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. . .
Dear Swipe This!
I stalk my ex-boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend on Instagram. I check her feed every day, multiple times a day. I know this is probably “creepy” and “weird,” but I also don’t want to stop.
My ex and I broke up about 10 years ago and he started dating this woman right after me. She’s a blonde—he had told me he hates blondes—so naturally, I was curious about her and I did what everyone does: I looked her up on Facebook.
She was gorgeous and interesting and Australian and I found myself wanting to know more and more about her.
Eventually, they broke up but I still found her fascinating. Even though I got married and carried on with my life, I kept looking at her pictures and her posts. And then, a couple of summers ago, I was feeling kind of low and I found her on Instagram.
Every post was beautiful and perfect. She was on a picturesque road trip with her friends drinking wine. She was perfectly posed by the beach in a pretty dress. She was wearing gorgeous jewelry that she makes herself.
I started looking at her friends’ Instagrams. I also watched her acting reel (she used to act, I think she quit) and she was so talented. And then I found her jewelry company and all of it was so perfect and stunning and beautiful.
If I’m being totally honest, when I started stalking her on Instagram, I was depressed. I had started acting professionally but not much was happening for me. And looking at her pictures made me sad because she was gorgeous and talented and always on the beach in pretty dresses.
A lot has changed for me in the past two years. I’m much happier now. I feel confident in my acting career and I love performing. But I just won’t stop looking at her Instagram.
At this point, I am basically her biggest fan. I no longer feel jealous when I look at her pictures. I just enjoy them. I have thought about reaching out to her to say hi. Or commissioning a piece of jewelry from her. I really do love her jewelry and I have fantasized about the statement earrings I would order. But then I think that’s “sick,” I can’t do that. But then I think, maybe it’s not? Should I reach out to her?
Pretty Little Stalker
Dear Pretty Little Stalker,
Don’t you just love a good vacation? Maybe your perfect getaway is a trip to Paris, sipping coffee in pretty cafes. Or maybe you love the serenity of a lake surrounded by ice-capped mountains. For me it’s Barbados. Just plop me on that white sand beach and hook the rum punch IV straight to my veins. For obvious reasons, we can’t do this every day (or ever, really, when it comes to that rum punch IV), but gosh it feels good to get away from the nit and grit of ordinary living.
Social media offers us bite-sized digital vacations from our lives. We can dip a toe in the pond of another person’s extravagant wedding. We can luxuriate in the Vicodin-like pastel tones of a lifestyle blog. We can let a sparkly beauty tutorial carry us away to a magical world where eyeshadow doesn’t crease and matte lipstick stays perfectly put.
Whatever social media destination you choose, I’d say those mini vacations are a healthy indulgence from time to time. It’s a relief to leave our office, or some dirty dishes, or the audition waiting room for a minute and visit another person’s world.
But there is a big difference between making a choice to engage in a little online people-watching and finding yourself trapped in a pattern of repetitive, compulsive behavior. Based on your descriptions, I’m afraid you fall into the latter category of the two.
That said, you are not “sick.” You are heartbreakingly human. You are simply persisting in a behavior that no longer serves you.
Let’s take an honest look at who and what you are looking at. The woman you “stalk” is appealing in many ways. But you were drawn to her because she had things you did not: your ex-boyfriend, blonde hair, and a seemingly effortless life. You say your attraction was based in admiration, but what I’m seeing is that you felt a sense of competition and a sense of lacking, and checking her Instagram both validated and deepened those senses. No wonder you kept coming back for more! Here was a woman who “had it all” in a moment when you felt you had so little.
In your darker moments, you may have told yourself that you could never have what she had. But that thought is a myth. You weren’t comparing yourself to her, you were comparing yourself to a hologram. And no matter how pretty or appealing that hologram was, you have no way of knowing what her life is actually like. You cannot know how many auditions she bombed, how many boyfriends rejected her, or how many of those friends on her wine trip failed to pick up the phone when she needed a shoulder to cry on. All you can know is what you gleaned from her beautifully curated digital life.
In contrast, you have built yourself a real life that is rich and rewarding. That is no small feat. You say you are happier now and I believe you are being honest. So why the compulsion to keep looking at this other woman? Why are you fantasizing that you could commission some statement earrings from this pretty blonde and become BFFs?
My guess is, you don’t actually want to be this woman’s friend. Her jewelry might be cute, but you can find something just as lovely or better on Etsy.
What you really want is to resolve your own persistent urge to compete.
Women are socialized to compete, to objectify ourselves, to constantly look over our shoulders and see how we rank or stack up. In our worst moments, we attack ourselves, we turn other women into weapons with which we inflict self-harm. Fortunately, we are also socialized to offer support and love. In our best moments, we lift each other up. When we become friends, real friends, we do not compete. We support each other. We root for each other. We share and give and enhance each other’s lives.
In some ways, your impulse to take what may have once been a tool for self-harm and turn it into a space of love and healing is a healthy one. But I assure you, in addition to being a terrible breach of boundaries, reaching out to this woman will do nothing to resolve your own inner turmoil over who “has it all” and who is struggling to keep up.
What you really want is to rewrite the story of a time when you felt like you weren’t enough and tack on a happy ending. The good news is you’re already halfway there. Your narrative isn’t over—it’s ongoing. Every day you get to write the story of your own life, your own career, and your own happiness.
The bad news is, like all writers, you’re going to have to murder your darlings. You may have come to have affection for this guest star in your life. You may think she’s cute and pretty and interesting. But she is detracting from the main event. Edit her out. The protagonist is you.
And if you do need a vacation, I hear Barbados is lovely this time of year.
Nayomi Reghay is a frequent contributor to the Daily Dot, covering body positivity, feminism, sex, relationships, and gender. She is also the author of the advice column “Swipe This!” A former New York Teaching Fellow, her writing has been featured in Reductress, Rolling Stone, Mic, Someecards, and more.