To the Girl Who Slept with My Ex-Boyfriend
I’ll never forget the day I found out that one of the girls in our small group of friends had sex with my ex-boyfriend. He was handsome, popular, and a star athlete at his much larger high school. I liked him more than I should have considering all the times his friends warned me not to.
We had recently broken up, and then she slept with him. She was truly one of my best friends and I never saw it coming. I told our friend group what had happened, and they immediately all vowed not to speak to her. This, by the way, is called social retribution. Women use it the second they step foot onto a playground. It should be picked up by our special forces as a weapon of war. There is no greater punishment in the female paradigm than social retribution. Every girl has probably experienced it at some point in her life, and once you do, it is like a hot iron branding your skin; you don’t forget. It’s how we control one another, and demand that each female falls in line. Sarah hurts Sally, Sally tells Jessica and Molly they are no longer to play with Sarah, Sarah immediately becomes an outsider who can possibly be brought back into the fold with time well served. Thank God high school is over. Women are vicious.
Just like that, a girl who had been one of us since the 8th grade was excluded. I can remember her walking into the cafeteria and seeing all of her best friends huddled together eating their lunches. She visibly turned shades of red. She knew she was on her own.
Looking back now I feel awful for her. I wish I could edit those days like I do my Instagram. I knew her. I knew that she was a sweet girl at heart who had done a dumb thing. Yes, she had broken girl code, but I knew what it felt like to just want to be wanted. At 16, when a popular, handsome, teenage boy says all the right things, girls often do what they think they have to to make sure they don’t stop.
At the time, when she kept writing me notes and apologizing, I didn’t care. All I could see was how hurt I was. I didn’t really stop to look at what was happening to her. After a couple months she showed up at my house and gave me a card. The card said she was sorry again, and that she was going to live with her dad. She left. I still said nothing. I never called her, emailed her, or spoke to her again. She left, and as she drove out of our small town, I am sure she felt a lot of things, none of which was wanted.
So why do these girls do this? Why do some women seem to have chronic issues with seeking attention from taken men? Were her and I really so different? At the time it felt like it. I assumed that there were zero threads of similarity between a girl like her and a girl like me. But today, at 31, I realize I was wrong. If you would take one minute to stretch your brain with me, I would like to point out some possible similarities between you and the girl who slept with your boyfriend.
For starters, you both probably need attention. Studies have shown that women tend to compete for men, and they do so by appealing to what they believe men want. Data shows that about 47% of men are poached from their current partners by other women. There seems to be this idea out there that there are only “a few good men,” and so if you find one, all bets are off, even if he is already taken. The solidarity women once felt for one another in the dating market has vanished. Now, you are my competition.
The girl who slept with your boyfriend may have done it to validate herself. If she thinks you are attractive, smart, or funny, and she can get the guy you like to like her, then that must mean that she is more attractive, smarter, and funnier than you. WIN!
Here is the thing about females, and to be honest, this one extends far past high school: we size one another up. If you are honest with yourself, I am sure you can think of a time that a close friend pointed out a shortcoming. They told you that your legs were bigger than theirs or that you couldn’t possibly fit into their jeans. You get a promotion, exciting opportunity, or engaged, and some of your closest allies can hardly muster up the strength to click like on your Facebook post. It’s exhausting. There is a blurry line many females dance between: “oh my goodness we are such good friends,” and “I will cut you down if it makes me stand taller.” As much as I would like to say that this is always other girls, the truth is, it has probably, on more than one occasion, been you too.
As Noam Shpancer writes in Psychology Today, “As women come to consider being prized by men their ultimate source of strength, worth, achievement and identity, they are compelled to battle other women for the prize.” In short: as we compete for male affirmation, it is difficult for most women to acknowledge the skills and talents of other women, because somehow it scares us into believing that if there is more for them, there is less for us.
Here is the truth: you and the girl who slept with your boyfriend probably aren’t that different. I have learned in my life that the greatest depicter of our moral character is opportunity, rather than grit. If you want to be a person of deep conscience, the best thing you can do is walk in the opposite direction of opportunities that look a lot like temptations. Linger in the face of temptation, and you are a goner. If there is a fence between you and sin, it’s in the devil’s yard. The older I get, and the more I read, the more I am convinced that people are not worlds apart, but degrees. And if you took the same person, and raised them in a different environment, under differing circumstances, with differing opportunities, you probably wouldn’t even recognize yourself.
Research says we try to level the playing field by any means necessary. We worry that the magical female in front of us with thin thighs and shiny hair is waving a wand of black magic that will steal our husbands.
And so I would like to propose this shocking new outlook for you: what if when we are competing with other women, we are actually competing with ourselves? What if what causes us to lash out isn’t how shiny her hair is, or how perfect her life seems, but rather how we think of ourselves? We aren’t seeing another woman, we are seeing a funnier, smarter, more desirable version of ourselves, and we are instantly reminded of what areas in our lives we feel unfulfilled. What if when you hate her, you are actually hating aspects of yourself? Likewise, what if when the girl who slept with your boyfriend did it, it had nothing to do with you, and everything to do with how vulnerable she felt?
I don’t want to end this on a self-righteous tone of, “pity the girl who tries to hurt your esteem,” because like I said, you have probably been that girl. Remember, we aren’t worlds apart, but degrees. What I do want to end this on is a call to action. What can you do to make yourself comfortable in your own “freckles,” so that you aren’t threatened by your friend’s skin? Remember, this isn’t even about you trying to support other women; the root of this issue is actually you not being able to support yourself. You will be able to love her when you are able to embrace you. It’s not her happiness that threatens you, it’s your unhappiness.
In high school one of my best friends slept with my boyfriend. And if I am being honest, her and I really aren’t that different.
Heather Thompson Day is an Assistant Professor of Communication at Andrews University. She is the author of five Christian books, including Life After Eden, and writer for The Spilled Milk Club. Facebook her, or check her out on Instagram.