Dear Worrier Princess: Exes, Exes Everywhere
Dear Worrier Princess is a queer advice column based off The Ex-Girlfriend of My Ex-Girlfriend Is My Girlfriend, the viral queer advice zine by Maddy Court (a.k.a @xenaworrierprincess on Instagram).
In her inaugural column for Argot, Maddy considers heartbreak and queer love in the age of Instagram. How do you find closure and space when your ex is constantly popping up on your feed? What does it mean to emotionally block someone? Why are queer women so determined to stay friends, and how does this cultural tic translate to the internet?
Queery #1: I went through this really brutal breakup a little over a year ago (my first love cheated on me and dumped me in a phone call from her new girl’s apartment). This was really rough on my psyche and I spent a lot of time dwelling on her/insta-stalking her/going to therapy about her. I thought all of that would end when I got a new girlfriend, but I am now several months into a new relationship (with someone I LOVE who is WONDERFUL TO ME) and I still catch myself thinking about my ex and checking up on her social media. I don’t want her back, but I crave her approval and her interest so much and I don’t know how to turn it off and move on! Help!
Heartbreak in the age of Instagram is unreasonably cruel. The human brain can barely distinguish between cold and wet sensations. It can’t register the coolest kinds of light, or maintain relationships with more than 200 people at once. It’s not equipped to process that the woman who broke your heart via a phone call from her new girl’s apartment is creating a multimedia, real-time documentary about her life and it’s available 24/7, for free, from literally anywhere. In 1990 or whatever, people divvied up their CDs and lost touch. They ripped up photographs. The sad and brokenhearted could scab over, forget the sound of their ex’s laugh, buy some chunky necklaces and move on. Today, physical space isn’t enough to heal from a break-up. You must unlearn the muscle memory and masochism that compels you to check your ex’s social media. On top of that, you’re contending with algorithms that track your every click and position your ex-girlfriend at the top of your feed. You cannot rip up your ex’s Instagram.
There’s also the fact that queer communities are insular, online and off. Queer women, especially, place a huge premium on staying friends, on keeping some semblance of solidarity and peace throughout a breakup. Use this to your advantage. When you feel rejected or overlooked, throwing your own party is a powerful experience. Flood your Instagram with golden hour selfies, nature shots of you hiking with a three-legged rescue dog, and artfully arranged photobooth print-outs that scream, I HAVE SO MANY HOT ZANY FRIENDS AND THEY ALL WANNA BE CLOSE TO ME IN THIS TINY SPACE. By projecting that you don’t care about your ex, you might tap into some genuine, unburdened energy.
Like Doritos for dinner, checking your ex-girlfriend’s Instagram is instant gratification. Try leaving your phone at home. You can start small: a bike ride, trip to the grocery store, or dinner with friends. Pay attention to when you feel the urge to open Instagram. What’s your emotional state? Is it when you’re bored and waiting in line? Is it when you’re alone and is seems that everyone except you showed up to the park with a picnic blanket of friends? Maybe you’ll find that you feel neutral, and checking her Instagram is just an old habit.
I know this is all very mindfulness-from-a-can. It really works though, I promise. Also, stash your phone across the room when you go to bed. This helps avoid late night/early morning Instagram sinkholes. Make a tally every time you go 6 hours without looking at her stuff and see how long you last.
The obvious solution is to just block her, but blocking is political and invites confrontation. There are too many workarounds. Instead, re-think blocking as a ritual. Using a pen and paper, make a list of all the times your ex-girlfriend was crass and thoughtless with your heart. What red flags, boundaries, and lessons did she teach you? If you’d never loved her, would you appreciate your current girlfriend in the same way? Put the list in a safe place in case you need to re-visit it. Then, wash all your bedding in hot water and wipe down your floors with vinegar. Center yourself and set an intention to disconnect emotionally from your ex-girlfriend. Her approval is worthless to you. Her likes and comments roll off of you like water off a duck’s back. Her Instagram is just another entity floating around, it no longer drains your emotional energy. She is emotionally blocked. This won’t happen overnight. It takes time. But it will get easier.
Queery #2: My ex is a prominent member of my local queer scene and has a public presence across various arts practices. It annoys me that I see them all the time on social media - their own and others' - being both social and promoting their projects. It also annoys me that I am likely to run into them at any given event that I go to, especially because they are a social butterfly and I am an awkward shy girl liable to freeze at any given moment. Please offer your soundest advice for dealing with famous exes.
When I meet someone new, I describe her hair to my friends. I notice the shirts she wears and try to discern which one is her favorite. I worry the entree I ordered was boring, the story I told was boring, my apartment was boring. I am a seagull pecking old bread and she is an actual star. But my girlfriends are most famous in that shady, painful patch when they’re becoming exes. I drift through Anthropologie, picking up candles and smelling them and sighing and putting them back. I call my friends at midnight. I dread running into her, but I also want to run into her. Why? Because every ex is a famous ex.
It’s been said before, but it bears repeating: breakups would be much easier if your ex disappeared. But they don’t. They shop at the Target by your house. They post longform Instagram stories. They show up at your best friend’s barbecue with sweet corn. They’re here, they’re queer, they’re 100% going to the art show this weekend. All you can do is enlist friends to act as buffers and practice polite conversation-enders like “it was nice seeing you” or “I’m going to go look at the art now.”
There’s also the matter that your ex is famous. I’d be worried if your letter contained lingering admiration. I’m sensing that you no longer subscribe to your ex’s queer celebrity mystique and that’s healthy. You understand that having a big social media presence is a job, not a status. Like being a cruise director or a theatre person, it’s a skill-set that usually aligns with an extroverted personality. The next time you see your ex spilling across your feed, remind yourself that what you’re seeing is deliberate and a little fabricated.
I’m going to end my response with some validation: the annoyance you feel is understandable—your ex approaches their life in a way that clashes and brushes up against your own. This doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with your ex, you’re just [essential] oil and water. Emotionally block them (see Queery 1 for a definition and instructions). Don’t wait. Call today.
Are you in a pickle regarding your love life? Do you have a crush you can't figure out how to talk to, an ex you'd like to reconnect with but don't know if it's appropriate or the right time?
Dear Worrier Princess answers your Qs about love and strife in relationships in this complex and modern queer world.
Shoot an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or fill out the form below.
Maddy Court is an artist and writer based in Madison, WI. Keep up with her on Twitter @worrierprincess, or on instagram @xenaworrierprincess.
All illustrations for this column are done by Sid Champagne. Sid is a freelance illustrator based in Baltimore by way of the Gulf Coast. You can find them on Twitter @sid_champagne, or Instagram (more cat pics) @sidchampagne