Let's face it: there's a strange universal satisfaction upon receiving the information that you are arbitrarily happier and more successfully in love than your ex. If you're not the person who started dating again first, you've lost the game.
So how do you win in the race for (new) love?
For the past two years, I've been under the impression that I've been the one losing. That particular ex of mine has been in relationships since me, and I have not. After recently reconnecting, he managed to slip into conversation that it had been his intention to marry the last girl he dated - they had sadly broken up some time ago, frankly unsurprisingly to those who knew the couple. He sounded so broken about the demise of the relationship, when just a few days earlier he was happy about it. And as he complained to me about his life, his being lonely and bored, and his existential crises, I suddenly realized that I had been living with the possibility that my ex, who had broken my heart not once, not twice, but three times, could have been married before me.
I didn't want to believe it. After all the pain that he had caused - how could he find happiness before me? Although I knew he was miserable, and that he had been for a very long time, it was the possible semblance of happiness that I was jealous of. I wanted that. I wanted the privilege to prove to him and to all my exes and to the whole world that on the surface, I was happy. It wasn't enough that I really was happy, even if I was happy without a partner. It just wasn't fair that people could look at him and believe his happiness and then look at me with a tiny ounce of pity, maybe whispering to one another how I must have been the defect in that relationship, that I must be miserable without him, and that I was the one still hanging on to a failed love. I just refused to look like the weaker one, even if I knew none of what was going through my head was really true. I thought about ways in which I could inadvertently take his happiness away, but only because he consistently found ways to remind me that I was at the bottom of the food chain of all the women he had been with.
I also realized that I was acting like a vindictive bitch. But yet again, who hasn't thought about 'unknowingly' shoving it to their ex by finding someone new, posting something you know he or she would like on social media, or just showing them they made a mistake in letting you go?
But even when I briefly put those thoughts aside, in my mind I was supposed to show him that I was desirable, that I deserved someone better than him, and that I could and I would meet that someone. I didn't think that I would be that girl so callously envying the man I needed so desperately to one up, like a petty teenager. I was treating love like a commodity to be traded, when it's supposed to a gift meant for the most righteous and generous of individuals. Every woman after me, he had wanted to marry at some point or another. He used the word too liberally, too often for me to believe that his feelings were anchored in anything substantial. And I was operating under the assumption that I actually wanted to be married at 22 or 23, when I knew that I was just feeling inadequate because he seems to be ready to make a home run in love when I was still stuck at first base. And you always want to make it home.
A few weeks ago, I met a recently divorced man. At (a still youthful) 28 years old, he got married right out of college and painted a very dismal portrait of the institution. The worst part was the steady decline in the amount of sex the couple was having. "You have your whole lives ahead of you," he told me. "There's no sense of time or time pressure. You believe you're going to spend the rest of your lives together, so it's easy to push something back a couple of days. Days turn into weeks, weeks turn into months, months turn into years."
I can't pretend that I still don't want to win the game, even if it is a shallow, pointless game. But until I get that satisfaction, I can look back on my romantic history and have no regrets, knowing that I have loved honestly. As it turns out, after years of feeling unsatisfied and believing that I lost the game, it doesn't matter how happy he looks on the outside. He may have found other women after me, but I took the time to love myself. And just maybe, I won all by myself.