herald

Monday 18 December 2017

Should you ever date a pal's ex?

AS TEXT messages go, it's probably up there with 'you're needed at the garda station right away' and 'your mobile phone bill is €600'.

But there it was, flashing on the LED screen. A text from a friend, noting that she had met a former love interest of mine from last summer (actually, 'lust interest' is probably a better fit) on a night out

And before she knew which way was up, she had enjoyed a drunken canoodle with him. "Oops," the text read. "You don't mind, do you?"

Here's the curious thing: the two hoots I couldn't give about this former lust interest are pretty massive. Immediately, I shot back, "hope you have better luck with him than I did" . . . but I couldn't shake a niggling feeling of low-level anxiety.

I had discussed with her some months before that there had been lingering unfinished business with Himself. There was a problem . . . I just couldn't put my finger on it.

Other friends beat me to it however, reacting to the news with roundly disapproving sighs. "Wow, that's a bit out of order," said one pal. And the more I thought about it, the more the text bothered me. The friend in question wasn't looking for my permission or approval, not really: she had already crossed the line. She was telling me before someone beat her to it.

Strange

Still, it felt as though a golden rule of girldom had been broken: Thou Shalt Not Interfere With A Friend's Sloppy Seconds. In the end, the friend informed me that she was heading out on a date with Himself anyway. And so I found myself in a strange conundrum: I didn't care for the guy in question, and was happy for her happiness. Yet I did feel betrayed . . . like she had chosen a potential fling with a guy over a longtime friendship with me. And, perhaps most annoyingly of all, I felt that she might succeed where I had failed.

Another friend offered a different and much more sensible posit: "Dublin is pretty small. It's like the Hollyoaks cast. It's almost impossible not to have some kind of romantic overlap with your friends. All of my gang have been out with each other down the years, and we're all still totally cool with each other."

Even in Tinseltown -- a dating pool even smaller than Dublin's -- this overlap happens with varying results. Recently, Bridesmaids star Kristen Wiig reportedly began dating Strokes' drummer Fabrizio Moretti. All well and good, but Kristen is good friends with Fab's ex Drew Barrymore. Of course, Drew is engaged to her beau Will Kopelman, which surely greases the wheels of harmony somewhat.

However, sometimes there are love triangles that don't end with a happy ever after. Rather famously, Bon Jovi rocker Richie Sambora divorced his wife Heather Locklear. . . and then began dating her best friend Denise Richards mere months later. The fallout was immense; Locklear was reportedly furious, while Denise insisted that her relationship with Sambora was nothing but platonic until after Heather filed for divorce. Either way, the friendship dissolved quicker than Disprin.

So which faction is right; the carefree girl who reckons that all's fair in love and war, or the one who feels she's within her rights to get proprietary over an ex?

Says Kelly Valen, author of Twisted Sisterhood: Unravelling The Dark Legacy Of Female Friendships: "I will say that I'm sure it depends on the circumstances, though if we ladies have any semblance of Girl Code at all, I have to believe it would encompass the 'hands off a friend's ex' scenario. [Except in] special circumstances, it seems pretty bad form to avail oneself of that particular opportunity, especially if we're talking a close friend. Cliche, perhaps, but there are plenty of other fish in the sea and the propensity for emotional fallout is likely high."

Clinical psychologist Owen Connolly, of the Connolly Counselling Centre in Stillorgan (www.counsellor.ie), admits that he has been part of one such bizarre love triangle.

"Before I met my wife I went out for a while with one of her friends," he explains. "During that time I met the woman who would become my wife. We went out to a dance together one night and perhaps not surprisingly, she kept me at a distance.

"After the relationship ended, I asked my wife if she wanted to go out with me, and she had to go through a ritual with her best friend. In the end, the woman was a bridesmaid at our wedding and we are happily still friends. That said, it's a very prickly scenario, and I know that women find it very awkward when they find themselves in this situation."

Very simply, the tension springs from the fact that most women like to keep the spouse and friend spheres separate. Add to this that we are often possessive of our exes, and it's a potential recipe for disaster.

"Women definitely see it as a betrayal on the part of their friend," affirms Connolly. "There are intimacies shared with an ex-partner that you won't have shared with a best friend. There is a sensitivity about things being said to another party."

Disaster

Quite apart from anything else, we find ourselves in a strange new world order with our exes -- and our pals.

"It's an uncertain time," agrees Connolly, "but first things first, there has to be a clear understanding of the situation between friends. If you're not careful, something like this could blow a fine friendship apart."

And what of the creeping feeling that your pal might succeed in a relationship with your ex-beau, where you previously failed? Rubbish, according to Connolly. "It's a sad thing to think of a relationship as having failed," he says. "If it works, it works, but if it doesn't it's not a failure. Two people have chosen to be together, it's very simple."

Conversely, men aren't quite as territorial. "Guys whose girlfriends go off with a friend don't tend to view it as a serious rejection," says Connolly. "There might be more jealousy than betrayal."

If you do find yourself in a scenario where your past and your present collide like this, there are ways to avoid an emotional fallout.

"As friends, you have to sit down and have a talk about how you both feel about this," advises Connolly. "In having the conversation, the friend will at least feel as though she might have been part of the decision. There are of course things you won't ever talk about, like how he was in bed and so on. There shouldn't be any comparing of each other."

Perhaps more importantly, it's best to remember that this is not a case of a man choosing one of you over another. Much like my pal who likens her social circle to a Hollyoaks episode, it's probably sensible to simply be grown-up and pragmatic about the whole thing and let things happen as they come. If the Hollyoaks characters can master it, surely we can, too?

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