Dear Swipe This!
I recently looked at my ex-boyfriend’s Instagram account, and I realized that he is in a fabulous new relationship and posting about it all the time. While we were dating, he never once posted a picture of us. I never asked him about it because asking someone to post a picture feels really cringey to me. But seeing his super happy posts with the new girl made me realize how nice it would feel to have been acknowledged publicly.
I can’t remember the last time a guy I dated posted our picture. It makes me feel like I’m never the “real” girlfriend—or like I’m not worth posting about.
I should also mention that I am incredibly unlucky in love. I always meet guys who aren’t “ready” for a relationship. Or I meet someone who thinks he’s ready, and then boom! He freaks out and realizes he needs to focus on his career, or there’s some deep incompatibility between us.
Basically, I am a magnet for manchildren who I mother into being reasonably functional human beings. Then they break up with me and move on to someone who they treat at least marginally better.
That said, I don’t resent my ex for being happy. We shared some wonderful moments, and I made my peace with saying goodbye to him many months ago. If he’s happy, cool. I want him to be happy! But what gives? Why am I always the lover lurking quietly in the background and never the one proudly on display for all the world to celebrate?
Looking up exes on social media is truly the worst idea. And yet, we all do it. It’s too easy and too tempting. But I can’t think of a time when anyone has ever said, “I’m sooooo glad I spent the last 30 minutes deep diving Trevor’s Instagram feed.” At best, it's a waste of time. At worst, it's self-harm.
But OK, you did it. And now you’re left with some pain as well as a totally bogus story about yourself. You attract the wrong kind of guy. You’re not worth posting about. And, perhaps most false and damaging of all: You’re not the “real” girlfriend.
Do you even hear how you’re talking to yourself? You’re tying your worth to another person’s behavior. You’re saying if you don’t get what you prefer you must not be valuable enough to get it. These are such ugly hurtful things to choose to believe about yourself.
Here’s what I choose to believe about relationships. Every person we meet is a mirror. Some people are Magic Mirrors. They show us who we are in the most sparkling light. They reflect back to us what is most lovable, delightful, and exciting in us. Other people are Magnifying Mirrors. They can make us feel totally bare and even ugly. They reveal our flaws. They show us parts of us that may be unnerving or difficult. They may even show us deep wounds that need healing. And that can be incredibly uncomfortable—yet valuable.
And then there are the Funhouse Mirrors. Funhouse Mirrors cannot be trusted. They twist and distort us. They contain pieces of us, yes, but rearranged into something totally unreal. Funhouse Mirrors lie.
Even though this relationship has ended, you’re still using your ex as a big ol' Funhouse Mirror. Maybe there’s something fascinating about looking at this distorted version of yourself, but it simply isn’t real or true.
You say you never asked any of your boyfriends to post a picture of you because it’s “cringey,” and yet when you see they’ve posted pictures of others, you assign it so much meaning and value. For all you know, your exes are simply dating women who make demands, and they are complying. Instead of buying into this funhouse image of yourself as unworthy, you should get curious about why you’re harboring so much shame. Why is it bad to want to be seen and celebrated? Why is love so embarrassing to you? Why is it dangerous to ask for what you really want?
In the best relationships, both partners get to be Magic Mirrors. Your partner gets to show you yourself, and you get to show them their own beautiful reflection. I want you to step away from that Funhouse Mirror you’ve been gazing into and think about the relationships in your life that do reflect your worth. Who makes you feel like your most seen, valued, and sparkling self? What would it feel like to date someone who does that too? Would it be cringey? Or might it actually feel really fucking great?
I suspect you’re a little embarrassed because the kind of love you want is big and grandiose and over-the-top. Somewhere down the road, you got the message that that kind of display is silly or shameful. But there’s nothing shameful about letting your most lovable self be seen. So stop staring at your ex’s Instagram and start looking at yourself with a little more kindness and a little more love. Stop clinging to those Funhouse Mirrors, and look around and notice all the mirrors that reflect the real you back.