She’s got a girl problem

Dr. Daley on Sex and Relationships
photo / Endlisnis “Hahaahaheehehoha I HATE YOU GUYS.” 

Dear Dr. Daley: I’ve stayed pretty good friends – and in some cases very close friends – with quite a few of my ex-boyfriends. It’s not always easy, but I still value all of them as friends and want to keep them in my life in some capacity. There have been some problems for me when they have new girlfriends, though. I can get over any minor, residual jealousy, but the new girlfriends always seem to be jealous of me. I don’t know how to convince these girls that “ex-girlfriend” doesn’t have to mean “crazy psycho.” I’m afraid that I’ll eventually lose all my guy friends who are exes once they get married. We’re all in our late 20s and early 30s, so the marriages are bound to start happening soon, and I’m dreading it. Is there any way to keep a healthy platonic relationship when you have a past with someone?

This, I’m afraid, is a girl problem. We American girls envy each other, hate each other, love each other, betray each other, and compare ourselves to each other ad nauseam. About the only thing we cannot do is trust each other, and that is 100 percent our own damn fault. How is it that we grow up so filled with feelings of inadequacy? How is it we so persistently believe we are too dumb, too fat, too boring, too unsexy to hold a man?

And how is it we try to prove ourselves worthwhile by stealing a man from someone else?

To take your example, we could assume any one of the characters could be a bad actor: Your ex-boyfriends might thrive on female competitors dragging each other through the mud to bed him. So caveman. His new flames may love drama, improvising jealous scenes just to keep their heart rates at around twice their IQs. And you, my dear, may be an ungracious ex: flirting, touchy-feelying, dropping cozy memories of the days when you and he were all steamed up for each other. Could there be some valid reasons why the new girlfriends “always seem to be jealous of you?”

photo / Eli Duke 

Anybody can be a jerk. But you’re the one who wrote the letter, so let’s be on your side for a minute. I can speak with some authority on this topic, because my second ex-husband introduced me to his ex-girlfriend early in our relationship. We bonded like sisters immediately, and she has been my best friend in all the world for almost 25 years, outliving the marriage by almost a decade. Of course, this is a man notorious for leaving behind a string of women who are glad to be rid of him; Mary and I both have some good laughs whenever wife number three tries to get one of us to take him back. But even if your ex-boyfriends are the greatest prizes on the boy shelf, you can take steps to be the kind of ex-girlfriend who is truly not a crazy psycho.

If you really want to remain friends with your exes, act as if their current relationship is important and worthy of your respect. Have some early three-ways (conversational, that is) to clarify your position and your intentions. Be truly graceful toward his new squeeze. Never talk smack about her to him. Don’t set up plans with him without her input, and don’t try to get together with him without her presence, at least in the beginning. Don’t engage him in long phone calls or seek his advice on all your new lovers. Your number shouldn’t be on his caller ID every day – not that she should be looking. If you and Miss New Girl have things in common, get together without him.

If you are genuinely interested in being a good friend to him, don’t sabotage his new happiness. And if his new girl really can’t deal with your presence, go be friends with some other guy and leave your ex alone. He’ll dive back into the friendship pool sooner or later, and you can resume whatever relationship you want with him then.

About the author Dr. Nancy Daley is a licensed psychologist and adjunct assistant professor who teaches Human Sexuality at The University of Texas at Austin. If you would like to submit questions for her to answer in this column, please send them to drdaley at thatotherpaper dot com.

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