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Thou shalt not covet thy ex’s life

Carolyn Hax
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Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Hi, Carolyn:

I just found out — through social media — that my ex from over a decade ago is expecting a baby with his lovely, perfect wife. He and I are friends at this point, but I have never been able to stop comparing my own life with his. This is the next piece of great news in a long parade of it for them — beautiful wedding, beautiful home purchase, major career promotions for both of them, now this.

I am not unhappy — my husband and I have a beautiful new baby whom I would not trade for anything — but I am frustrated in my career and not well-dressed like his wife and we’re nowhere near being able to buy a house, and part of me just can’t believe they managed to have it all in the correct order.

And for further context, he dumped me.

I’m trying to fight through some really ugly feelings so I can be fair to my husband and baby. Any advice, beyond just to stop looking at social media? Though I am due for a cleanse.

— Comparing

“Lovely, perfect wife”? Is she a specimen in a lab? Because if there’s human perfection loose in the wild, I need to see for myself.

I’ll confess, I’ve typed and deleted a few opening sentences, and the problem is that I can’t take seriously that anyone seriously looks at anyone and sees “beautiful wedding, beautiful home purchase, major career promotions … expecting a baby with his lovely, perfect wife.” I guess what I never expect to find in the wild is a human who has zero skepticism about the exquisite glory of someone’s life as curated on social media.

Really? You’re buying it all, down to the last sip of Veuve Clicquot?

Credulity like that seems more like something you — on some level — want to have versus wish you didn’t. Meaning, there’s something you get from this emotionally, this self-flagellation-by-ex, this comparative self-loathing. It strikes me as on the same spectrum, albeit the mild end, as cutting — where surveilling this ex’s life is your way of giving shape and voice to your pain.

There has always been coveting, but social media cuts out all the natural barriers, adds a few psychological levers to facilitate addiction, and allows us to compare ourselves with everyone we know 24-7. So, yes, definitely go for that “cleanse.”

But also give your feelings the respect they deserve and get a health screening. You’re down, on the inside, and it’s ultimately not about what anyone else has going on on the outside. Please be fair to yourself now and start taking care of you.

Re: Social media:

I use social media to showcase the best moments in my life, so I can relive those moments and allow my friends and family to see — and hopefully get a little joy out of them. I don’t post photos of sick days or arguments with my wife and children or rough days at work. I don’t want to relive those moments, and nobody wants to.

— Part of the Truth

Well said, thanks.

Re: Comparing:

Since “Comparing” also has a new baby, maybe a screening for postpartum depression would be a good idea?

— Anonymous

Always. When anything is amiss in a new mother’s mood. Bears repeating: PPD is ridiculously common and potentially devastating.

Email Carolyn at [email protected], follow her on Facebook or chat with her online at noon each Friday at washingtonpost.com.

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