DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I got married at 20, separated at 29 and divorced at 31. It was amicable, I decided I wanted kids, he didn’t and he lost his faith. It took me a while to get back to dating; in my religion, divorce is looked down on and finding a man who didn’t find that a dealbreaker was hard. We are dating with the intentions of marriage, and hopefully children, because I am almost 36 and will be high risk. Due to our religion, we haven’t had sex yet, until marriage. The pandemic happened, I live with my parents since my divorce and they are high risk. I have not seen my boyfriend in 6 months because he is a first responder.
My friends had a zoom night recently, and my ex was present (I was informed and made the decision to go along). In the background, his new partner said hi and then left the Zoom, and it was obvious she was pregnant. And that hurts. I made an excuse to leave the Zoom and cried all night, and then looked her up on social media. I’ve met her before, at a few mutual friend’s functions over the years-she’s been with my ex for the past four years and she’s been lovely. But she’s also beautiful, thin and small while I’ve always been bigger and taller (an inch shorter than my ex), we don’t look anything alike, I’m white and she’s Asian, she’s smarter than me (she’s got her PhD and I only got a college degree when I was in my mid twenties) and she’s younger than me. And from our friends say the perfect match for my ex.
My friends mentioned that my ex was interested in coming into more Zoom calls (before they have been alternating us) and if that would be fine. I want to be the better person and say yes, because I don’t want my ex, I am happy he is happy, I love my boyfriend, these are his friends too. But because his partner will obviously be in the background (they live together, something I can’t do with my boyfriend), and she’s obviously pregnant, I don’t want to see it. Because she got everything, I wanted in my life — even if I don’t want it with that man anymore. She still got it, and I don’t know how I can deal with that without being upset that my ex didn’t want kids with me — but with this younger, beautiful woman who isn’t married and just got everything I wanted, and what I might never be able to have.
I don’t want to never zoom with my friends, and I know that alternating zooms was annoying to all of them but what do I do?
— Zoom Regrets
DEAR ZOOM REGRETS: There’re a couple things you can do, ZR.
The first is that you could start hosting your own Zoom nights. In fact, you could hold several, with different groups of friends at each one. This nicely avoids the issues of asking for alternating Zoom schedules, but also means that you don’t have to give up hanging with your friends.
Plus, this can help you have a better time with your friends overall. You don’t necessarily need to have a Zoom with all of your friends at once; in fact, those can get out of hand pretty quickly. Even when folks are all in the same physical space, we only have the capacity to follow so many conversations at once. More often than not, we can only really have about 4 people in the same conversation; once you add a fifth person in, the conversation tends to split in a 3:2 ratio. Three people keep participating in the “main” conversation, while two break off in a side conversation, often having little to do with the conversation that brought the fifth person over in the first place. A smaller, more intimate virtual gathering may make it easier to stay connected with folks and really catch up, instead of being one voice in a large group trying to be heard.
The second thing you can do is to work on finding ways of connecting with your partner. That separation, I suspect, is at the heart of a lot of this. I think you’re feeling lost and abandoned, even though it’s circumstance keeping you apart, not him. But because you’re feeling deprived and isolated, and especially because you struggled meeting someone new, it’s causing things to hit you harder than they might otherwise.
That includes your ex and his girlfriend. Because to be perfectly honest: your ex’s girlfriend has nothing to do with you, and you’re making it about you.
So this is going to be hard to hear but honestly: his relationship with his girlfriend isn’t a commentary on you or your time together. This is a thing people get hung up on all the time: we tend to look at our exes new partners in comparison to ourselves. If we can see them as being lesser, somehow then we either get to gloat a little (“Ha ha, you’ll never do as good as me”) or be mystified (“Wait, that’s what you went for after you broke up with me?”). But if we see them as being a step up from us somehow — could be looks, could be education, whatever — we take that s--t personally. We assume that it’s a way of rubbing our faces in the dirt by not just ignoring the contract they didn’t know they signed which states that they’re condemned to be sexless and single for the rest of their lives upon ending their relationship with us, but by choosing a partner specifically to slight us in some fashion. And the more sensitive we are to some quality in ourselves — height, build, career, whatever — the more likely we are to assume that a new partner having those qualities is a swipe at us, specifically.
But it’s not.
While nobody dates in a vacuum and we’re all influenced by the people we’ve spent time with, we don’t go around picking partners to make a statement about (or to) our exes. More importantly: we all change and grow in the interim, and things that may have been true or in effect at one point may no longer be true down the line. Those changes are almost never about the partner, former or current, but about the person. The fact that he didn’t want kids back then doesn’t mean that his deciding he wants them now means that you were the issue. It means that he, his life and his circumstances have all changed. And a lot can change after 7 years. Hell a lot can change in a single year; just look at how 2020 has affected people, changed their minds, shifted their priorities and changed their relationships.
The man you were married to way back when was a different person. So where you. He’s changed. So have you. What you want and need from a partner and from life is different, even if it’s only in small ways. So it is with him. He didn’t slot somebody else into your relationship with him and gave her all the things you wanted. He built a new relationship, which was different from the one he had with you, with a new person. Just as you are building a new one with your current beau.
So right now, I think the bigger issue is finding ways to feel more connected with him. That can be frustrating, I get it, and circumstances make it even harder to see each other. After all, his being a front-line responder means that he can still potentially spread the virus, even after he gets the vaccine. But a thing to hold onto is this: this is all coming to an end. The vaccine is being distributed. People are getting their shots. It’s not going as fast as any of us would like, but it is ending. Realizing that the end is in sight can make it easier to grit your teeth and white-knuckle your way through this, at least until your folks can get the vaccine.
Let your relationship with your ex stay in the past, where it belongs; right now it’s just interfering with your present and casting doubt on your future. Focus on what you do have and making the most of it. You may not have a lot, but you can turn it into more than it seems. That can help you hold on and ride out this rough patch.
And in the meantime: host your own Zoom nights with different groups of friends. It’ll be easier all around; they won’t have to deal with alternating schedules and you won’t be sandpapering your soul every time you join in.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org