I recognized her immediately: the soft, brown golden retriever-like eyes that turned down at the corners, the blonde, slightly over-processed hair and tan skin with a smattering of freckles that betrayed her Southern sorority girl roots despite her New York fashion girl get-up.
During my volatile six-month relationship with the man in question, she had been a constant, shadowy presence that loomed over me, daring me to compare each and every component part of myself with her. Sometimes these suspicions were loosely based on reality (or whatever “reality” I was able to piece together from combing these highly curated social media profiles and pitching myself down the rabbit hole of Google search). From these disparate research projects, I learned a few vital pieces of information: She had a brother, knew how to skateboard and had a flatter stomach than me. Three years later, I found myself hoarding every casual anecdote my college boyfriend told about his most significant ex, piecing together a composite that I attempted to corroborate with his friends and family members at every opportunity—subtly, of course. Of course, with the advent of Facebook, all these borderline stalker-ish, self-destructive impulses have become that much easier to indulge. This twisted exercise in note-comparison has taken on an even deeper resonance as I’ve gotten older and felt the inevitable pressure to settle down. In the rom-com version of my life, after some perspective and possibly a stint in an Ashram in India, I ultimately find comfort in the common bond I have with this ragtag assemblage of women, sort of like a less vengeful, less dated, less plastic surgery-enhanced version of The First Wives Club. By way of the pictures they post, the status updates they author, the books and movies and TV shows they claim as their favorites, I’ve fabricated living, breathing personalities, sewn together with the ever-tenuous thread of remembered stories from people who actual know them. In reality, there has thus far been little redemption or compensation for all the time and energy I have spent agonizing over these women. Unfortunately, a more tangible sense of female kinship that I hoped would magically sprout from the hours, nay years of misplaced energy I poured into getting to “know” these women, has not materialized. I suppose the only real consolation I can distill from all this pointless obsessing is the knowledge that I, too, am an Ex, and perhaps somewhere out there, some poor girl has scoured my Facebook profile and Googled me ceaselessly and concluded that I am really quite amazing. Or maybe—just maybe—it empowers her to know that she’s in really good company, that her boyfriend is a man of discerning taste, and that, worst case scenario, in a few years’ time, she’ll gain entrance into an elite club full of diverse, fascinating and incredibly photogenic women.

In a former life, Lauren Gitlin was a music journalist whose work appeared in Rolling Stone, Spin and USA Today. Be Mindful Of What You Say: Chicago Man Arrested For Posting A Comment On WorldstarHipHop Threatening To Kill 16 White Males! Sign up for our newsletter and never miss the hot stories Thank you for subscribing to Global Grind!
And here she was, smiling obliviously at me across the refrigerated case as I swaddled her Manchego in butcher paper. She probably had matching sets of expensive lingerie and applied lotion religiously after she showered and actually totally enjoyed running because it was so great for clearing her mind and was generally totally put together in ways that I could only dream of being. I clung desperately to these facts, trotting them out any time I felt particularly insecure, languishing in the knowledge that I could never truly be loved or wholly desired unless I learned to kick-flip and shed an inch from my waist. Since breaking up with my most recent boyfriend a year ago, I’ve noted with a combination of relish and searing jealously that his ex (well, the one before me anyway)—the Manic Pixie Dream Girl whose doe-eyes haunted me for the two and a half years he and I were together—got married and had a baby.
Not only do I not know how to use Pinterest, nor have I have ever baked a vegan lemon blueberry cake, I am nowhere close to being married or having a child. After all, on some (admittedly deluded) level, I feel I know them, or at least I know the version of them they have painstakingly constructed on various social media platforms. And those people – the men we have in common – have become secondary to these more profound, if imaginary relationships. There have been fleeting moments where I felt a sort of common-bond magnanimity towards this or that one –- usually when I was still in the throes of a relationship and particularly exasperated with my boyfriend at the time, and felt that only someone who had dated him could understand and commiserate appropriately. Rather, it’s made me keenly aware of my insecurities, and of my sadistic need to craft a wax effigy primped and painted with all the Better-Than attributes I can dream up.
Plus, neither got paid during that period due to their WNBA suspensions for domestic violence.

As I stumbled to weigh out her dainty wedge of artisan sheep’s milk, flustered and flushed, I felt a strange surge of vindication that twisted and wrapped around a twin, slightly nauseating feeling of anxious jealousy like some cruel double helix. Her credit card confirmed the name I had come to know and agonize over for months upon months of my life. The Ex became a symbol of all the ways in which I was deficient, a sick game I played with myself when I was bored or feeling low. After he and I reunited, I became obsessed with finding out all I could about this interim girl.
No longer an imminent or imagined threat to my now dead relationship, she nonetheless remains in active rotation, one in the pantheon of ex-girlfriends I check on, a still-maddening specter in my life, pointing out to me all the ways I don’t measure up. In an alternate universe, one where sexual jealousy and female insecurity is not at issue, these women and I could very well be friends.
It’s made me dread the inevitable point in a fledgling relationship when my overblown notions of myself as the prettiest, awesomest, most fascinating woman this guy has ever met are dashed by the unwelcome emergence of the Ex, who is certainly better than me in most ways and, were she to show up at the door this minute, would surely seduce my fella back into her grip with an expert bat of the lash or wrinkle of the nose.
Again, Griner says had she known, she wouldn’t have popped the question in August 2014. Like the painful thrill of a tattoo needle, I always sought out the Ex, torturing myself with all the ways in which I perceived that she was better than me – thinner, sexier, more exotic, more adventurous, more into football or pool, better at baking or photography or freestyle rapping or aerial yoga. In the era before Facebook, this required significantly more sleuthing, and like a detective I extracted what I could from friends who attended her high school, mutual acquaintances, yearbook pictures and one elaborately constructed in-person encounter at a party.

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