| 7.4°C Dublin

Brangelina: Don't get me started

The speculation about how long they'd last started within months of their blossoming romance, but now we've been told it's over. Brangelina, the world's most beautiful couple, has split. Despite the fact that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie lasted five years and have a child to show for every year of that (and more), all anyone is asking is "will he go back to Jennifer?" I would assume the answer is "not a snowball's chance", but it's fun to discuss over a pint.

The fact is, regardless of how often we all acknowledge that personality is more important than looks in the long run, there isn't one of us who doesn't want to know what our current partner's exes looked liked, or what kind of person our own exes are going out with now. A friend of mine, who moved to Australia, asked me recently if I knew what her ex-boyfriend's new wife was like. I did, and I didn't tell her what she did for a living, or if she was sweet, etc. I described her physically. Because as much as my friend would love to say that she wanted to know whether or not this woman had a lovely personality, we both knew damn well what she was really asking -- how good looking is she?

My friend broke up with this boyfriend a few years ago, not remotely acrimoniously, and is now happy with someone else, but she still wants to know what type of woman her ex has married. I often wonder which situation you would be happier with: that your ex was dating a supermodel or someone who was an orc in The Lord of the Rings and didn't need any make-up? In the long run, of course, it doesn't make the slightest bit of difference, unless you're still harbouring hopes of a reconciliation. But in those few seconds when you first see the photo or bump into them, which outcome would make you feel better?

Another friend of mine was out with her relatively new boyfriend recently, and they bumped into his ex. She told me afterwards that she was relieved to see that she was "pretty, but not too pretty". This was to say that it showed he had good taste, and that good-looking women found him attractive, but she wasn't "pretty enough to be a threat".

But why are we so insecure? Why does it matter so much once we are happy and everyone has moved on? It's because whether we realise it or not, our choice of partner says a lot about us, so it stands to reason that the people they chose before, or indeed choose after us, says a lot about them. It validates our own image of ourselves. If your ex is now dating a boot, maybe that's his type.

There's a reason exes are exes, and it's never anything to do with looks. But whether we admit it or not, sparkling wit and personality aside, we all want people to think that our partners are attractive, and we want their friends to think the same of us. No one wants to overhear "she's nice, but do you remember his ex?" about themselves.

Regardless of how content we are in a relationship, there is an unwritten rule that no one wants to bump into an ex when they are looking a mess. When it happens, you have the exact same reaction as when you realise you have eaten a sandwich past its sell-by date; it won't kill you, but you just feel a bit queasy.

You would never admit this to your partner, as it's a difficult one to properly explain without appearing guilty, but it's true. It doesn't mean that you have any interest in getting back with this ex, but this was someone who once found you attractive; so regardless of why you broke up, you'd secretly like them to think you still look good. And so it stands to reason that any ex of your partner will feel the same. All you can do is hope she's the one looking a mess when your boyfriend next bumps into her.

Four-day-old prawn sandwich anyone?