Girl Talk: How I Finally Stopped Comparing Myself To My Ex

For years after my ex and I broke up, I used to like to play this game where I’d compare myself to him. This was not a fun game. He had just written a bestselling novel, was living with his girlfriend, and bought a house. I felt like he had really “made it” in every way that mattered – career, relationship, and home. But after all this time I was still struggling and still single. Failing, it felt like. A failure.

What truly matters, it turns out, is on the inside anyway – being engaged, not to a person, but in your own life, no matter where you are on the spectrum of “success.”

”At brunch with a friend one day, I mentioned my ex’s success. I was hoping she would comfort me, and tell me that none of those things mattered. That they were all externals, and what truly mattered was on the inside.

“Wow,” she said, sipping her coffee, “that sucks, you must feel like crap.”

And I did. Though I did not really need the reminder.

Sure, I had issues, but I always thought that he had a lot more. When we were dating, things would be great for a while, but then he’d go days without being in touch, weeks without wanting to get together, and the few times he stayed over at my apartment, I thought he was going to hyperventilate. He said things like, “I’ll probably be single forever,” and, “I love you, I don’t want to hurt you anymore.”

“Then stop hurting me!” I replied.

But it turned out that the only way he could do that was to not be together.

When we broke up, I was devastated, but I soothed myself by thinking that since I was relatively more emotionally healthy, I’d be the one to meet someone else and move on first. I imagined running into him one sunny weekend afternoon as I was strolling hand in hand with my husband down a tree-lined street in my neighborhood. We’d make friendly small talk, I’d tell him about all my career success which he’d already know about because it was that phenomenal, and before we parted ways, I’d smile sympathetically to convey, Don’t worry, you’ll meet someone someday, too.

So I did not understand how this happened.

When I played my compare and despair game, I would Google my ex, or read his blog, or check his Twitter, to see just how fabulous his life was, and how miserable mine was in comparison. There were articles he’d written and articles that had been written about him, blog posts about book signings and panel appearances, and tweets about black tie galas and trips around the world. And then one day, there was a blog post about how he’d gotten married, and he and his wife were expecting a baby.

I stared at the screen, blinking.

It had been three years since we’d broken up. I lived in the same 250 square foot studio I’d just moved into when I first met him five years ago, the apartment I’d thought of as a temporary stop on the way to a floor-through in a brownstone. I was broke and unemployed, watching his career get better and better. I’d gone on a handful of bad dates, and hadn’t been in another serious relationship. I was living in the past, fantasizing that he was my soul mate. And all of the sudden I could see that he wasn’t waiting for me at all.

Sitting in my apartment, the room was spinning around me. I didn’t want to check his Twitter or read his blog anymore; this was a game I could never win. Unless I wanted to be stuck in exactly the same place for the next three, or five, or 10 years, I needed to spend my time focusing on my own life, instead of with my nose pressed against the glass of the computer screen, watching his life flit fabulously by in 140 characters or less.

Recently, after over six months of sticking to this resolve, I visited his blog again out of curiosity. Maybe I was feeling nostalgic for the good old days of self-inflicted misery and wanted to play one more round of my former favorite game. On his blog, there was a new post about his successful career and his happy family. Only this time, it didn’t make me feel bad about myself. It didn’t carry the heavy meaning it once did – that he was a success, that I was a failure. It didn’t mean that his life was perfect because he had those things, and mine wasn’t because I didn’t.

I realized that I love my cozy little studio even though it’s not a house. I love writing even if I’m not a bestselling author. I am working on myself so I can be in a healthy relationship, because ours was not. And what truly matters, it turns out, is on the inside anyway – being engaged, not to a person, but in your own life, no matter where you are on the spectrum of “success.”

Reading his blog post, I realized that I was only glimpsing a moment of his life. I have no idea what the rest of it is like, and shouldn’t keep torturing myself by pretending I do. Though I wish him the best, I recognize that just because someone is married does not mean that they are miraculously cured of all their relationship issues.

And that is enough for me to declare: Game over.