Dear Prudence

Help! My Ex-Husband’s Girlfriend Got Everything I Always Wanted.

Dear Prudence answers more of your questions—only for Slate Plus members.

A woman sits in front of her laptop, holding her fist to her chin with a look of dismay
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by fizkes/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Q. This upsets me: I got married at 20, separated at 29, and divorced at 31. It was amicable; I decided I wanted kids, he didn’t, and he lost his faith. It took me a while to get back to dating. In my religion, divorce is looked down on, and finding a man who didn’t find that a deal breaker was hard. I’m now dating someone with the intentions of marriage, and hopefully children, because I am almost 36 and will be high-risk. Due to our religion, we haven’t had sex yet, not until marriage. I have not seen my boyfriend for six months because of the pandemic. He is a first responder, and I’ve lived with my parents since my divorce, and they are high-risk.

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My friends had a Zoom night recently, and my ex was present (I was informed and made the decision to go along). In the background, his new partner said “hi” and then left, and it was obvious she was pregnant. And that hurts. I made an excuse to leave the Zoom and cried all night, and then looked her up on social media. I’ve met her before, at a few mutual friends’ functions. She’s been with my ex for the past four years and she’s been lovely. We don’t look anything alike: She’s beautiful, thin, and small, while I’ve always been bigger and taller. I’m white and she’s Asian. She’s smarter than me (she has a Ph.D., while I only got a college degree when I was in my mid-20s). And she’s younger than me.

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My friends mentioned that my ex was interested in joining more Zoom calls—before, they were alternating us—and asked if that would be fine. I want to be the better person and say yes, because these are his friends too. I don’t want my ex back, I am happy he is happy, and I love my current boyfriend. But because his partner will obviously be in the background (they live together, something I can’t do with my boyfriend), and she’s obviously pregnant, I don’t want to see it. Because she got everything I wanted in my life—even if I don’t want it with that man anymore. I don’t know how I can deal with that without being upset that my ex didn’t want kids with me, but does with this younger, beautiful unmarried woman. I don’t want to never Zoom with my friends, and I know that alternating Zooms was annoying to all of them. What do I do?

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A: I’d encourage you to spend some time parsing the “I’m white and she’s Asian” portion of this letter! The unspoken but obvious foundation of such a comparison is a series of unfounded, racist assumptions about Asian womanhood, and I think you’re in danger of forgetting good manners. You’re aware that your fear and insecurity largely stem from the problems in your own life and relationship, so make sure not to project them onto this woman. And while you’re not obligated to remain friends with your ex-boyfriend, “I can’t bear the sight of his girlfriend because it inflames my racist anxieties about fertility, attractiveness, and value—can we make sure to alternate our Zoom get-togethers so I never have to look at her?” would definitely qualify as projecting. Especially when saying something like “I’m happy to be friendly to my ex when we run into each other, but I’m not interested in setting up double dates or getting really close” is such a reasonable, appropriate thing to say!

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If you need to avoid any Zoom gatherings in the near future until you can trust your own composure, do so. The grief you feel around your ex’s loss of faith, your divorce, and his later decision to have children, plus your own uncertainty and isolation in your present relationship (not to mention the ways in which you were “looked down on” by your own community for having divorced) all make a great deal of sense to me, and you can cry, mourn, and talk about them as you see fit. Just because you divorced “amicably” doesn’t mean you can’t be sad that he didn’t want children with you! Being away from your boyfriend during a pandemic, and worrying about your high-risk parents, would also understandably increase your sense of uncertainty and distress. But looking up your ex’s new partner on social media, or comparing your achievements to hers, or asking your friends to keep you two apart specifically because you don’t know how to deal with your own assumptions about whiteness and Asianness, is not going to help you with any of your problems. Don’t do it. Your problems are real, and you have every right to ask for help with them. You also have the right to avoid your ex and his new partner on the grounds that he’s your ex, you’re not terribly close, and you’d rather spend time with your own friends. What you don’t have the right to do is ask your friends to rearrange their own friendships with this lovely woman they’ve known for years because her happiness upsets you, because you feel knocked off the “top” of an implicit racial hierarchy, and because you’re stuck in white resentment.

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