You Need Help: How Do I Stop Focusing on My Ex in Shared Queer Spaces?

Q:

My ex and I are continually going to the same events in the city we live in, and feel a constant need to rub what we are doing and who we are with in the other’s face. How do I take a step back and not lose the social experiences and stop worrying about what she’s doing?


A:

Look, it’s pretty common to engage in some obsessive behavior regarding an ex in the wake of a breakup. And it sounds like you already know that what you’re doing is unhealthy, which great! You’ve already completed the first few steps toward changing your behavior by becoming aware of the problem and then actively seeking to fix it. But I also want to encourage you not to be too hard on yourself here.

So you know what you’re doing is having a negative impact on you and want to know how to move forward. It’s obviously not as simple as me just telling you HEY STOP DOING THAT. I also don’t think it’s as simple as me telling you to avoid any and all places and events where your ex might be, because it’s a reality of queer life that we will run into exes—there simply aren’t enough queer spaces. (I do sorta hope that perhaps the pandemic has conveniently made it so that you’ve had more physical distance from your ex due to events not happening, and sometimes time+distance can really help situations like this! But pandemic aside, you need real solutions that are going to make you feel in control of your life and emotions.)

I do think there are some middle grounds you can seek when sharing space with your ex. If you know she’s going to be somewhere (or even if there’s a chance of it), set aside some time during whatever your pre-going out routine is to check in with yourself. Remind yourself that worrying about what she’s doing doesn’t provide you with any real benefits; it just makes you feel competitive and bad. Remind yourself that your life is your life and that you don’t need validation from her. Share the good things that are going on in your life with your actual friends, who will support you and be excited for you. That’s a much more productive and longer-lasting feeling than rubbing something in an ex’s face, which might have quick payoff in the moment but ultimately won’t really do anything beneficial for you.

If you do end up in the same place as her, keep interactions to a minimum. If she asks how you’re doing, you can answer honestly but keep it brief. If you feel like you can be direct with your ex, straight up tell her you don’t want to rub things in each other’s faces anymore. It’s possible that she hasn’t reached the same level of self-awareness that you have about this issue and that you bringing it up might help her work toward changing the behavior, too. But that’s an idealized scenario here! It’s definitely possible your ex will not change.

If she still tries rubbing what she’s doing and who she’s with in your face or if you’re not comfortable explicitly pointing the problem out to her, don’t do the same thing back, because that’ll just encourage her to keep doing it and unnecessarily escalate things. It’s really hard to control our feelings, but it’s much easier to control our outward reactions. So even if you can’t initially stop the feeling of caring about what she’s saying, react neutrally. If she doesn’t get a reaction from you, it might curb her behavior but, more importantly, it might help you work toward ACTUALLY not caring. If social media has been an issue, the mute function can help you avoid looking at her posts, and if you don’t want her looking at yours, you can always soft-block or block, depending on how firm of boundaries you want to set.

I also think it’s important for you to identify any instances where you might be making a choice BECAUSE you are thinking about how she might react to it. When deciding whether to go to any event, make sure you aren’t basing the decision on the possibility of her being there. When you’re going on dates with someone, definitely don’t get caught up thinking about how your ex would react to knowing who you’re with. If you find yourself basing some decisions on your ex’s reaction/perception of you, really really take a step back and re-evaluate, because that’s when the obsession can become a really bad and harmful pattern, potentially affecting other people in your life.

Again, it’s normal to think about exes and what they’re up to, but it sounds like you and your ex both need to be practicing better boundaries. But you can’t control how your ex behaves—only how you do. The less you engage with her, the easier it will get…to not engage with her! It just might take a lot of deliberate effort on your part at first. Resist the temptation! It’s your life, and it has nothing to do with your ex!

Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya is a lesbian writer of essays, short stories, and pop culture criticism living in Miami. She is currently a fiction editor at TriQuarterly. Her short stories appear or are forthcoming in McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, Catapult, and The Offing. Some of her pop culture writing can be found at The A.V. Club, Vulture, The Cut, and others. You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram and learn more about her work on her website.

Kayla has written 269 articles for us.

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