Ask A Fuck-Up

AAFU: I begrudge my ex her success

Am I a shitty person if I can’t just be happy for her?
Ask A Fuck-Up

AAFU: I begrudge my ex her success

Am I a shitty person if I can’t just be happy for her?

Brandy Jensen, The Outline’s Power editor, has made a lot of mistakes in her life. Has she learned from them and become a wiser person as a result? Hahaha oh gosh no. But it does leave her uniquely qualified to tell you what not to do — because she’s probably done it.

Dear Fuck-Up,

I’m 29 and a very struggling (male) writer and I have only been in one serious relationship in my life, which ended seven years ago, around the same time I was diagnosed with depression. My ex is now basically as successful a novelist as it is possible to be, because she is phenomenally talented and a wonderful human being and deserves every second of it; she is also getting married soon (I try to avoid knowing things but due to the aforementioned success it’s kind of impossible to completely avoid everything on social media without blocking her, which feels kind of petty).

We didn’t part on the best terms but we were still in touch and I was trying to be supportive until she met her current partner (which I found out about through Twitter); ever since then I’ve basically just been trying to avoid her, including to the point of moving overseas (I came back; the isolation really didn’t help), and get on with my life and writing. This has not worked.

This really isn't an issue of jealousy or resentment — I genuinely, honestly am happy for her success and want nothing but the best for her, insofar as it’s not weird to want things in relation to people you haven’t spoken to in years. But at the same time whenever I see her name everything flares up and I instantly want to be dead. I’m working on that as a response — I have been to counseling and it did help a lot — but I’m skeptical that I’m ever really going to be completely free of it.

As happy as I am for her success, and as glad as I am that I didn’t trap her, it is extremely difficult not to feel as though I have been judged by the world and found wanting. To some extent as well I know I’m indulging that response, but again I don’t really know how to stop . My question is: am I a shitty person for not being able to just be happy for her without these associated spirals?

TL, DR; I find my ex’s success to be existentially threatening and I despise myself for it.


Dear Struggling,

The question I get some version of most often is almost certainly “how do I get over my ex?” I rarely try to answer these because the fact is I don’t know. None of the philosophers, or scientists, or writers throughout all of human history have really been able to crack this one, so I would set my own odds at eventually figuring it out pretty low. But “damn dude that sucks” hardly makes for a satisfying column, which is why I generally just think it instead of writing it down.

And the truth is I think I’m particularly bad at getting over people, or moving on, or finding peace in my heart or whatever. So trust me that I am saying this without judgment: Seven years is an absurd amount of time to cling to an ex. That the mere fact of her still causes you this amount of distress is clearly a problem. You keep insisting that you are truly, genuinely happy for her, but that is a lie. Happiness for the people we love can certainly be a bit adulterated by envy, but you are describing your relationship to a person with whom you have not spoken in years. The conflict and ardor and tumult of your feelings bear little relationship to her, as a real, existing woman.

Which I think is really the crux of it — none of this is about her at all. You have turned her into something more than a person, and overburdened her with all of the ways you feel you have failed. This is pretty obvious shit, but also shit that it is hard to see past when you are so mired it in. Seven years ago you were young and probably confident and optimistic and not yet diagnosed with depression and your life could have gone any number of ways. Now, knowing the way it went, and you want desperately to go back and have things turn out otherwise.

You don’t need to get over this ex, you need to get over yourself. In some ways this is much harder to do, but it’s also pretty urgent you start to reimagine what failure and success mean in your life because if not these feelings will continue to curdle you from the inside. Most writers who ever lived are not successful at 29, and the ones who are don’t necessarily seem like happy people either. Try to find validation elsewhere — in your relationships with family; by being a helpful neighbor and a loyal friend.

And definitely take a break from social media. Twitter is not a healthy place for any of us, especially those prone to self-critical comparisons. Social media has this way of collapsing distance, both in terms of geography and time, and emotional distance is precisely what you have to cultivate. You don’t have to feel happy for this woman you no longer know — you have to feel less of anything at all.

A Fuck-Up

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