares you to his 6th grade crush, he compares you to that girl in the way-too-tight-tee that just walked by.

But at the end of the day, he's chosen to spend his time with you. You need to accept that and not let the fact that he has a past ruin what you have together.

Biology makes our heads turn when OPP passes by. Loyalty makes us not act on it.
posted by pla at 3:21 PM on September 30, 2012 [6 favorites]

And beauty + Facebook profiles mean absolutely nothing. Gorgeous people can have bad personalities, unlucky lives, social problems, etc. too. And Facebook profiles are designed to portray people's best side, it's all performance. There are also gorgeous people who don't look good on Facebook because they don't have a face that photographs well, or they consistently use weird filters or aren't into taking photos. I guess what I'm trying to say is

(1) Beauty doesn't determine an entire person's value
(2) Beauty doesn't determine anything about relationship compatibility
(3) Facebook doesn't say that much about a person's inner life, nobody shows themselves ForeverAloningIt on Facebook
(4) Ask yourself why your focus is on if you're good enough for him, rather than whether he is good enough for you, or that if you both are good for for each other?
posted by Hawk V at 3:24 PM on September 30, 2012 [9 favorites]

i feel worried that there's some kind of predetermined timeline to this guy's relationships... and it's preventing my full enjoyment of the relationship itself.

This is a different worry than whether he's hung up on his exes. This is about whether relationships have an expiration date. The answer is that past relationships don't determine future performance; all relationships fail until the one that succeeds.

About the past relationships, does he reassure you about his head being fully with you and about the past being in the past? Okay, great, believe him. Otherwise, why are you with him?

Anyway, you're going to die one day, we all are, so you might as well enjoy everything that's great about this relationship while it lasts. Don't waste your time worrying needlessly. If deep down, you really don't think that he's with you because he wants to be, then move on.
posted by salvia at 3:33 PM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Wait, how long have you been together?

You're right that a lot of this has to do with age and experience. Don't obsess over how much you're obsessing, but find things about your life to focus on.

Getting over insecurity doesn't happen overnight, but gradually, by practicing little things every day.

Find a replacement behavior for checking her Facebook that makes YOU a better person. Instead of stalking, draw a bird, or plan a meal, or do a yoga stretch, or memorize a line of poetry. Little things that make you happy & improve your own life.
posted by itesser at 3:37 PM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Every second you spend looking at stuff that is neither your concern nor your business could have been spent paying attention to your new boyfriend or your relationship. Or ANYTHING pleasant.

This ex-worship can end relationships or make them hell, I have seen it. If you don't trust him, leave. If you do you have just got to take his word for it or else it's worse for everybody.

Do not spend anymore time in this shitty hole with this shitty mood, I know you must be sick of the way you're feeling about this by now. It can change with a little persistence, but it's up to you. Block that shiz on Facebook or whatever you have to do, and then go make out with your dude.
posted by TheRedArmy at 3:38 PM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Seconding blocking her on Facebook.

But just before you do, find her very prettiest picture and move the little cursor-finger thingy over it so it's picking her nose.

Cheering up guaranteed!
posted by Pallas Athena at 4:25 PM on September 30, 2012 [4 favorites]

Hi. Couple of things I see...

1) i'm incredibly naive, and i've never dealt with the issue of exes before.

From the beginning, you seem to assume that you're starting out behind. As if there is some magic juju for dealing with exes. In time, you may become more experienced at navigating the minefield that is someone's else's (and your own!) exes. But there isn't a day in which you become "good" at handling exes.

There was a time when your boyfriend may well have felt the same way about her that he feels about you. There was probably a time when you felt the same way about your ex that you do about your boyfriend. Your current boyfriend may harbour his own insecurities about that.

There's no rule for handling exes. They are people who are a part of your partner's past, who used to have a significant role in their life, and (perhaps most importantly) no longer do.

It does not serve you to assume you are naive, even less so to assume you are incredibly naive. You may be less experienced than someone with more exes, however, just because one has a lot of exes, doesn't mean that they're any good at handling them. There's not a way to really be good at handling them. You handle the situation with as much grace as you can, and the rest unfolds from there.

If it helps, think that your boyfriend is who he is because he was with her. She contributed to his life, they helped shaped each other, and without her, he would not be with you. Be grateful that he is capable of loving – she may have had a hand in that – and respect that at some point, their relationship broke down. Be gentle to the fact it was probably not easy for either of them.

2) she seems sweet, smart, talented, and oddly enough, the type of girl i'd probably be close friends with, if in fact her profile in any way represents her true personality. she has the same taste in music, movies, etc. as me.

Ok, now I hear that you are worried that you are too much like her, and the fate of your relationship may come to the same demise. You are self-identifying with her to some degree via Facebook (probably not a great idea) and it's activating some degree of fear within you.

So a question for you, is why are you self-identifying with her? She may also be completely different than you are. You may well be annoyed at the way she strings together her sentences, or the little quips in her language. You may very well not be able to stand her upon meeting her. Or she may be your magic twin. Who knows?

It's probably not worth thinking about too much except in one specific vein...

3) i feel worried that there's some kind of predetermined timeline to this guy's relationships

Okay, now the real issue.

i'm ashamed to say that i found the website of another old girlfriend of his, and the story is exactly the same... she's awesome and beautiful and hilarious and seems pretty much perfect.

So, you see a string of wonderful girls in his past, and now he's with you. You are the one assuming things have an expiration date. This is where you naive self-labeling may be causing problem number one. It sounds like you doubt your radar – as if you may have well picked a player and don't trust in your experience to tell you that you have done so. You seem worried you are the latest slide in the carousel, and you worry about getting hurt.

But that may well not be what is really bothering you.

i was the one who ended things. due to a number of reasons, but one of them was meeting my now current boyfriend.

You left your previous boyfriend for your new boyfriend. Maybe you're having the cheater's problem. Not that you're cheating, but often the person who wants to cheat/has cheated accuses the other person of cheating. To a man with a hammer, all things are nails.

You left someone for your boyfriend, and now you are afraid you're in a time-limited relationship. There's a narrative which you've shared which is: 1) that you are naive, 2) you are just like his previous exes, and 3) you're worried he's going to move on.

Yet, the reality may well be: 1) you are no more or less naive than anyone else, 2) you are probably nothing like his ex-girlfriends, and 3) you left someone to be with him.

Perhaps you are confronting the impermanence of relationships. Maybe it's throwing you for a loop. Maybe you wanted to get out of your previous relationship, and the new boyfriend was a good opportunity to do it. I don't know any of that.

But I think it's worth having a long hard look at your own ex, your last break-up, and whether or not you are at peace with yourself about both of those things.

I could be totally wrong, and apologies if I have offended. Those are the things that leapt out at me.

Good luck. I'm not going to say it gets easier with time. It doesn't seem to. However, you will get better at relating to yourself over time, and most important out of all of this is that you create a nice home for you in your own heart.
posted by nickrussell at 4:37 PM on September 30, 2012

I can definitely relate to this, here are a few things that have helped me:

I try to keep a little tally in my head of specific details of things that he has done that prove that he wants to be with me/loves me/finds me attractive. I say specific details because for me the moments when I'm comparing myself to exes can be so emotional that I lose all logic, and having a list of things to go to can help ground me a little bit. It doesn't totally banish all insecurity, but it helps over time. Like everyone else has said, he has chosen to be with you - now just show yourself the tangible proof of it.

Try not to look at her Facebook or do any online "stalking" anymore, but don't guilt trip yourself if you do. Blocking her on Facebook is a useful idea, but if you're like me you can always find ways around your own barriers. I try to recognize when I'm thinking about doing it and divert my attention. For me, that's getting away from the computer and doing something else. If I stay on the computer, I will look.

I would also suggest talking to someone about it. They might help you be able to unpack why you feel this way, and figure out what you might need from your boyfriend to help this not feel like such a big insecurity. From my personal experience (and others will disagree I'm sure) talking to your boyfriend may not be a great idea. Talking to my boyfriend helped only when I had gotten to the point where I knew what I needed to know and hear from him, and felt like I knew how to frame what I was asking without making it a big deal to him.

I'd also like to re-iterate what Nickel Pickle said. You don't know what happened between those him and those other women to make things go south - just because she was attractive and witty and shared his interests doesn't make a relationship work. You have no idea what their interactions were like. He's chosen to be with you because what they had didn't work, and what you have with him works and he's way more into it.

Exes are just a weird thing. I don't think that it's necessarily inexperience, either - I've got a few serious relationships under my belt and thinking about my boyfriend's exes still weirds me out. I've got some ex issues. For me, it just takes time in a new relationship to settle into the realization that this person really truly wants to be with me, and the exes really are in the past.
posted by sherber at 4:40 PM on September 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

There is a lot to say about this but I will only say one thing.

Remind yourself that if you are thinking about something, then in a way it is the most interesting or compelling thing in your life at that very moment. Whenever you start to think about these gfs ask yourself: is this girl REALLY the most interesting or compelling in your life right now that you could be thinking about? That may help you snap out of it.

Also, remember that even though thoughts seem infinite and cost-free sometimes, especially when you are young, you will actually have a limited and finite number of thoughts and moments in your life, each of which you can't get back once they are gone. Ask yourself if you really want to spend them thinking about these gfs.
posted by cairdeas at 5:52 PM on September 30, 2012 [7 favorites]

So he mentioned his recent ex is still close his mom? And how would you ever know enough about a different & previous ex, such that you could find her website??

From the beginning of your question, I was wondering if he wasn't triggering this behavior in you with little hints and too many stories about his exes. It is the type of behavior designed to give the person perpetrating it the upper hand in romance. If you are frequently busy comparing yourself his exes, you will assuredly spend the rest of your time working hard for his approval. People like that give you just enough approval and encouragement to keep you hooked.

There are people who do this subconsciously, maybe because this was the dynamic between them and their parents as they were growing up, and so on. On purpose or not, it kinda sucks to be dating someone like this!

I think you are wise to sense there is an expiration date with this guy. I bet you are right about this.

My advice is to block the exes online, and put effort into becoming conscious of when/how you find yourself ruminating on his exes.

I had a bf who spoke too enthusiastically about an ex of his in several contexts, including her sense of style. Consequently, every time I went clothes shopping, all I could do was think about was what outfits she might choose, instead of focusing on what outfits I liked.

If that story seems relevant to you, consider distancing yourself from fellow.

If that story doesn't ring any bells for you, carry on. Just bringing up the possibility.
posted by jbenben at 6:02 PM on September 30, 2012 [8 favorites]

i seem to keep trying to convince myself that i can't compete

When we meet a new partner, we implicitly meet every one of their past lovers, at least some reflection of them. This will never go away with subsequent partners. People have histories, it's just how life is.

He should not be constantly comparing you to his exes, though; if he is then he is misbehaving and you should tell him to cut it out. Likewise, you should also realize and accept that even if some ex was lovely in their own way, they didn't work out as a couple with your boyfriend. There's nothing for you to compete with. They broke up.

If you cannot stop facebook-stalking people from his past, block them. Or delete your account, or something. It's a bad habit and your own self-control is going to have to kick in at some point to stop it.
posted by ead at 10:13 PM on September 30, 2012

Hi! I'm in here to reassure you.

It doesn't actually matter how beautiful or together someone seems, especially on Facebook, where they get to self-edit. People post the good, and not the bad.

Also, the friendship with the mom is not a huge deal. I'm also close with my ex-boyfriends' mom. It in no way means I want to get back with him. But she was just a really amazing person, and had a lot of really sound life advice. Sometimes I've called her when I thought she'd have a better perspective than my own mom. Sometimes she's called me when she was worried about her son, because I was also still a close friend of his. If the split was friendly, this is somewhat normal - you don't burn relationships with people just because you split up.

But I think the key here is a little bit of insecurity I'm hearing. The idea of these women being beautiful and thus a threat sounds like maybe you don't think you're beautiful or together enough to hold him - and that's a problem that you can actually work on.
posted by corb at 5:32 AM on October 1, 2012


It's an age thing. I dated a guy a million years ago in high school who got off hard setting up conflict between his girlfriend(s) and his ex(es). It's an easy trap to fall into even without encouragement -- he's with you, not with them. Everybody has exes the older they get; you have exes too. Focus your energy on your here-and-now with him; think of how squicked out you'd be if you knew that when he was with you, he was thinking about you with your ex and panicking.

It also may be a self-perpetuating cycle. Ever since that doofus in high school, I spent an inordinate amount of time obsessing about a boyfriend's exes and I suppose that sent out an alert to guys with actual, bona-fide ex-girlfriend issues. I had several guys (including a husband) dump me for the girl they were previously with. It sucks just as bad as you'd think, so shut the door on this tendency now. You are awesome, right here, right now. This attitude will keep you from getting sucked into a relationship with guys who still have ex-drama.

Now I'm old and grey; everyone has not only ex-girlfriends but ex-wives and ex-husbands. Our pasts got us where we are today. Focus on the moment together; if someone (a boyfriend) prevents you from doing that, walk away.
posted by mibo at 6:37 AM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

And, I meant to say, that this mind trick worked for me:

You see the exes, they're beautiful and perfect and awesome. It's OK to compare yourself to them, because obviously, he's got a type: smart, sexy, funny. And, BTW, you're his type. :)
posted by mibo at 6:40 AM on October 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

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