Written by Billie Bhatia

Stylist’s columnist Billie Bhatia answers your questions.

“I’ve stalked my boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend on social media ever since I found out about her. She’s the complete opposite of me (in looks and personality) and I’ve always felt incredibly intimidated by her, despite the fact that we’ve never met. But we’re all attending the same christening next month and I’m dreading it so much that I’m thinking of cancelling. Would that be awful?” 

Yes, that would be awful. But let’s go from the top. I won’t berate you for stalking your boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend on social media because show me one millennial who hasn’t done this. Sometimes I find myself stalking everyone I’ve ever had a crush on (as an Aries, let me tell you the tally is high) and the partners they now find themselves with.

These sessions land me so deep in a stalking hole that by the time I pull myself out, I feel as if I could write an entire biography on someone I’ve never even met. I’ve studied their faces, bodies, holidays and friendship groups. Why do I launch into MI5 stealth mode? Nosiness-led boredom or, as I like to justify it, inherent journalistic curiosity. But I must admit, these stalking binges take place when I’m not feeling great about myself (and I feel even worse when I’ve accidentally liked and then unliked a post from a year ago. Just the thought of it makes me want to vomit). It’s here that I seek some kind of perverted comfort in comparison, but really, there is never any comfort to be found. 

It’s natural at the beginning of a new relationship to jump in on a social media stalk (and enlist friends to join in on the digging, too). You want to find out what kind of person had stolen your partner’s heart before. And, like your findings, there have been occasions when the person I think I’ve uncovered is the total opposite of me, too. It’s jarring, off-putting and has sent me into a self-conscious spin not dissimilar to the one that you find yourself in now. I was baffled as to how a current squeeze could be attracted to me when his previous relationship was decidedly different. But when I put some distance between myself and those early-day stalks, the answer was simple: the mix of those two people simply didn’t work.

And that’s what’s important to remember here. Your boyfriend has moved on to you. He’s clearly thrilled with his choice – something that’s borne out by the fact that he’s taking you to special events with him. Perhaps the reason you feel intimidated by her is because you keep reminding yourself of her. Instead of focusing on the present, these stalking sessions are making you live in his past. Of all the biographies I think I could write on people I have looked up on Insta, none of them would be a true reflection; just one narrow lens those people have decided to show to the world. And right now you are taking that filtered truth as gospel for who your boyfriend’s ex is. So, what you’re actually comparing yourself to doesn’t exist. Worse still, you are letting that comparison get the better of you and potentially your relationship. 

Of course, in the same way that it’s natural to have stalked his ex, it’s also natural to not want to meet her either – particularly when you have built a narrative up in your head. Specifically, that meeting her will be torturous and intimidating. There is no denying that meeting an ex is awkward – the unsaid words, the judgemental looks – but it’s part and parcel of this strange social formality. But in actual fact, meeting your boyfriend’s ex might be the push you need to get out of the stalking zone, confront what it is you think is intimidating and, crucially, move on. Consider this christening an opportunity to see beyond the sphere of social media. I understand the dread, I really do, but you would be doing yourself, your boyfriend and your relationship such a disservice if you let this get in the way of you attending on the day.

As much as the temptation will be there over the next month to go ham on social media stalking, try to slow it down as best you can. (It’s likely, her friends are advising her to do the same thing.) If there is anything we have learned from those early snooping sessions on Facebook to stalking on social media now, it’s that comparison culture is toxic. What might have once been fodder for a Friday night in with the girls has developed into something we, as a generation, are crippling ourselves with every day.

This enforced break from social media stalking will give you a chance to live in your relationship and feel a sense of confidence, rather than dread, when you do meet at the christening. I’m sure like most things, the reality won’t be nearly as bad as the version of events you have built up in your head. You might find that you actually like her, you might find that you are immediately struck with all the reasons why the relationship ended, you might find that you feel completely indifferent to her, and most importantly you might find a sense of calm now that the meeting is over. But in order to feel any of those things, you have to be brave enough to live in your present and let go of his past. 

Ask Billie anything on Instagram, @stylistmagazine 

Images: Portrait Sarah Brick/illustration via Getty

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