In Defense of the Bitchy New GirlfriendS

We've all known her. Your ex has a new squeeze, and the second you roll up on this broad, she gives you the side-eye of a woman who is not believing your shit for one second. Whoa, you think, I'm just friends with this dude — I didn't do anything — what's her beef? We've all also probably been her. You're dating a new dude, and here's HIS ex still flirting and crossing boundaries like she still feels a claim to him. But you have to act like it's no bigs, even though it's got rebound infidelity written all over it, and you can't help but slip in a cutting remark or twelve.

Maybe you have no idea how you got to the intersection of Dude You've Both Slept With Street and Not Gonna Budge Avenue, but here you are. The universe stutters. Somewhere in the distance a jealous dog barks. But upon closer examination, the Bitchy New Girlfriend is not so crazy, not so shitty, not so insecure and, yes, not so bitchy. She is in fact, actually no worse than you, the Bitchy Ex-Girlfriend. You are both two sides of the same coin of bitchy. Come correct, girl. You know it's true.

Women's Studies 101 Point: The only thing worse than the trope of two psycho women in bodice-ripping fisticuffs over some dude they both want is the pat admonition that this is just a stereotype that isn't real and never really happens, or a patriarchal plot to dismantle feminism. It is, in fact, both a cartoon mantasy, and a real-world problem (not the bodice-ripping, but the conflict), as anyone who has been alive can attest.

Yes, tons of women are more than fine with an ex dating someone new. Many women are in fact, great friends with the new partners of their exes, as I have been and have witnessed. So yes, emphatically, yes, not everyone is out to stir up a bitch-on-bitch soap opera-level crime on par with Melrose Place levels of cattiness and interloping just because their ex found someone new. I ain't generalizin'. Well, except to make a real point. End Women's Studies 101 Point.

OK, but we have all probably both known and been the new lady navigating a new partner's social scene, one that just-so-happens to come filled to the brim with exes who are already skeptical of you. And we've also been the one of the exes in that social scene, the one with slightly too many leftover feelings, somehow compelled to put a little wedge in between our ex and the someone new we fear might really make them happy. But perhaps if we try to understand the other lady's beef, we can shed light on this thing without having to merely pretend it doesn't exist.

New relationships are fun but can be hard, newsflash to no one. They are tenuous times when the groundwork for communication and intimacy are being laid, and they are fraught with the unrecovered landmines of the past, ready to blow up at will with one little misstep. It is hard enough to get to know someone as it is, but much harder if that someone has all the baggage of their past still standing right there at the party yapping their head off while they try to talk to you. No one is a clean slate. But not everyone is still carrying a suitcase with an ex-girlfriend hidden inside wearing a gargoyle mask who happens to like still being number one on her last dude's speed dial, poised to attack like some kind of crazy jack-in-the-box. (Did that only happen to me?)

But no one is, of course, advocating that boyfriends and girlfriends not be friends with their exes — I have almost always tried to do that. But wouldn't it also make sense if, when we see our ex is dating someone new, to give a teeny, weeny little bit of space to pursue a new relationship? It just seems like good manners.

So in defense of the Bitchy New Girlfriend, consider a few possible angles:

She didn't start out bitchy. Remember? She was nice at first. Maybe you were on friendly terms in the beginning, or maybe you were even already acquainted in the same social circle. But then you started acting weird and jealous, and she noticed, because the Bitchy New Girlfriend is not an idiot, she is just someone trying to date a dude who happens to have an ex hanging around that is so entitled that she won't step off, even a little. In fairness, you think you are just being friends. BUT:

You have a funny definition of friendship. You call it friends, sure. But what you are doing is still hanging on to the relationship without the status. You still talk about the sex you had, times you had, the everything you had — and even in front of the new girlfriend, whom you bewilderingly expect to have a sense of humor about it at all times. You have no idea why that should mean you can't still call him up 'round the clock and have him answer at any time and still text you through any down times you might be going through. You know if it were you, and this described your new boyfriend's relationship with HIS ex, you'd be weird as fuck about it, but you are conveniently omitting this for the sake of justifying your behavior with your ex. cough Marnie on GIRLS cough.

You have no boundaries. Like Marnie in GIRLS, you still want to show up at Charlie's house and sleep in his bed to get you through a low point, even though you know he has a girlfriend who happens to not be there that night. This doesn't make you shitty at all, you think, just someone who needed a warm bed and an ex-boyfriend to cuddle up with. After all, this was a guy you knew first, so what's the problem?

She senses she's just a rebound. A Bitchy New Girlfriend may morph into such because she senses — correctly — that you and her new dude have some unfinished business. Nothing like being the third wheel or the revenge girlfriend, or worse, the new girlfriend that exists merely to reaffirm the new guy's feelings for his ex. Is this an OK reason for her to be bitchy to YOU? Only if you've earned it, and you know if you have. (Yes, he's also a dick.)

You are obviously, totally, not over him. In fairness, you are not a bad person for not being over him, not by a long stretch. You may, however, think you're hiding your envy about who/what could possibly turn this ex's head harder than you did, and may not realize you have a sudden, obvious resurgent attraction to your old flame. (Plus, you literally show up everywhere he is.) But you forgot that Bitchy New Girlfriend has a sudden special new power, too: the preternatural ability to sniff out a threat. And nothing stinks more than a whiff of the perfume you're wearing: Desperately Still Seeking Your Ex. It's only an issue if you're obviously riding that line of still vying for him but feigning friendship, something more common than anyone would like to admit. Step away from your ex-boyfriend and work out your feelings on your own. It's the right thing to do. You'd want your new dude's ex to do the same if she still had feelings for him, wouldn't you?

She called you out on your obvious meddling, and you think that makes her shitty. She saw through your ruse and called a spade a spade, and rather than admit your antics, you decided to make her into a psycho, paranoid jealous freak who couldn't handle your "friendship." Classic Bitchy Ex-Girlfriend move. If anyone saw last night's GIRLS, you no doubt saw Charlie's new girlfriend Audrey do this magnificently: call bullshit on Marnie for all her obvious ploys to keep Charlie on the leash, even if she only wants to walk him once a month. For anyone who has ever had to be the Bitchy New Girlfriend, you may have basked in the reflected glow of TV-style validation for all the shit you've put up with trying to date a dude who had an ex who wouldn't just get lost. Yay, Audrey! Takin' one for the team.

Yes, a really obvious point here I'm saving until last is that in these tenuous relationships between exes and new partners, it's primarily the person in the middle's job to do the brokering. And when new boyfriends or partners are good and sophisticated at doing this, there can be great and real harmony in small social circles where no one is going anywhere. Charlie, for instance, still has feelings for Marnie, which is why all this shit is going down, anyway. But men who don't have feelings for exes can often be confused by the wily ways of an ex. She says she just wants to be friends and he believes that, even if everyone else (ahem, all the ladies) can tell otherwise.

But I won't lay all this at the door of the dude's feet. Women should be equally or more invested in harmonious relationships with other women, and this is helped by both backing off and trying to flip the script. It doesn't always work. Sometimes, bitches are bitches and there's nothing to do but, well, bitch about it. And many a relationship has been ruined by a woman who, convinced incorrectly that an ex is meddling, pushes her new partner away with jealousy and suspicion. I've also known plenty of exes who were happy to watch a new relationship their dude got into dissolve under that illusion, when they were, in fact, meddling all along.

One more GIRLS P.S.: Audrey hardly looks like she'll be a girlfriend for the long-haul — although I, for one, would like to see her stick around and become a bit more humanized. As for Marnie, it would be cool to see her really be friends with Charlie instead of just using him as a literal human blanket.

I will reiterate that I don't think exes are supposed to get lost when a relationship ends, but I do think there should be some ground rules established that make sense when you are still friends with your ex and are watching them date someone new. That Bitchy New Girlfriend or Bitchy Ex-Girlfriend could be an ally and a friend, if you can put aside the skepticism and embrace the opposite viewpoint. That of course, requires some honesty about your actual intentions, no doubt a difficult thing with leftover residual feelings. But isn't that preferable to subterfuge and undermining?

Besides, if their new union doesn't work out, you really don't want that on your conscience, or do you?