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L.A. Actually: Oh, Is That Your Ex-Girlfriend on ‘Law & Order’?

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There’s always a point, usually a few months into a new relationship, when you find yourself wondering about the ones who came before. It’s natural to be curious about someone’s romantic history, but for most women, that curiosity is coupled with the desire to answer a burning question about your boyfriend’s ex:

“Is she prettier/smarter/cooler than me?”

Ten years ago, we had to base these comparisons on snippets of evidence pieced together over time. An old photograph wedged in the back of a dresser drawer, a description given by mutual friends, an accidental encounter at the grocery store.

Enter the Internet. Social media has made our lives – and our loves – so easily accessible. Want to see photos of the girl he dated before you? Just check Facebook!

The problem with ex-stalking is that you run the risk of finding out that your boyfriend’s last girlfriend is a dead ringer for Jennifer Lawrence. But when you live in L.A., there’s a very real chance that his last girlfriend actually WAS Jennifer Lawrence.

The problem with ex-stalking is that you run the risk of finding out that your boyfriend’s last girlfriend is a dead ringer for Jennifer Lawrence.

But when you live in Los Angeles, there’s a very real chance that his last girlfriend actually WAS Jennifer Lawrence.

Call it a hazard of living in a town full of beautiful women chasing Hollywood dreams. I’m not exaggerating when I say that every single man I’ve dated out here has at least one ex in the “actress and/or model” category. Every. Single. One. It’s a hard pill to swallow, and sometimes it’s near-impossible to ignore—particularly when you see your boyfriend’s old flame splashed across your TV screen.

Imagine the scenario. You’re sprawled on the couch eating takeout, clad in your coziest sweatpants. The two of you are watching re-runs of “Law & Order: SVU,” and one episode features a cute new district attorney. Suddenly, you hear those dreadful words…“Oh, I used to date her.”

She’s breezing across the screen, looking effortlessly gorgeous and staring straight into your living room, where you’re currently face-first in a carton of pad thai.

In the past five years, I’ve found myself in this situation no less than three times. It’s the emotional equivalent of being hit with sniper fire — a kill shot to the self-esteem.

So how do you cope/recover before the night is ruined for both you and your partner?

Step One: Stop and take a deep breath. Do not make this a big deal. Do not overanalyze your boyfriend’s reaction (“His eyebrow twitched! Clearly he thinks he made a mistake and can’t believe he let her go!”). Do not lock yourself in the bathroom and cry. Getting upset is the worst thing you can do; it makes you seem insecure and jealous – which you very well may be in this moment, but you have to be responsible for these feelings rather than splashing them all over your significant other. For help with this, see Step Two.

Step Two: Do not confuse illusion with reality. People put serious time and effort into making the actors on television shows look perfect. From the flattering lighting to the designer wardrobe, what you are seeing is staged. If you had a hair and make-up crew, you’d look great too. As great as this woman. And even if you wouldn’t, the simple fact is that your boyfriend is sitting here in your living room, not hers.

Step Three: Finally, and most importantly, remember that dating is not a competitive sport. You aren’t in a beauty pageant. Finding the right partner isn’t the same as buying a blender — people aren’t always looking to trade up for a more attractive model. Relationships are built on common interests, compatible personalities, love and trust. Don’t freak out about the past. Those relationships ended for a reason, and that reason wasn’t you.

Yes, we live in a town of beautiful people. But you know what’s really sexy? Confidence.

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