When Your Ex Gets Engaged - The Ex Factor
Why do we care when an ex finally gets engaged? Finding out that your ex has proposed to someone else can make you feel like a loser in the relationship stakes. Why? And can we blame social media? We’re constantly taught that a relationship is no marker for success. The idea that one needs to bag a good husband to make her way in the world is a concept that belongs in Jane Austen’s novels.
But when you’re dealing with an ex, that all goes out of the window. Suddenly your current relationship status becomes paramount. Because how else do you measure who’s won?
I only recently realised how true this is, when I learnt that my ex-boyfriend had got engaged (thanks for that, Facebook). When the initial sucker punch of surprise, hurt and fleeting regret had died down, I just felt like a failure. Because, while my career may have lapped his and I may be far happier than I ever was when we were together, frankly, who cares?
I’m still single, whereas he has managed to maintain a functioning relationship long enough to ask someone to spend the rest of their life with him. Therefore, he wins. It makes sense I suppose. When you split up with someone - however it ends, and whoever instigated it - you tell yourself (with significant encouragement from your nearest and dearest) that you can do better, that you’ll quickly meet someone else. You convince yourself that your ex will be left lonely and full of raging regret.
But what if that doesn’t happen? Does it mean that you were wrong? Or – worse – that they’re the ones who are better off without you? “It’s human nature to draw comparisons with our exes,” explains Clinical Pyschologist Dr Jessamy Hibberd. “We all have the drive to evaluate ourselves – our attitudes, our abilities and beliefs – and to do this we compare ourselves to others. Viewing your relationship with an ex as win or lose is very common, but it makes it harder to move on.”
Of course, ‘the evil social media’ doesn’t help – you don’t have to search far to see your former significant other’s every triumph and failure. If you’re lucky they’ll be discreet. But if they’re the sort of person who announces every relationship, holiday, or indeed engagement, with three hundred of your nearest and dearest then there’s no escaping it.
“Where in the past you split up and rarely saw the person again, it made it easier to move on and there were limited opportunities for comparison as you weren’t aware of what they were doing,” explains Dr Jessamy. “Things like Facebook mean that you can stay up to date on what your ex is doing in a way you never could before. Social media is also a place where people put their best self forward – so you’re comparing yourself in an unfair way as it’s not the full picture.”
But there’s a wider issue here. As a woman, I’ve always found it hard to say that I’m happy being single without sounding like I’m protesting too much. Instead, we become caricatures, confined to familiar tropes. If we say that we are interested in meeting someone, that means we must be lonely and desperate, crying into our tub of ice cream. Say we’re too busy at work to meet anyone, or show a modicum of professional success? Then we’re all cold career women – which is why we’re single.
Guys can get away with it. As dull as it is, the tag of the ladies man, the carefree bachelor of choice, still persists. But there’s no real female equivalent. Look at how famous women are talked about. We’re still worried about (‘poor’) Jennifer Aniston, a decade after her divorce. Presumably this will quieten down if she gets married and manages to have a last-minute kid.
Would she get an easier time if her downstairs toilet was also being used as an Oscar storage facility? Maybe, but she’s always going to be on a back foot with her ex, Brad Pitt, until she gets a ring on that finger.
A friend of mine has run up a whole raft of married and engaged exes – for some reason a relationship with her is almost a guarantee that you’ll meet your life partner months down the track. Her attitude to it is admirable. “It used to make me feel bad, because no matter how badly the relationship ended, the news of their engagement meant my question was: what’s wrong with me – like I hadn’t been good enough?” This, I can totally relate to.
“But I’ve learnt to embrace it. I know they weren’t right for me, and clearly during our time together, I managed to mould them into excellent husbands – albeit for other people.
“It almost feels like I’m offering a public service for women.” I like that idea – it certainly feels far more altruistic and sisterly than the rumbling jealousy and resentment I feel towards my ex-boyfriend’s new fiancée (totally unfoundedly and pointlessly). So I’ll be opening the ‘Rebecca Holman’s School For Future Husbands’ any day now.
My only stipulation? That successful alumni of my school resist the temptation to announce their subsequent engagement on Facebook.