Swipe This!” is an advice column about how to navigate human relationships and connections in an age when we depend so heavily on technology. Have a question? Email [email protected]
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Dear Swipe This!
Over the holidays I got dumped by someone I really liked. We were only dating for a couple of months, but things got intense very quickly. She introduced me to all of her friends, bought me flowers, and let me take care of her when she got sick. In fact, the day before she broke up with me, she was talking about buying us plane tickets for a spring vacation. It really felt like we were moving into serious relationship territory, so when it ended I was hurt and angry.
The problem was that she wasn’t over her ex. She said she and her ex were going to try to make things work and have an open relationship. She even suggested that she and I keep seeing each other, and I was like, “No way. That is not what I signed up for.”
I was really angry and sad, but I picked up the pieces, and this past week I finally dipped my toes back into the dating app pool. I was swiping on Tinder and I came across a girl who has the same name as my ex’s ex, and her profile shows that we have my ex as a mutual friend. I was like wow, I bet this is her. So I swiped right and we matched! I started talking to her and she has been super responsive.
I think it’s pretty funny actually that this happened: I’m on Tinder to try to get over someone and the person who’s being the most responsive is the person I was essentially dumped for.
I’m not actually interested in dating her, but I kind of want to go on a date anyway for my own morbid curiosity; I’m curious about this person who, honestly, to me, looks pretty boring. But I know this might be a terrible idea because if what my ex said is true, then they’re not completely done dating. On the other hand, if they were, it would be awesome to hang out and laugh about our mutual ex and dish about all the ways she was shitty!
So what do I do? Should I tell her that I dated her ex? Can I go on a date with her just to see what she’s like? Or is all of this a really terrible idea?
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Dear Morbidly Curious,
Have you ever noticed how as soon as a wound scabs over, you get an overwhelming urge to pick at it? The hardest part of healing a wound is often what should be simplest—leaving it the fuck alone.
I get it. I love to pick at my wounds. There is a grim satisfaction to examining our cuts and bruises. And with social media, oh boy, do we have ample ways to pick. You can look up your exes and see how happy they are projecting themselves to be. You can see who they’re interacting with and who’s interacting with them. You can weave new stories about who they are and what you meant to them. And sometimes, because everyone is everywhere, you’ll take a break from picking, sign up for a dating app, and bump right back into your wounds when you aren’t even trying to pick at them.
I don’t blame you for being curious about your ex’s ex. Especially given the circumstances of your breakup. Of course, you want to know more about this other woman and who she is. Maybe she is, as you say, unbearably boring and if you met her, you’d feel a sort of smug satisfaction. Or maybe, she’s really fucking chill and you’d hit it off and that glimmer of understanding would be all you need for your jealousy to melt away. Maybe you’d trade battle scars and find out you were wounded in similar ways by a person who doesn’t quite know how to show up for the people she cares for.
I also wonder if you are tempted to connect with your ex’s ex because the part of you that’s been wounded wants a taste of revenge. When people hurt us, it’s natural to want to strike back. But that doesn’t mean it’s productive or that will aid our healing.
The fact is, if you continue to engage with this person, you are most definitely picking at your wound. And while I’d love to see the juicy details of this entanglement play out on an afternoon talk show, I can’t earnestly advise you to “go there” without feeling like I am giving you permission to engage in self-harm. Though I understand the impulse. I really, really do.
I think the best thing you can possibly do right now is step away from this tempting opportunity for self-harm and turn your attention instead to self-care.
One of the most important parts of self-care is acknowledging that we need care in the first place. So let’s talk a little bit about your wound. It sounds like, even if you were only dating this woman for a short time, you experienced a big let down.
I’m so sorry that you’ve experienced this disappointment. It’s a real bummer when the people we connect with turn out to be in a different spot than we thought, especially when what they presented us with felt so promising. It sounds like you fell for someone who gave you an opportunity to practice giving and receiving care. You looked after her when she was sick, she brought you flowers, and she welcomed you into her world, not to mention her imaginary future. It sounds like there was a lot of sweetness between you and her—even if she couldn’t deliver on her promises—and you fell for her because she sparked a hope within you. I am a staunch optimist, so I’m going to say that that isn’t a bad thing. But I know that loss, even the loss of people we haven’t known for very long, can be deeply painful. So, I’m sorry this didn’t turn into what you were hoping for.
So how do you care for a heart that was full of hope and is suddenly deflated? You could try to inflate it with fresh hope. Sometimes people do this by filling their calendar full of new dates. And I think it’s healthy to put yourself back out there. But I only think you can do that if you’re also taking time to turn your attention to your wound and asking it what it needs. Maybe your wound needs cozy blankets and Netflix binges and tea with friends. Maybe your wound needs long walks in nature where it can breathe. Perhaps you can soothe your wound with good music and spontaneous dance parties. Personally, I have found that most of the time what a wound needs is just a little time, care, and space. And then one day, you peel back the bandage and your wound has miraculously smoothed over and it’s hard to believe it was ever there to begin with.
I’m glad you’re getting down to the work of healing your heart. Lots of people think online dating is a wasteland of superficial swipes and shallow connections. And sometimes that’s true. But I also think dating apps like Tinder can be a wonderful resource for practicing connection without expectation. You don’t have to know exactly what you’re looking for to strike up a chat. You don’t have to be perfectly healed to enjoy the company of friendly strangers. You can enjoy small moments of humor and kindness. Or you can simply put down your phone and say, not today, I’m not in the mood.
Healing takes time. How long, I cannot say. Maybe you’ll meet someone wonderful in a week. Maybe they’ll be spectacular. Or maybe that romance will fizzle too. Perhaps you’ll decide you don’t want anything serious for a month. There’s no way of telling. And our healing isn’t always linear. You may find that the actions you’ve taken have reinfected your wound. Maybe you’ll need to break out the ointment and give yourself extra love and care on certain days, and on others, you’ll feel renewed with a strength you didn’t know you had. I cannot predict your process and neither can you.
But what you can do is show up daily for yourself. You can examine your wound with commitment and clarity. You can check in with yourself about how much time and space you need. And when you log onto the apps, you can edit and revise who you are and what you’re looking for with a flick of your thumbs. I think that kind of flexibility is a wonderful thing. Because when you practice asking yourself what you want and need over and over, what you are really doing is getting into the habit of loving yourself.
And loving yourself might mean getting angry. It might mean crying. It might mean any number of actions are necessary. But I guarantee you all of the ones that lead to healing will mean turning away from your ex and her ex, and turning your attention back to you.
So fuck your ex. And fuck your ex’s ex. You’ve got lots of loving to do. And from here on out, your time and love belong to you.