I Don’t Like My Ex Anymore. So Why Do I Care So Much?

Amelia Diamond | February 14, 2017

(And other similar, infuriating thoughts that don’t make sense but can make us wonder why we weren’t “good enough”)

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Humans like tidy answers. It is the only explanation I have for those who enjoy math. One and one equals two. That’s the way it has always been. Tomorrow it will be, too. We are curious by nature and logical by design; the sky cannot just be blue — there has to be a reason.

The problem is that we want tidy answers for every situation, but life isn’t always tidy. Per the parental response to our childlike whys, sometimes, “it just is what it is.”

That response is infuriating. It is unhelpful and apathetic. If there were a dragon running around your apartment lighting fire to your furniture and you couldn’t figure out how to stop it, would you really shrug and be like, “It is what it is?” No. You’d grab the nearest dragon hose. But when it comes to singed egos from burned hearts, this hands-off form of acceptance can be a thick, rich salve — a soother of emotional ailments.

“Why not me?” It is the dating question that my friends and I ask anytime someone who we chose did not choose us back. Why was I good enough to hang out with, hook up with, dine with (add your own) but not (add your own) made into girlfriend, fiancé, life partner, wife? 

We do not ask these kinds of things for reassurance or compliments. We ask them, in part, because we are self-described masochists, blacksmiths who sharpen that question’s curved punctuation into a self-inflicting weapon. Even if the diagnosis confirms our fears, a tidy answer holds the promise of treatment. Of getting better. Except there rarely is a diagnosis, or when there is, it’s insignificant.

A game I like to play when this question comes up is to make a mental list of everyone who I did not choose. I have my friends do this, too.

Half fall under category one: Perfectly Nice People & People Who Were Actually Perfect…I Just Didn’t Like Them.

The other half fall under category two: People Who I Couldn’t Stand (Though Sometimes It Took Me a While To Realize) For the Following List of Exhausting Reasons.

And in category two, after I’ve relished in being hypocritical and evil for writing out a million different flaws of dismissed potential companions, I realize that — apart from the true douche lords who don’t deserve the energy of anyone recounting their crap — so often these ticks, neuroses and turn offs that I couldn’t stand were, ultimately, irrelevant. Because think of those who you have chosen and their various defects. When you like or love someone, you work through their baggage and you ignore their ugly pants.

Once you remember all of this, it’s easy to flip the scenario back. It’s definitely not you, but it also isn’t them. It just is what it is.

Heather Havrilesky once penned something for The Cut’s Ask Polly column that I have never forgotten. A reader asked what she was doing wrong with men. Heather-as-Polly responded with the following:

“They aren’t stupid or bad for not liking you. They aren’t mysterious or important for not liking you. They simply exist. You are repeatedly imbuing them with power, pretending that they hold the key to your true identity and your true mistakes, when they just don’t.”

“They simply exist” adds tangibility to the shrug of “it is what it is.” It turns that phrase into Sims characters who pass one another by unaware, each focused on his or her unique and uniquely flawed path. We are all going about our days, every day. We are focused, distracted and busy. It takes something very special, but not impossible, to cause a mutual crash.

When this question comes up — “Why not me?” — and we are in dire straits, when my consolee is inconsolable and convinced of eternal solitude, when I have worn through every unproductive “Fuck him!” and sincere “You’re brilliant! You’re beautiful! You’re TOO GOOD!,” I tell an anecdote that throws the very best man I know under the bus for the sake of a medicinal laugh: My dad, at age 23, broke up with a girl because she looked at him too much.

It is so ridiculous. And it is today what it was then: ultimately, irrelevant.

Being honest doesn’t mean you’re being crazy.  Related: Defining the relationship at 27 is complicated.

Photo by Jamie Hodgson via Getty Images; collage by Emily Zirimis.

  • Holly Laine Mascaro

    Best ending ever.

  • tmm16

    “The problem is that we want tidy answers for every situation, but life isn’t always tidy” – bingo. I used to search for answers and it was emotionally exhausting.

    I’ve been viewing dating/relationships in a similar way recently. Everything and anything is about timing. If it didn’t work out with a guy/girl, oh well, there will be another one your way soon enough. It just is and everything, and everyone, lives on.

  • ella

    This article is so perfect! I think it’s so easy to fall into the, why-doesn’t-he-like-me rabbit hole, when it’s also just as easy to meet the perfect but just not the one guy. It is what it is being synonymous to they just exist and don’t define what you are and what you are not is so powerful and I know I personally needed to be reminded that. So, thank you! 🙂

  • Natasha

    I might have a crush on your dad.

    • Amelia Diamond

      he’s a true gem!!! (that’s a diamond joke)

  • Allie Fasanella

    the thought of someone not being completely in love with you is ridiculous to me

    • Amelia Diamond

      Allie Fasanella let me send you a heart shaped box of chocolates IMMEDIATELY

  • Choked on my tea at the mention of “dragon hose” thank u Amelia.

    • Amelia Diamond

      lmk where to buy one though because home depot is out again

  • Meg S

    Buying a dragon hose for moments when my friend goes running back to the guy who won’t upgrade her past hook up, and for when my Mother says “What ever happened to Kevin? I liked Kevin.”

    • Amelia Diamond

      omg always with effing kevin, right?

      • Meg S

        One day I’ll snap and tell her what happened to effing Kevin. Or get out the dragon hose.

      • SC

        I dated a guy named Mike for literally one month my junior year of high school and my mom *still* asks about “Perfect Mike” from time to time. I’m 28.

  • Lady_A

    I remember having those thoughts when my ex married his now wife like a year ago. I wondered why I had to be the one he cheated on and why he got the “happy ending” instead of me. But then I realised I was very happy without him and that he was now her problem. Not mine. Although I was angry because “he didn’t deserve it” it is what it is. My anger was not going to stop him from getting married. My anger was only going to stop me from enjoying and growing in my current relationship. So, ultimately, his happiness or lack thereof is no longer relevant to me. I think that was the moment I truly, deeply and unequivocally broke up even with the memory of him.

    • streats

      My ex got married last year and even though it was never something I wanted for us, it still made me go “huh. Interesting” when I found out. I couldn’t tell if it was because my ex got married, or because HE of all people, who never wanted anything like that, got married. It was a weird feeling; part bitterness/self-doubt, part relief/closure. And then a few months ago I found out he was separated and I hated that I felt a little “Ha!” bubble up inside me. I felt like I’d won, but at what game? Ultimately I felt bad for him but also glad that I no longer felt anything for him to care that he was back on the market, so to speak. I can totally relate to what you say about breaking up with the memory of someone; for so long I had this bitterness, not because of anything that happened but because of how it made me feel. I still felt like I needed some kind of validation that he cared about me in some way, even just on a human level, to justify what we went through. Gradually that need lessened. It’s not nothing yet, but I feel like I’m getting closer.

    • Amelia Diamond

      breaking up “with the memory” of someone, as you said, is such a thing. and such a hard thing.

      • Aimee

        It’s horrible!! Mostly because after a while it becomes a little insidious you don’t even realize it’s there until one day it basically explodes…. Like when you learn your ex is getting married.

  • Natty

    On a particularly bleak, hungover Sunday I was innocently waiting for my bagel at Murrays and scrolling through instagram when I stumbled upon a photo of my ex down on one knee. I almost collapsed. How rude to shove that in my face when I haven’t even had my breakfast sandwich! Needless to say the Sunday Fear was quite brutal that day.

    Also, Amelia, you ran by me in West Village last weekend. I wanted to say hi but felt awkward and was also embarrassed by the horribly douchey conversation I was having about the pros and cons of open floor plans.

    • Amelia Diamond

      I am ALWAYS talking about the pros and cons of open floor plans! i wish you said hi. I am also always running because I am late.

      • Natty

        Next time! I was starstruck! 🙂

  • streats

    This analysis was a lot more real and resolved than I expected it to be. And I mean that in a good way. I thought it was going to be a rhetorical question, open-ended for us to all general ponder, as we are wont to do, but I’m actually coming away from this feeling unexpectedly enlightened, like my own real life “He’s just not that into you” epiphany moment, Miranda Hobbes style. You are wonderful. You are wise. You are my Jack Berger, Amelia. (Except I’m sure you wouldn’t dump me via Post-It)

    • Amelia Diamond

      I would never ever dump you, period, let alone on such lackluster non-stationary. Also I have been thinking about this one A LOT and couldn’t write it until I tied it the fuck up. You know??

  • kay

    this is so good!!!

  • b_rose96

    WOW. This is very relevant, THANK YOU FOR POSTING THIS. My not even ex boyfriend just got engaged and I thought it would be a brilliant idea to go to their engagement party. LOL. While it was affirming to see that it was actually real and actually happening and I couldn’t keep ignoring it, it hurt like hell. 10/10 would not recommend. But there is a 9/10 chance I will end up going to the wedding 🙂

    • Amelia Diamond

      I just saw a wedding invite where the main text was “FREE BOOZE”

  • Al

    I loved this article, it’s finally putting into words an opinion I’ve been having for a while but could never formulate as clearly.

    He didn’t marry you because you simply were not right for each other (which means he was not right for you too by the way, which is something we tend to forget when we focus on why “HE didn’t choose ME”).
    Were you not good enough for him? No.
    Are you so amazing and fantastic and definitely deserve something better? (A.K.A. “the post break-up best friend speech”) No.
    Does the fact that he didn’t choose you as his life partner define you or your value as a woman or as a girlfriend? No.
    It simply wasn’t meant to be. He was not right for you, you were not right for him. It’s very simple, in fact, and doesn’t have more meanings or implications than the fact that you weren’t the “right” couple.

    We (women) tend to over-analyse and give a higher meaning to everything, but very often reality is much more simple than the one we try to make up in our brains.
    And yes simple might mean boring, but it also means some peace of mind (finally).

    xx Al

  • Louise

    I always think of this in terms of clothes. Did the shirt look good on you? Sure. But maybe you can’t afford it right now, or maybe it doesn’t *exactly* match with the rest of your closet, or maybe it is an outfit that the girl you *think* you want to be would wear. But if you’re only going to buy one dress, don’t you want to make sure it’s the one you look stunning in, not just the one you look *okay* in? It’s so sad when you have to leave something on the rack, because something is just not quite so, even though you *wish* it were. But just because the dress didn’t fit exactly doesn’t make it an ugly dress, a poorly made dress necessarily. It just wasn’t the dress for you! And there are so many dresses out there!!!

    • Amelia Diamond

      i like thinking of this in terms of clothes!

  • Michelle Morgan

    Amelia LOVED this piece. I have struggled in the past with this same question after a relationship dissipates. It is a question that can really eat at me but I just have to remember half the time it isn’t personal and not about yourself. Thanks for writing.
    -Michelle

    • Amelia Diamond

      I will!!

  • Rheanonn Clarissa Perez

    “..blacksmiths who sharpen that question’s curved punctuation into a self-inflicting weapon.”

    such poetry wow

    • Amelia Diamond

      one drink on me for you!

  • Laura_B

    My Ex unceremoniously moved across the country without even so much as a good bye, just a text saying that he had already left and we’d talk, which of course we never did. I loved your point, Amelia, about tidy endings. For the longest time I needed, or maybe just craved, a type of closure that would somehow eliminate the pain. I felt like I was owed an explanation that made me the “winner” of the breakup game. But in reality, it isn’t a game and making myself sick over his instagrams is like a self inflicted wound I keep reopening expecting a different result each time. Thanks for this Amelia, your words are always like warm blankets for the soul

    • Amelia Diamond

      oof. did you ever get an explanation? i have a lot of thoughts on closure and whether or not it’s always actually necessary. i’m mixed.

  • CDC

    Amelia, you truly are the window to my soul.

    Just this morning I was thinking about this, wondering why even though I haven’t had contact with the ex for more than a year, and I don’t think I have feelings for him anymore, I can’t seem to stop being complacent in my loneliness and actually make an effort to meet/date anyone else. Polly’s answer hit it on the nose: I haven’t felt good enough for anyone because I wasn’t good enough for him. Now I know that’s just silly! It was real and it really hurt, but only I can make the effort, guys don’t just fall into your lap (unless you’re at a strip club I guess).

    This is tough love, the best kind.

  • Jolie

    Oh wow, this really hits home right now. I’m in a happy, serious relationship, but still have those irrational “WHY NOT ME?” thoughts about certain people, despite the fact that I’m not actually interested in being with them anymore. It’s that shattering of the conception that you might be cooler, prettier, funnier, smarter, and better than you really think you are that makes an ex’s happiness without you even more infuriating.

    This week, I had this feeling when one of those “WHY NOT ME” exes contacted me online for the first time in a while. Those old thoughts of “you did X to me, you hurt me so much, you were happy with someone else after we were over” bubbled up, even though they were no longer relevant. I realized reading this article that one of the exes who reaaaaally liked me but I let go of because I wasn’t 100% into him had also reached out to me this week, only for me to ignore him. I now wonder if I’m one of his “WHY NOT ME”s…

  • Áine Hegarty

    “Even if the diagnosis confirms our fears, a tidy answer holds the promise of treatment.”

    Yes! Finding a problem and then a solution is a good way to keep myself busy enough to never have to accept or see myself.