Is It Ever OK To Date A Friend'S Ex?
Spoiler alert! If you’re a fan of HBO’s Girls, we’re in the throes of watching Hannah digest the fact that her BFF Jessa is dating her ex Adam. So far, she's heartbroken—and understandably so. To quote the incomparable Gretchen Wieners of Mean Girls, girl code dictates that, “Irregardless, ex-boyfriends are just off limits to friends. I mean, that’s just like, the rules of feminism.”
Regardless of the actual rules of feminism (which don't really exist, just FYI), pursuing your BFF’s former lover is considered one of the coldest things one woman can do to another—right up there with sleeping with a married man or refusing to share your extra tampon in the ladies room.
But is dating a friend’s ex always the backstabbing and thoughtless move we make it out to be?
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“Finding yourself attracted to a friend’s ex doesn’t mean you’re a villain,” says Brandy Engler, Ph.D., author of The Women on My Couch. “We’re often authentic around our friends' boyfriends because we see them as off limits and we’re not trying to impress them. But that authenticity helps with attraction—it’s the foundation of real connection.” Realistically speaking, it’s no shocker that best friends who share tastes in things like Chilean Sauvignon Blanc and velvet vintage bags would also be attracted to the same guy. Or, in a much more complicated way, that Rob Kardashian would fall in love with his half-sister’s boyfriend’s baby mama. (Eh, ok, that one was kind of shocking.)
In the vast majority of situations, dating a friend’s ex spells trouble, especially (and almost always) if she was in deep with the guy. But there are a select number of situations when you can pick up her (hopefully not sloppy) seconds, says Engler. It’s risky, but you can proceed with caution if you find any of the following statements to be true:
You’ve Gotten Your Bud’s Blessing
Call her or talk to her in person (no texting here) and explain your feelings. It’s not fun or foolproof, but it'll be so much better for her than catching a glimpse of you two together on social media. (Hard to stay incognito these days!) “The key is communication. In Girls, Hannah’s betrayal came from Jessa acting behind her back. That’s a cowardly move—an honest conversation can save a relationship,” says Engler. (Even if you’re just giving her a head’s up, and not asking for permission, a frank chat beats hiding it.)
"I dated a friend’s ex once and it was the worst thing I’ve ever done for this reason: we kept it a secret and we shouldn’t have. When she found out, she went ballistic," says Treva S., an actual women who tried to be all sneaky about it. "Talk about a disaster—not only did I lose a good girlfriend over it, the ex ended up dumping me!"
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Your Friend Has (Seriously) Moved On
If the breakup was amicable and now she’s happily married to another guy with three kids, a good friend would want the same happiness for you—even if it’s with someone she used to sleep with. If you all still hang out on weekends, even more of a reason to give it a go. But hang back if she’s still single and mopey about the situation, or the wounds haven’t healed. “If your friend isn’t over it and is still actively requiring your support, it’s not very ethical to go in," says Dr. Engler.
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They Dated for a Hot Second
In the world of Bumble and Tinder, relationships move fast. If your pal grabbed drinks with a dude three times before things fizzled, he doesn’t qualify as an ‘ex’. (Although if he ghosted her, which is how most of these things end, don’t be surprised if she’s not thrilled he wants to take you out.) Super short ‘relationships’ (under a month) shouldn’t throw a guy into that off-limits territory.
"My friend had a one night stand with my ex a few years after we broke up and I was fine with it, because I’m in the camp that what’s past is past. Once you break up, there’s no territory to claim," says the very chill Sunny W. "Once they started dating, she made me nix all contact with him and block him on social media. But then she starting spreading rumors about me and our relationship dissolved. If you’re going to do it, don’t drag the third party into it!"
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You’re Madly In Love
If the romantic relationship is strong enough to handle the repercussions, it’s not wrong to pick your future husband over your college roommate. However, if she’s one of your lifelong friends, be prepared for the reality that you might lose her.
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