How do I cope with an ex moving on really quickly?
This week, our resident sexpert Olivia Petter gets frank about falling out of love and letting go
Friday 10 March 2023 By Olivia Petter Illustration by Rosa Viktoria Ahlers
If falling in love makes you crazy, falling out of it makes you completely unhinged. I’m talking utterly can’t-eat-talk-sleep-wild-fugue-state-of-rage-bonkers. And this is no more the case than when your ex is moving on.
Of course, if you ended on healthy terms, or you feel like you have complete closure over the end of the relationship, it probably won’t bother you. Hey, maybe you’ve even moved on yourself. But judging from the phrasing of your question, I’m guessing this is not quite what has happened.
In which case, I’m afraid to say that no matter how far along you are in the healing process from your previous relationship, this has the capacity to undo all of it. At least temporarily.
Let’s say you’ve ‘done the work’. You’ve had some therapy sessions. You’ve revisited childhood traumas. You’ve downloaded a meditation app, cut out sugar, and even joined a local yoga studio. Friends tell you you’re glowing, radiating. They’re asking you what you’ve done to your hair and what moisturiser you’re using. You’re even getting IDed.
None of this will protect you from going full fathom five when you find out your ex has moved on. The intel might come indirectly through a friend who wrongly thought this was something you needed to know. Or perhaps it came directly from the ex themselves by way of some sort of smug humblebrag – in which case, I’m sorry you went out with someone so callous. It doesn’t really matter how you get the information – the point is that once you have it, all hell can break loose.
At first, you’ll feign indifference. That will last about two hours (or less) before you realise there’s simply no such thing as feigning indifference because, ironically, it only makes you less indifferent. All this is to say that eventually you will realise you care. Depending on how much, you will try to find out more information. Who is this person? How long have they been dating? Have they slept together yet? Are they smarter, thinner or funnier than you?
Somewhere among all this, you will find this person on social media. It won’t be difficult because you’ve memorised how many people your ex follows on Instagram and can see when they’ve started following someone new. You’ll be able to spot the person they’re dating easily because you know their type. If you’re really screwed, they might even look a bit like you.
Joan Didion once wrote: ‘we tell ourselves stories in order to live’. And this is what you will do next. You will unpick every piece of information you can about this person and find a way to reassure yourself they’re inferior to you. Strong jawline? They’ve had work done. CEO of some glossy company? Nepo baby. Perfectly sculpted body straight out of a modelling campaign? They can’t read.
If you’ve found your brain sinking into these depths of despair, please don’t worry. No, you’re not losing your mind and no, you don’t need to check yourself into some sort of trauma centre for bereft exes – although that sounds like a fascinating place. All you need to do is put your phone down. Let whatever you’re feeling in. Then, let it out.
The truth is that if you haven’t yet moved on yourself, it will always feel too soon when your ex does. But that doesn’t make it wrong. People process break-ups differently. Some need time to themselves to reflect and recover. Others need the instant validation of another person’s affections.
The good news is that if you’re the former and your ex is the latter, you’re healing quicker than you think you are. Choosing to be alone after a bad break-up takes strength and resilience. It will help you break old patterns, identify negative triggers and fall back in love with yourself, all of which will serve you far better in future relationships.
I know it’s tough, but you have to accept that your ex has the right to move on. So do you – and you can do it in your own time.
Got a question for Olivia? Please email firstname.lastname@example.org. All submissions will remain anonymous.
Olivia Petter is the relationships writer at The Independent and author of Millennial Love, which is out now in paperback with 4th Estate