When Your Ex Moves On First

Everything about being broken up still feels new and uncomfortable to me, including the sad truth that both sides will eventually move on into a new relationship. In theory, that's precisely the point of a break up — allowing each individual the freedom of action without accountability — and it should be a point of excitement and optimism for the future if the past was not working.

But in reality, it's just painful.

I never expected myself to be the first to date, as I'm not seeking a new partner or relationship of any kind. Not even an exciting, super sexy one night stand. While I know that day will come, I just can't imagine when it will cross the horizon. By contrast, I would have bet one million dollars that my ex would be the first to date again, and I wish such a pay-off was available because I would have been right. And I could really use a million dollars.

I just wish it wasn't so soon. My heart is still broken wide open, the wounds still feel as fresh as they did on day one, and my heart hurts every day, grieving the loss of my family unit and the dreams and life I was building toward. I didn't want my relationship to end.

So I'm burning red-hot with jealousy. But that is nothing new. I've been jealous of everything in his life for a long time — other people, work commitments, exciting opportunities, and fun social functions — basically anyone or anything who got his time and attention.

That's what happens in the wake of infidelity. But also, because I always felt as though I had to fight for him. His time, thanks to work. His attention, thanks to distractions. And his loyalty, because it just wasn't ever going to be mine.

For the first five months of our relationship, before we became pregnant, he proudly displayed his excitement about me and our relationship, introducing me as his gal everywhere we went. And we went everywhere together. But that window was short and sweet. After those first five months, he didn't stand proudly by my side or behind me to push me forward into the spotlight of his love and affection anymore.

I never sat on a pedestal, even while I tirelessly held him high on one. Behind the scenes? Yes, he showed me love and appreciation. But publicly, never. He always remained slightly in front of or off to the side of me, with just enough space between us that he appeared solo, available, powerful and aloof.

If you encountered him in the wild, or observed him via social media, you would perceive him a single man. No photos of he and I, no mention of a partner or being a partner, nor proud family posts were anywhere be found. We were never married, avoiding the need for much-too-public labels like "husband" or "wife." I constantly felt like a toddler pulling at his leg and jumping around, yelling, "Hey, look at me, I'm a part of his life, too! And kind of big part; I birthed his child!"

But it was fruitless. Since he did not lead with public excitement and pride, no one cared (or knew, usually) that he came with a partner and a mini-us. He publicly and proudly claims his daughter now, but never has the woman who birthed her and devotedly supported him for four years. This week would have been our fourth anniversary and he celebrated by moving into someone else's home.

So I'm haunted, bitter and tormented. But I'm learning to calm the demons in the deep, dark, haunted place (read more about that here). And more importantly, I'm learning that I didn't deserve to fight for a place in the rays of his sunshine in the first place.

Who wants to fight so desperately for validation, acknowledgement and attention from the one person who is supposed to hold you high above all others? It's exhausting, but moreover, it's demeaning and humiliating. The sun should have proudly shrouded me in rays. As actress Jennifer Garner recently said of her ex, actor Ben Affleck, in Vanity Fair,

"He's the love of my life. What am I going to do about that? He's the most brilliant person in any room, the most charismatic, the most generous. He's just a complicated guy. I always say, 'When his sun shines on you, you feel it.' But when the sun is shining elsewhere, it's cold. He can cast quite a shadow."

While it's completely bananas to relate so closely to a statement made by a movie star about another movie star, love levels the human playing field. When it comes to love, we are all just people, vulnerable people. The article goes on to point out that the silver lining of Garner and Affleck's break up was the ability for her strength to shine through as she realized that in order to take care of everyone else, as is her way (and mine), she would have to take care of herself.

And that's where I stand. Lonely in the shadow, freezing cold as the sun shines elsewhere, but learning to turn my care and love back toward myself where it's needed the most. 

I have to work my way through and out of this one alone. My ex no longer offers me comfort. My feelings are deflected with hollow humor meant to distract and escape the moment, and empty promises of empathy, which reinforce that when it comes to the two of us, I am on an island now. He's no longer my partner and therefore, no longer the one by my side making things easier and better.

In fact, quite the opposite. Even if he is only using this woman for a free place to stay, the comfort of someone else's desire, and a false sense of home, he is still sharing all the moments that were previously special parts of my day — going to bed and waking up together, making his signature perfect cup of coffee, and going to work together — with someone else now. And whether that new relationship lasts one month, two months, six months or forever, it all feels the same to me, the still-smarting-ex. Unless it's a one-night stand, and especially if you are living together and sharing time around the clock (something I used to naively think was special about us), it's significant and it stings. 

It's all a bit much to have your world rocked so aggressively. The facts above terrorize every waking moment of my day and prevent me from falling asleep at night as I writhe in this reality. But I have to trust (with the little ability I have left to do so), that the best is yet to come. That life goes on and the pain will dull as distance and time set in, and that it will get better.

"When the earth shakes," [Garner continued in Vanity Fair], "you go to what you know from childhood. All of a sudden I'm sitting down at the piano. I went back to church. I sat down and wrote bad poetry all day because I was so sad. I needed a dance class... I feel the need to be physical and I feel the need to punch someone. You know what I look forward to? I look forward to getting past the pity stage. I look forward to just having a sense of humor."

As I rebuild my life and my own new future from my parents' home, I relate to her need for the comforts of the familiar. I so get the desire to move beyond pity (self and external) into the ability to laugh. While she is a year into her single mom reality, I'm a mere few weeks. But relating to her pain has helped me to feel less alone, and perhaps relating to my pain will help someone else. At least, I hope so.

In the meantime, my focus remains on my healing, on rising again better than ever and primarily, on my daughter's happiness and well-being. And because of my child's love for her father and my desire for her to always maintain that strong connection, I could never hate him. Learn to better protect my heart from who he is? Yes. But hate him? No. I believe he is a generous, loving person whose values simply don't vibrate on the same frequency as mine. As evidenced this week.

But as deep as the scars cut, we live and let live and then we move on. I'm sure that when the pain recedes, he will remain a friend. With that, I leave you with one last thought from Ms. Garner:

"The main thing is these kids—and we're completely in line with what we hope for them. Sure, I lost the dream of dancing with my husband at my daughter's wedding. But you should see their faces when he walks through the door. And if you see your kids love someone so purely and wholly, then you're going to be friends with that person."

TELL ME fellow newly (or veteran) single mamas: how did you deal when your ex first moved on to someone else? What helped keep you grounded and reminded of what's best for you and your children? Please share your advice and experience in the comments below.