My girlfriend looks like my ex-wife.
November 13, 2012 8:51 AM   Subscribe

My current girlfriend strongly resembles my ex-wife. This is going to make them both upset, right?

I've been divorced for four years, have a child and a healthy relationship with my ex-wife. Dating someone for two months now, she likes me, I like her. It seems like we're headed towards an LTR.

My girlfriend is very different from my ex, but I can't deny that when she 'dresses up' they bear a strong resemblance. Strong enough so that I had two people pull me aside to tell me so during a recent social event.

How should I handle this? I would like to continue with my current girlfriend but I can't deny that I'd be uncomfortable if any of the roles were reversed. Neither of them know about this yet.
posted by Setec Astronomy to Human Relations (41 answers total)
tell your girlfriend something like "you know, when you dress up you look a lot like my ex-wife, but much prettier. you two are very different generally" and then see how she reacts

I wouldn't say anything to the ex-wife but I'm not sure that's the right answer. Even if it's not true, bringing it up might sound like you're trying to say that it's why you picked your new gf.
posted by saraindc at 8:56 AM on November 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

Tell people that pull you aside that the two women couldn't be more different, or just shrug and say something like "I guess I have a physical type; don't we all?"

Don't say anything to your girlfriend. If someone says something in front of her, just say the same thing as above. When you're in private, reassure her that you like her for what's inside her brain, not for her looks.

I look a lot like my boyfriend's ex, but whatever. People have types. I don't see why this really matters: he's with me now, not her, and I know he likes me for me - not because I kind of sort of sometimes look like his ex when I wear a certain thing or smile in a certain light.
posted by k8lin at 9:00 AM on November 13, 2012 [11 favorites]

People are going to think what people are going to think, but you need to make your girlfriend aware of this. Don't let it become A Thing.

I'd bring it up casually, saying that a couple of people have mentioned it to you, but that as far as you're concerned, they're both totally different people (which is true).

It's no big deal. Keep it that way by bringing it up just to dismiss it.
posted by Capt. Renault at 9:01 AM on November 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Not necessarily. I had a boyfriend for 5 years. Shortly after we broke up, he started dating a woman who looked a lot like me, and they ended up married. I was a little weirded out at first but decided it was not a replacement but more that he had a certain "type" that he was attracted to.
posted by maxg94 at 9:01 AM on November 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I once dated a guy who had previously dated a woman in my social circle whom I vaguely resemble (roughly the same height and build, dark hair, similar speaking voices). People sometimes called me by her name or referred to something that I didn't understand until I realized that they were mixing us up.

I understood why people thought we looked alike, and was not in the slightest offended by it. But whenever I brought up the resemblance, the guy I was dating always emphatically insisted that he didn't think we looked anything alike, AT ALL.

For some reason I was always kind of pleased by this response.
posted by duvatney at 9:01 AM on November 13, 2012 [29 favorites]

If you get along with your ex, she's more likely to be amused than anything else, and she will probably be able to keep it to herself. I wouldn't mention it explicitly to gf; if she "discovers" it she will have a better opportunity to put it where she wants it in her mind. In fact, if she ever DOES mention it, you might try "you really think so? i hadn't noticed, but now that you mention it... i guess you know me pretty well!"

This presumes we're not talking about a Madeleine/Judy-in-Vertigo resemblance. If so, get out now!
posted by ubiquity at 9:02 AM on November 13, 2012

I don't understand why this is such a big deal. A lot of people have physical types. I've often told my boyfriend that he fits exactly my ideal type -- skinny but muscular, brown curly hair, taller than me. He knows that I like him for a lot more than that, but everyone has some physical characteristics that they are drawn to.
posted by peacheater at 9:02 AM on November 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yes, yes, what duvatney said! Hello, people? Do we not understand the concept of the polite fiction?!


Say nothing. Your current girl is a beautiful gem full of amazing and wonderful qualities. You have never noticed any resemblance between your current girl and your past girl.
posted by amanda at 9:04 AM on November 13, 2012 [14 favorites]

If I were in your shoes, I'd just stick with a "huh, I hadn't really noticed that" (maybe with an acknowledgement that people had mentioned it before, if it really becomes a thing).
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 9:05 AM on November 13, 2012

Strong enough so that I had two people pull me aside to tell me so during a recent social event.

By the way, your acquaintances who were doing this were being totally rude. If this happens again, look slightly puzzled and say, "I really don't see that."

If your girlfriend brings it up, deny, deny, deny. "I don't think so."

Don't make it a thing.
posted by purpleclover at 9:07 AM on November 13, 2012 [5 favorites]

Depends on your girlfriend, and on your attitude toward the situation.

I've fit into a type for most people I have dated. Uncomfortably so, sometimes. That's gone two ways:

1) If he doesn't talk too much about it, or plays it cool, I've concluded, "Huh, well, I guess he strongly prefers people of my general physical appearance. Okay doke."

2) If he's comparative about the situation and the different women, it becomes a persistent issue that can poison the relationship. Avoid this. Don't say stuff like "Why am I alwaaaaaays dating short, sturdy-looking pescetarian brunettes born under the sign of Aquarius who like Liz Phair and wear kimono bathrobes!" (This really happened to me. This is close to a direct quote.)

My husband's former roommate once described me as just being another girlfriend of my husband's "type", and my husband (boyfriend at the time), shut that down pretty quick. Not in a rude way, but in a "You have no idea what you're talking about" way. That was a great moment in our early dating relationship.
posted by Coatlicue at 9:09 AM on November 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

If the girlfriend brings it up, I agree... Deny! Something like, "Ha ha, she wishes!" (not super nice to the ex-wife though) or "I don't see it at all. For one, she doesn't have your [a physical trait you know she is proud of and that you find cute]." or "Honey, you look SOOOO much more beautiful to me, I don't see any comparison."

And yeah, anyone who brings it up is being pretty rude.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 9:14 AM on November 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

In your position, I wouldn't say anything. If either party brought it up, I'd probably just be like, "Oh man, yeah. I don't know, I guess I've got a type," and be sure to say it as self-effacingly as possible.

It might go over better if either one thinks you're into them because the two of them are members of the larger group called your type than if the ex thinks you wanted someone as much like her as possible, or if your current girlfriend keeps hearing how much she's like someone you're not with anymore.

I mean, it's entirely possible that either party (or both!) would be fine with that and wouldn't make anything of it, but there's no way to find out without saying something, and you can't really unring that bell.

I'd just keep it to myself.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 9:14 AM on November 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm with FAMOUS MONSTER. Don't bring it up. Besides, no one ever thinks someone looks like them. Even if the two of them think they look like one another, let them talk about it. Maybe they will think it's funny rather than be upset. Don't worry so much.

When others pull you aside to tell you so, say something like "yes, they are very similar, two eyes, two ears, a nose and a mouth."
posted by Yellow at 9:19 AM on November 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

Explicitly comparing two women's looks (especially in a qualitative way) is rarely a good idea. Nthing everyone who suggests bringing this up as little as possible.
posted by oinopaponton at 9:21 AM on November 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

Quite frankly I burst out laughing when I saw my boyfriend's ex and realized that he DEFINITELY has a type. Of course I believe, and he assures me, that I'm the much prettier version.

It was especially hilarious when I needed a mii on his wii and rather then starting from scratch he just went to the ex's mii and proceeded to change the clothes and color of glasses.

But I'm the kind of person who would find that funny so YMMV.
posted by magnetsphere at 9:23 AM on November 13, 2012 [5 favorites]

I would just say that, if your girlfriend doesn't realize this now, she will. Either someone will say something to you in front of her, to her directly, or she will see pictures of your ex-wife and realize it. So you can control how she finds out and mention it to her. Or not.

The same situation happened with a family member - she looked like the ex-wife. The thing is, the guy got weird about it and had trouble introducing the girlfriend to his family, apparently for that reason (at least in part). If this doesn't bother you, then it should be fine. But if it's going to make things weird for you, or you feel like you miss your ex-wife and that's what's going on, then you should end things before they get too serious.
posted by AppleTurnover at 9:32 AM on November 13, 2012

If I were the ex I would not be offended so much as flattered or vaguely amused. In fact I am puzzled about why the ex would be upset unless that is a personality flaw of hers (taking things way too personally) in which case, she's your ex and you no longer have to cater to it. My ex fiances have all gone on to date and marry women who resemble me. I have a thing for guys who are one of two different "types" that has been commented upon. It happens.

Can't help with the new girlfriend.
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:37 AM on November 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I am a guy living with someone whose late husband Ian I apparently resemble (and indeed, friends tell me that her daughter with him looks enough like me to be my daughter). Many people have remarked on the resemblance and her family, our neighbours, and my gf herself have all occasionally absentmindedly addressed me as Ian [NOT IAN-IST]. I don't see it myself: he and I are/were both tall, burly guys but he was balding, dark-haired and goateed, but I am hanging in to my blondish hair, am clean-shaven, and wear specs. Maybe there is something that does not translate to photos that other people are picking up on.

I shrug and take it in good humour -- as a couple of people have posted above, many of us have a physical type. However, some may be more sensitive to this situation than I am.

I don't see much of an upside to bringing it up proactively in your case. Referencing the situation in advance makes it seem like you are dwelling too much on it. My instinct would be to ignore it, and if one or the other party mentions it, to shrug and say, "Hunh. Maybe -- I never noticed."
posted by ricochet biscuit at 9:38 AM on November 13, 2012

"Obviously that's what attracted me to you in the first place. I mean, we were married for X years and attraction was never our problem. But that's not why I'm in a relationship with you now. You're a totally different person and the reasons why I love you have nothing to do with any similarities you might have to my ex-wife. Quite the opposite in fact."
posted by R. Schlock at 9:42 AM on November 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Also if my ex were ever to tell me he was dating someone who looked like me I would be uncomfortable in the extreme. Even if it is true, drawing attention to it would be creepy. So do not mention to ex.
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:42 AM on November 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

Never mention it. If someone points it out, demur with "I've never really noticed" and a shrug and move on.
posted by DWRoelands at 9:44 AM on November 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you actually have a type, this is easier than if you do not, or if there is a freaky resemblance.

If there's a freaky resemblance, this is going to be an issue.
If these two are the only two of this type you've ever dated, this is going to be an issue.

Who broke up with who, on the ex-wife side? This matters more than you'd think in how this will be perceived.
posted by corb at 9:44 AM on November 13, 2012

How should I handle this?

How about? "So I like beautiful women? So what?!?"
I think this would be an acceptable answer even if it's your girlfriend asking you.

Q: Yeah but isn't it weird that they look alike?

A: "Nah...I like waking up next to this one ;)"
posted by eatcake at 9:54 AM on November 13, 2012

You think anyone who mentions this is totally nuts, you have never heard anything funnier in your entire life, and you hope their employer offers vision coverage because BOY do they ever need glasses.
posted by thebazilist at 9:57 AM on November 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Thanks for the answers everyone.

The 'social event' included alcohol and both conversations were along the lines of "Hey, I *totally* thought you had brought [ex-wife] along when I first saw you two." These people used to know me when I was married, so it's not impossible that my ex might find out via the grapevine.

The divorce was mutually agreed upon and settled without lawyers.

This is unfamiliar territory for me, but I figured I'd better be prepared if/when either one becomes aware of it.
posted by Setec Astronomy at 10:08 AM on November 13, 2012

The key is not to make a big deal out of this. If you do, your ex and current girlfriend may start to think tht you have unresolved "issues" from the marriage. Either don't bring it up at all (probably the best option) or mention it once in a casual manner. If someone else brings it up, disagree mildly and move on.

(Qualifications: my wife and my ex-girlfriend have the same first name. They also resemble each other slightly (same approximate height and hair color). When my brother got confused by this during the early days of my relationship with my wife, I acted like it was a big deal and almost drove my wife away.)
posted by Area Man at 10:25 AM on November 13, 2012

As with what previous posters have said, you have a type. My husband's ex has a new husband who others have commented look a lot like my husband. I find it amusing, but the difference is that they are NOT the same person.
posted by Danithegirl at 10:28 AM on November 13, 2012

Eh. I dunno if this is a big deal, at all. Is there a way she could see some legit photo of your ex? I wouldn't recommend framing one for your mantle, partner's parents' have a few old shots of him and the ex up in their house, like when they were at his sister's wedding. I saw her and thought: "huh. We look pretty similar. He has a type. It's nice to know that he's probably definitely attractive to me, then. She's very pretty. So am I. And so is he. Hooray for being attractive, everybody! Is it time for pie, yet?"

It shouldn't be an issue.
The end.
posted by vivid postcard at 10:28 AM on November 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Here is the thing: new gf may think ex-wife isn unattractive. If she's a good person, she will never ever say that out loud. But if you admit that you do think she looks like your ex-wife, you are opening up that can of worms. As an extremely jealous and insecure person, I would advise you to go with the "I never noticed, you're so much prettier" line of answers.
posted by masquesoporfavor at 10:46 AM on November 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Has your gf seen your ex, or photos of her? If she resembles your that much, she will certainly notice the resemblance herself. If she hasn't seen her yet, you may want to provide her the opportunity to do so and see what her reaction is. I wouldn't say anything about it first, though, as that would be quite awkward, and actually totally unnecessary. If she brings it up to you, you can just be honest and say you can see where she is coming from but being that her personality is so VERY, VERY different, it d's not something you have put much thought into.

Since you have been dating a while now, I highly doubt it matters much to her. If this were all revealed your first week or so of dating, it may have freaked her out some, but enough time has probably gone by and she likely couldn't care less!
posted by waving at 10:49 AM on November 13, 2012

I have been mistaken for the Ex before. (in a former relationship)

Not a little. But completely. Like me and "stranger at party" got well into a conversation until they asked me about something I didn't understand. That happened more than once.

I think my girlfriend said something like "Yeah, you look exactly alike" Because we did, and there was nothing she could do about that. It didn't bother me at all, but I did start introducing myself more clearly at parties which is a good social skill.
posted by French Fry at 10:50 AM on November 13, 2012

It shouldn't be an issue. I think we have physical "types" we are attracted to, so having a GF that looks like an ex-wife really shouldn't be a big deal to anyone.

That said, you can probably expect other people to prattle on about it.
posted by PsuDab93 at 11:42 AM on November 13, 2012

You don't mention the two parties' relative ages. Is your wife significantly older than the girlfriend? If so, given the asymmetrically gendered ways age and power play out in some milieux, it might be felt that you had 'traded her in for a younger model' -- my mother was furious on my behalf when she met my ex-boyfriend's much younger girlfriend (who reminded many people of me), and this was her reasoning.

(Some people are threatened by doppelgängers, but others are fascinated: the young lady in question has since become mrs_goldfish.)
posted by feral_goldfish at 2:07 PM on November 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I was once in a store with my mom and my dad's current wife, and the clerk asked us if we were all related in some way "since you all look so similar!" We all laughed. Clearly, this doesn't have to be a source of strife, and probably isn't something you need to prepare either of them for.

That said, if the resemblance is real and you try the "no, I had never noticed that" line, you may sound pretty silly, especially if you're a bad liar. Nthing "guess I do have a type" as an appropriate response that shouldn't offend anyone.
posted by dizziest at 2:27 PM on November 13, 2012

This is pretty common. Hell if I was your girlfriend I'd find it reassuring that I was clearly your ideal physical type.

I don't think your ex will necessarily be upset. Probably mildly weirded out. This happened to a friend of mine and I got the email from her that was essentially "I'm not crazy his new gf looks just like me??" She wasn't upset and if anything sort of amused he had moved on to what we all assured her was an inferior version of herself. But seriously not a big deal.
posted by whoaali at 2:56 PM on November 13, 2012

Nthing to not make it a thing and to respond either noncommittally or disagree. Because it doesn't matter a whit, good grief, they're two completely different women. Really, the only possibly interesting thing about such a resemblance would be your reaction to remarks about it.

(Besides, people will swear up and down that the new flame looks SO MUCH like the ex even if they only share very, very generic similarities with broad categories of human-shape, race, and hair color.)
posted by desuetude at 5:31 PM on November 13, 2012

…If this happens again, look slightly puzzled and say, "I really don't see that." …If your girlfriend brings it up, deny, deny, deny. "I don't think so."

if they do in fact resemble each other, denying it would be so…weird.

just say something like, "yeah, i'd say i have a type—except they're/you're nothing alike!" and then change the subject.
posted by violetk at 8:33 PM on November 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm thinking back to all the boys with ponytails and glasses I used to date......

Yeah, don't make a deal about it. People have types.
posted by whitneyarner at 1:06 AM on November 14, 2012

Another perspective: My boyfriend at some time or several times made a comment of how much I looked like an ex he dated for many years. On meeting her, I cannot figure out what he is picking out that makes us look alike. Aside from having boobs and brown hair, I think we look quite different.
posted by whatzit at 3:27 AM on November 14, 2012

The person I'd be most concerned about is your child. You don't mention his or her age or gender, or how long you've been divorced, but if the physical resemblance is strong, and it seems to be, is it possible your child might extend an unearned emotional relationship to your girlfriend that exists because of her/his mom or vice versa, withdraw because of dynamics with her/his mom? I grew up with the children of a man who remarried a woman that everyone--everyone--was stunned at how much she looked like his dead wife. The kids in particular were very distressed about it, and distressed that the dad didn't seem to want to acknowledge or deal with it. They went many years struggling with how to reconcile their feelings of grief (which your child may deal with as a child of divorce as well) and how those feelings were "sexualized" by their father's relationship with this new girlfriend. And because the kids were girls, it also threw a lot of cultural baggage about looks into stark relief at a time (their teens) when they could have used less of that.
posted by cocoagirl at 9:10 AM on November 14, 2012

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