Opinion: Hearing that an ex has moved on will always feel weird. And that’s okay

When relationships break up, why are we still so upset to hear an ex has a new partner?

A woman with long hair looks at the camera while lying her head on another woman's shoulder

Christine Allen was shocked when she heard an ex had moved on, but even more shocked by her own reaction – so she talked to her friends about why our minds find it tricky to process.

“Ah it was a class night. There were a fair few of us there now. John, Paul, Sheila, Kate, Bil-”

As my ex’s name is uttered oh so casually by this friend of a friend, my legs feel as unsteady as Marianne’s on her first glimpse of Connell’s chain.

It’s been nine weeks since myself and ‘B’ split up, six since we last kissed after an emotional and alcohol fuelled encounter in our local haunt, five since an emotional late night phone call, and I’m nowhere near ready to hear about the woman my close friends now covertly refer to as B.

Yet, this friend of a friend clearly hasnt got the memo, and ploughs on, seemingly unaware of my discomfort. “Who’s that girl shes with now? The one with the short hair?”

I blindly reach for the nearest handrail.

Seeing my distress, the penny finally drops, for moments later this devil woman awkwardly mumbles something about the Luas and makes her escape down the nearest escalator.

When I recover from the initial blow, I’m angry. Since the break-up, I’ve purposefully remained ignorant to my ex’s whereabouts and activities (some feat in this day and age), and I resent how carelessly the truth has been thrust upon me. Yet as the meaning of what I’ve learnt sinks in, I feel overwhelmingly sad.

While I know rationally that myself and ‘B’ were each always going to date with someone else after our breakup, emotionally, I’m all at sea.

Yet, its not just heartache that I feel. It’s this whole concept of her being with someone else. It just feels so…well… foreign.

As unbidden thoughts flit into my mind of my ex kissing this faceless woman (I’ve no idea who Sharon is but have convinced myself that she’s an absolute ride), touching this faceless woman, saying ‘I love you’, I feel not only down but very unsettled.

While nobody has any right to lay claim to another human being, I can’t help but think of my ex as…well…my ex, so it’s no surprise that picturing her with somebody else feels incredibly odd.

In the weeks that follow, I avoid going out with our circle of friends, in the misguided belief that if I don’t see her and this new woman kissing, dancing and cuddling, it’s not actually happening.

Instead, I choose to sit in at the weekends (back when staying at home wasnt a government directive), scuppering my chances of meeting someone else, and in turn prolonging the pain of the inevitable ‘first sighting’, which happens very unexpectedly on a summer’s evening. The encounter leaves me wounded and dazed, and as I have a whinge in bed that night, I feel as if I am back at square one. In truth, by refusing to face the loss, I had never left.

Three years later, its January 2020 and hearing about an ex moving on still has the ability to give my heart an involuntary twist. Despite the strength of feeling having drastically lessened, in part due to the healing properties of time and separation, and the fact that I’ve dated in the interim, news that another ex has moved on still strikes a disconcerting chord.

It’s made all the more stronger when my inner masochist takes over and I engage in that obligatory Facebook creep, looking at pictures of this ex and her new partner, beaming happily into the camera.

So what is it about seeing an ex move on that’s so tricky for the mind to process?

With this piece in mind, I asked friends if they would mind talking openly about any feelings they felt on hearing that an ex had moved on. (Who am I kidding, they had no choice in the matter, but they are well used to me by now.) While there were many who were stoic in terms of its inevitability, I suspected that their answers may have been less measured had drink been involved. And so, like any freelance writer who takes their work seriously, I suggested after work cocktails.

As I suspected, having knocked back a few two-for-one Mojitos, the vast majority agreed that hearing, or God forbid witnessing, an ex moving on, in particular throughout the early stages of a post break-up, could be a very disconcerting not to mention upsetting experience. It was also suggested that the longer the relationship, the greater the struggle in terms of acceptance.

Interestingly, another friend also made the very valid point that the person who moves on first can often be left with feelings of guilt, not to mention a sense of having lost their bearings. Case in point, one confided that he broke down after kissing someone else on his first night out after a break-up. Needless to say, he wasn’t ready.

Now don’t get me wrong, there invariably are exes that we can’t wait to see the back of, and are only too relieved to hear have moved on. I do think it’s fair game to say, however, that in the main, when you have had an intense passionate experience with another human being, whether it be love or lust, that attachments, those memories and in turn feelings, take time to fade. And with that in mind, a sense of loss, sadness and oddity invariably will be the result of either hearing or seeing that the ex has moved on.

Like the prick of a needle or the jolt you feel as your car hits that speed bump you identified moments before, you can expect it, but it somehow always comes as a shock.

© 2020 GCN (Gay Community News). All rights reserved.

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