07/18/2012 12:47 pm ET | Updated Sep 16, 2012

What His Wedding Photos Taught Me About Our Breakup

With curiosity that I deluded myself into thinking was harmless, I found out that an ex-boyfriend just got married. I immediately opened my emergency bottle of wine and called my best girl friend.

"Ew," she said.

"I know," I said. Gulp.

"I can't believe it," she said.

"I know," I said.

"How does someone with that many issues get married so fast?"

"I know. Right? "Who is this girl?"

One look at that engagement photo, and I knew she was perfect for him. Plain, a little pale, but perfect. Simple.

Now, considering that I refer to my last relationship as a jail sentence, I'm surprised that news of his recent nuptials shook me. Although I am not wrought with pain, I am definitely wrought with something. But why? And what? Three years out of that too-many-years relationship, I've moved on. I have a great apartment, great friends and a great career -- one that I actually want. What gives?

As I tortured myself on his wedding website, I discovered I was less hurt by what I should have been hurt by -- the obligatory engagement smooch photo, not to mention the lavender-bowed tabs -- and more by the fact that a website had been created at all. He actually contributed to something? I couldn't even get him to spend the night in my apartment.

Of course, I had expected that both of us would move on. And thanks to the Internet, I can now seek out mentally destabilizing facts to confirm theories I'd rather not believe because he is frozen in time in my brain. Because marriage? Already? Were we not both in the nightmare known as our relationship? Only now am I thinking I might -- might -- be ready for a relationship (maybe).

Only now am I on the way towards having the life that I want. Three years, one relocation and one very expensive graduate degree later.

Because the worst part about a breakup is that everything changes. Everything. You lose your best friend. Together you created a life -- a life that you knew. That's not easy to do. And now, with him married, it's as if that life never happened. It's not that I want to matter to him, but it's just weird to think I don't matter at all.

"Are you upset?" my mother asked me. "Because he's married and you are not? Do you feel jealous?" His biggest supporter. She still has the can opener he gave her for Christmas.

"Well," I said, reminded of those lost years of my youth, "No."

I knew I wasn't jealous. I didn't want him back. And I didn't want to be his new wife with her plain, straight hair and pale skin and minimal makeup. No way. I have kinky, complicated hair and a cosmetics arsenal I would save from a burning apartment. And I am proud. Damn proud.

So what was I feeling?

Maybe it's just single girl stuff, I thought. So I called my long-time married friend to put things into perspective. I alerted her of my/his news.

"That's the worst," she said, matter-of-factly. "But you know, I still hate my ex-boyfriend. The thought of him just annoys me. Like, how could I have been with that toolbag for so long?"

And so I thought about my toolbag. I know relationships are supposed to teach you something about yourself, but when I think about it, all my relationship really taught me was how absolutely delusional and psychotic I could be to stay with someone who treated me so poorly. How could I have been with that toolbag for so long? I cringed involuntarily. And that's when I realized something about my wounds. They're buried, yes; manageable, for sure; but I still have them. Still. They are there. And honestly, they will probably always be there. But because he is married, it feels like he has none, that he walked away from our relationship completely unscathed. He should not be saying "I do" on a dude ranch in the middle of nowhere (damn wedding website), I thought. He should be in therapy.

And I deserve a plaque or something.

Relationships are rough. Especially when you are actually invested. And what are you left with? At least in Iraq, where dating is marriage, if a woman wants out, she gets a lump sum of money and her fully-furnished house. Here, all you get is any sense you can make out of it, a.k.a. torturing yourself with a wedding website and roaming charges.

And I don't even want a wedding website.

I've always thought of marriage as an answer to some big looming question. I used to think that although our exes may seem long gone, they never really are -- part of us still feels that wherever they are, we are both still in on the same secret. We are still asking the same question, we still see life the same way.

Maybe the pain I felt when he found his answer wasn't jealousy or inadequacy, just proof. Proof that we didn't have what I thought we had. Not even for a moment. It was a kind of breakup all over again, because I realized his answer was to a different question -- one I'd never ask.