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Image / Editorial

Hit me up: should I ask permission to hook up with my best friend’s ex?


by Rhona Mcauliffe
22nd Mar 2018
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Our resident agony aunt, Rhona McAuliffe, advises a reader who is falling for her best friend’s ex-boyfriend

Dear Rhona, 

I’ve spent the last five years, on and off, dating a long line of incompatibles in the hope of finding someone I could maybe spend more than a couple of months with. I’ve had everything, been ghosted, insulted, stalked, sexted and lied to so many times. And I’ve also met some genuinely nice guys who I just wasn’t that into. I’d recently decided to give up on relationships completely and settle down with my cat, until I started randomly bumping into my best friend’s ex-boyfriend.

They were together for about seven years and broke up just over a year ago. The split was amicable and long expected, she’d been questioning their relationship for a long time and seems to have no regrets though hasn’t been with anyone since. I’d always got on well with him and was sad to see them split as I thought he was one of the good ones.

Now, things are getting weird. There’s definitely a spark between us and the last time we met – when I was on a night out with workmates – he asked for my number and texted later that night to ask me out for a drink. I’m not sure what to do. Despite myself, I really like him. I know that if we go for a drink there’s a chance things will progress. Should I even be considering meeting him? I feel like he is 100% out of bounds. Do I tell my friend? Should I ask for her permission or just walk away?

Giddy and Freaked, Wicklow.

After five arduous years in the dating trenches, I think it’s fair to say that you’ve done your time, scored the medal and appear to have swerved any PTSD fall-out. There is nothing like knowing you gave it your best shot to settle the mind, kick back in your recliner and absently stroke your cat. No, that is not a euphemism. The fact is, it’s easier to find a Dom woman looking for a slave in Galway; join a threesome with a married couple in Kells or knock in on a D4 sex party than it is to find a monogamous, committed partner in 2018.

There are lots of positives to online dating – not having to rely on well-meaning friends to pair you with the only rogue bachelor they know is one – but there’s also a general consensus that finding a ‘life partner’ is now harder than ever. That’s partly due to the seemingly limitless choice on offer, leading us to overly-scrutinise the actual humans we agree to meet in real life. Faced with an open-mouthed chewer or someone ten years older than their profile pic, it’s easier to write them off and revert to the filtered promise of perfection online, than to work on the reality. It seems false advertising has not yet killed our relentless optimism but it is damaging
our human connections.

Another reason it’s harder to lock down ‘the one’ is that it’s never been easier to have no-strings-attached sex on tap. You no longer need to be in a committed relationship to enjoy regular sex – unlike multiple generations before us – so hookups are often more fickle and self-serving. Scoring a ‘lifer’ is not necessarily a shared goal.

So here you are, hanging up your man-stained hunting boots and BOOM, there he is, your best friend’s ex. This is the guy you got to know when you were firmly in the platonic zone when he was absolutely out of bounds when you were likely most yourself. There’s something pure and effortlessly romantic about your recent chance encounters and I can’t help myself but be excited for you!

Traditionally, before dating was a reckless blood sport, best friend’s exes were firmly off the table, unless there were mitigating circumstances. For example, your BFF snuffed out their seven-year bond of love and trust by, just say, sleeping with her exes father. Then all claims on future ‘ownership’ would be off. Though technically, despite her behaviour, you would still be expected to have her back, if her ex did come and cry on your shoulder you could only be excused for soothing his woes, mending his heart and solemnly vowing never to share a bed with one of his male relatives.

And I was in that All Exes Are Forbidden camp when I was younger when rabid devotion to the sisterhood surpassed all other social obligations. But now, things are different. I’m still chest-banging allegiance to my sisters but am also secure in the fact that we have all lived a little, have clocked up enough experience to take responsibility for ourselves, to know when we are being fair and also recognise when we are afraid to do something because someone might think we are anything less than sound.

So here’s what I think: your best friend ended her 7-year relationship; there aren’t any extenuating circumstances that you’ve mentioned and she seems resolved with her decision. However, she hasn’t seen anyone since, which means that at the 12- month mark, she could be doubting her audacity, woke as she is now to the ruthless game. There’s also a chance that she is perfectly happy doing her thing, away from the game. If she wasn’t a very close friend, politely giving her the heads up that you’re going for a drink with her ex would suffice. As she’s in your inner circle, I would be sensitively asking her permission. Much as I hate comparing ex-boyfriends to food – the ‘sloppy seconds’ analogy churns my stomach – you are essentially asking her if you can eat the leftover asparagus risotto glistening on her plate before the waiter whisks it away.

Yes, it’s far more complex than that – she wasn’t #makingmemories with a mound of sticky rice – but the sentiment is the same. She discarded him. That doesn’t mean she has to be ok with you seeing him. She might be weirded out by the concept, in which case you need to tease it out with her. Or she might tell you that she’s not completely over him, yet; that’s when you turn on your heel and walk the other way. I repeat, sever all contact with the Ex.

If she’s gracious enough to give you her blessing, you have some work to do to ensure that her discomfort is minimised. She’ll find it hard to shake the feeling that you’re on her turf so avoid any coarse triggers. Don’t talk about sex, or ‘that face he makes when he’s…’; don’t talk about your friend to her ex, especially not to make comparisons or discuss the aftermath of their break-up; don’t gossip about either of them, to either of them; be loyal and mentally ring-fence sensitive subjects that you will not discuss with either of them. If you’re a natural over-sharer and incessant talker, the above will require herculean planning and effort. However sensitively you handle it, the transition will be messy and awkward. Not being able to share every detail of your life with your best friend will impact the intimacy of your friendship and alter your dynamic. That’s a certainty and something you need to confront before you table your request.

I wouldn’t even suggest pursuing this inherently prickly issue if I didn’t sense the seed of something bright and new. Or as D.H. Lawrence says: ‘Love is the flower of life, and blossoms unexpectedly and without law, and must be plucked where it is found, and enjoyed for the brief hour of its duration.’ Let’s just hope, after all the hoops have been jumped, that the Ex isn’t just scouting
for a new dogging partner. Bonne chance!

Rhona McAuliffe might not be a trained therapist but she does have very big ears, quite a long nose and a gaping heart. If you have a problem that won’t just go away, she’d love to hear it. Write to Rhona at [email protected]

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