Dear Harry and Louise:
I’m jealous, and I’m having difficulty getting over it. I know I need to stop comparing myself to my boyfriend’s ex, but it is very, very difficult. I have been with my boyfriend for about a year, and we’re close and becoming closer. We talk easily, we rarely fight—and when we do it’s a fair fight—and we want to spend most of our free time together. In fact, he goes out of his way to spend more time with me. He will rearrange his schedule to make it fit better with mine.
The problem is his ex. She is a high-profile, successful fundraiser and party-goer in Washington. Her picture shows up everywhere I look. She’s there in Capitol File and even in the Washington Post, one picture more beautiful than the next. I see the pictures and I seethe. I barely know this woman, she has never been mean to me, and my boyfriend just laughs when I point out yet another great photograph of his ex. They were together for many years, and I’m sure people expected them to get married. Now he is with me, and I have a fairly empty social calendar, no family pedigree, and very few Washington “insider” connections. My life is more local, and my social circle is much smaller. I want to stop having these twinges each time I see Ms. Wonderful looking gorgeous in another picture. I dread opening the paper tonight.
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I don’t read Harry’s responses before I write, but I bet he’s thinking the same thing I am: Who is she?
I don’t think the plague of jealousy is easy to get over, so I would never say to just get over it. What you can do is alter your perspective a bit. Put all of the ex-girlfriend’s qualities and life advantages on paper: She is prettier, better educated, has an honored pedigree, is more charismatic, is more worldly, has traveled more extensively, and likely has a wardrobe and shoe collection that resembles the salon floor of Saks Fifth Avenue. Study your list, recite it out loud, and then crumple it up and toss it out. She has it all, but she is not sharing her life with the man you love. He is with you because of the way you make him feel. He is not dating a woman’s statistics, he’s dating a woman—you—who embraces him and all of his foibles.
Don’t allow the shadow of someone else’s cold statistics to obscure that knowledge.
• • •
Jealousy can be corrosive; add envy, and you have a prescription for disaster, which is where I fear you’re headed.
I feel your pain—and it is pain—because I too have suffered from jealousy. When a man is with a woman as fine as Louise, challengers can lurk around many imaginary corners. I can’t change my wife’s allure, but I can work on controlling my jealousy, and that’s your challenge.
Your beau does not seem to harbor any feelings for his former friend. From what you say, he’s working hard to be with you, and you are headed toward building a strong commitment. You, my dear, are concocting problems for yourself—and for him. Allow me to try to help you calm the flames of jealousy. As for this glam former girlfriend, perhaps she is laden with faults behind the fabulous facade. A man is not necessarily attracted to socially connected and powerful women. Perhaps the social scene turned off your guy. Maybe he needed a warm and comfortable relationship rather than the party scene. Seems to me you’re providing just that.
What worries me is that you’re so concerned with the surface scene, the social patina, the society mentions. Why? Do you desire that more than your beau? Do you want to be more like the former flame?
You can help yourself by talking through these matters with your friends, your family, perhaps a therapist. In the end, you have to quit torturing yourself for no good reason, or you risk losing a good man.
• • •
Even if the former girlfriend does not possess even one fault, the man has decided he wants to be with you. Spend your time reveling in this knowledge, and less time comparing.
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And avoid the impulse to compete with the ex’s prowess of “seeing and being seen” in the right parties. You are bound to come to grief.