I’ll never forget the Other Girl. She had dark, tangled hair that was usually thrown in a bouncy ponytail on top of her head. She was slender, of course, with long limbs and an angular face. She would bite her nails just like I did. We were friends, and then we were enemies.
Okay — the term “enemies” is sensationalized and dark and cliché, but it feels most fitting. She was, at one point, someone I liked. She was someone I had envied. She was someone I had even called a friend.
My now ex-girlfriend made the call from across the world. It was 4:00 AM in southern France and it was raining. I had just embarked on a five-month journey to study in Paris and had been abroad for a week.
Her voice was wobbly and soft. The first thing she said was my name.
“Hannah, I need to tell you something.” Reality started pulling at my hair.
“I’ve been seeing (the Other Girl).” Reality forced my closed eyes open.
“It’s nothing serious, but it’s what’s right for me right now.” It put its hands around my neck.
I managed to verbalize a tearful, “I can’t fucking believe it,” before hanging up the phone and falling to the ground, drowning in the anger, shame and sadness that is heartbreak, and then chain smoking unfiltered cigarettes with the hope that they would dry all the watery feelings up.
I deleted the Other Girl on Facebook and unfollowed her on Instagram, after prudently retracing all of her social media steps that could have somehow been evidence of this travesty. I was strangely craving raw exposure to the evidence, to the realness of it all.
I paused at her contact info in my cell phone, contemplating whether or not to send her a message telling her about the pain I was in and how she was the one who had caused it. I would remind her that we were once friends. I would tell her how she was shady, because “shady” felt pungent but fair.
Instead, I blocked her number, and kept the fantasy of addressing her abstract. Throughout the end of that relationship, I had wished for abstraction. I wanted, so badly, for the facts to stay suspended in the air, intangible and out of sight.
I wanted the idea of my ex-girlfriend and this girl together to stay theoretical. Their intimacy was, at one point, nothing but a mere jealous notion that I had shamed myself for fabricating in my mind, after my then-girlfriend had so artfully led me to believe that. Acceptance, though powerfully liberating, is no easy feat.
This girl quickly became the captor of my insecurities, the picture that would surface when I would think about myself. She became the painting titled, “I’m not good enough, but she is,” which I had hanging on the walls of my mind for months, staring at it in awe and disbelief. For almost a year, I found myself willing to offer forgiveness to my ex-girlfriend as often as I say “hello,” but I never, not once, considered forgiving the Other Girl.
During my senior year of college, I took a Post-Modernism class. We read “Structure, Sign and Play” by Derrida, in which he presents a curiosity: What is the seeming presence of a figure that holds central power? His suggestion was simple: We give power to people. He claimed that there is no such thing as a “powerful” person or group of people at all; rather, the “center,” the role, is constantly being replaced. It’s the symbol that stays the same.
I wondered, had this girl been someone else, would I still know her as the Other Girl? Would the idea of her still make me recoil? Would I still feel anger and jealousy towards her despite having known that my relationship with my ex was destined for failure?
Years later, a friend from college ended up living on the same island and working at the same farm as the Other Girl, where they became not only coworkers, but good friends. I knew this, and though I was not enthused, I felt assured that I could handle it. I was, after all, finally in a place where I no longer yearned for my relationship with my ex.
During a college reunion, my friend attempted to humanize the Other Girl for me.
“I know it may be hard for you to believe this, but she’s actually a really nice person.”
I paused. She’s a really nice person? A nice person? A person?
The moment I found out about the Other Girl, she was no longer a person at all. She was no longer someone I had once connected with over coming out at nineteen. She was no longer the pretty and sweet girl who I even had once considered liking.
She became a symbol for something much bigger. She became an internal darkness that was now, again, no longer abstract, but painfully concrete, with a body and a face and eyes that she could see me with. She had power, and she had power because I gave it to her.
I looked down at my hands in silence after my friend made her risky claim. I started biting my nails, like the Other Girl probably would have.
“I bet she is,” I said smiling, “but that doesn’t mean I need to like her.”
Hannah Sherman is a Brooklyn-based Social Worker and Children's Yoga and Mindfulness teacher dedicated to supporting others in healing and growth through integrative psychotherapy and mind-body work. She's inspired by feminism, creative communities, and human connection. For more information about her offerings, visit www.hannahsherman.com. You can find her on Instagram at @hannahsherm.
Zoie Harmon is an LA-based filmmaker and artist working in collage and found-object sculpture. She is interested in intersectional feminism, divination, ritualistic self-care, body horror and Rihanna. You can watch an example of her film work on Vimeo and follow her on Twitter and Instagram.
This essay is shared in collaboration with It's Not Personal, a growing anthology and collective that creates opportunities for women to share their dating experiences in a positive environment. The project aims to progress society's conversations around singlehood, relationships and everything in between. For more information, be sure to follow It's Not Personal on Instagram join the Facebook group, and send art and writing submissions to email@example.com.
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It's Not Personal is an inclusive dating collective and growing anthology. INP creates opportunities for women/womxn to share their dating experiences in safe spaces, empowers them to find comfort in their relationship statuses, and inspires them to have a healthy relationship with themselves through the tools of art and writing. INP does workshops, events and has a monthly column with BUST Magazine Online, as well as works to raise money for RAINN. For more information, be sure to follow It's Not Personal on Instagram join the Facebook group, and send art and writing submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org.