Is A Guy-Friend’s Ex Off Limits?

We’ve discussed the When Harry Met Sally debate. You know, the one about men and women and “just friends.” For the sake of this post, let’s all agree, just for a moment, that the answer is yes: Men and women can be friends. (If you strongly disagree please elaborate below, or comment on the original post.)

Okay. We’re taking this as fact. So let’s say you have a group of great guy friends. And one of these guys starts dating an awesome girl. BFF material, no question. And then, let’s say, your guy friend breaks up with said girl. (For the record, this didn’t happen to me. It happened to a girl I know. Yes, I know how that sounds—No, these condoms aren’t for me, they’re for my, uh, friend—but I’m no liar.) What do you do?

Friendship etiquette says that when a buddy breaks up with someone, you do too. One of the greatest complications of long-term relationship splits is who gets custody of the amigos. (Cue Ross and Rachel reference.) But this situation is a bit dicier. You haven’t been friends with the girl a long time, but you see her potential. It’s as if you’re Michael Jordan and she could be your Scottie Pippen. Or maybe she could be the Elephaba to your Glinda. (Take whichever comparison speaks to you and run with it…) Together you’d be more than the sum of your parts.

But then she and your friend break up. Can you still pursue the friendship? I’m not sure.

First you need to consider the circumstances of the break. Did she cheat on him? If so, say goodbye. You can’t be wooing some girl who wronged your friend. Did he cheat on her? You still might say goodbye, lest you find yourself in some awkward situation where she’s badmouthing your pal and you don’t know what to say. Not to mention that if he cheated she might want nothing to do with his friends, including you.

What if it was an amicable-enough breakup? They’re not going to try and be friends (because that’s crazytalk), but they don’t hate each other either. Can you keep up the friending?

I want to think a great guy friend—if he knew you were on the BFF prowl—would be ok with it. But the more I run different scenarios in my head, the more I’m convinced it’s an impossible feat. Staying friends with a friend’s ex is almost as hard as staying friends with an ex. There’s always that awkwardness of not wanting to mention one in front of the other. Being unsure of what’s okay to say, and what’s off limits. Though men might have the reputation for being less sensitive when it comes to breakups, I’m not convinced that’s true.

What do you think? There’s no hard and fast rule here—so many circumstantial factors come into play—but if you had to generalize, can you pursue BFF bliss with a guy friend’s ex?


Filed under The Gender Gap

20 responses to “Is A Guy-Friend’s Ex Off Limits?

  1. I personally think that it would be totally off limits. Your loyalties lie with you guy friend first.

  2. Ana

    Maybe. I’m trying reverse the situation in my head, and see if I would mind if a guy friend stayed friends with MY ex…
    If it was a short relationship without any real baggage that may create awkward conversations and situations, then it may be OK. If it was a long relationship, and someone got their heart broken, its best to stay away. I would ask the guy friend if he cares that you call up his ex for a lunch date or shopping trip. If he’s emotional moved on, there are no hard feelings, and he just remembers her as a nice person that just didn’t work out for him, then he may not care.

  3. I think maybe if he ended it, not because she was a cheat or did something terrible, but because it just wasn’t working, maybe that could work? You’re right though, it’s a hard situation.

  4. I’m leaning more towards it being off-limits. I’ve made a few really close friends through my boyfriend who have already staked their claim on me should we ever break up. That said, it’d be a little weird even on my end of things to be friends with my ex’s friends after a break-up, no matter how much I like them.

    I’ve actually seen this happen, but the other way around – a girl I know broke up with her boyfriend when she left the country on a missionary trip. Another female friend of ours really hit it off with the boyfriend, so she continued hanging out with him. We all thought it was really, really weird. And our friend thought that her friend and her ex might even be dating (leaning more toward the camp that men and women can’t be friends), which definitely put a strain on their long-time friendship. In that case, the couple had only been dating for a few months, so the girl felt that her friend owed her loyalty and, thus, shouldn’t hang out with her ex.

  5. Julia

    Women have all kinds of rules, like if their BFF dates someone, you never date him (ever), not even after they’ve broken up. But these rules are kind of stupid; would you deprive your BFF of a great relationship, romantic or strictly platonic, just because you already dated the guy?? That’s being a little selfish; it’s a monopoly on any man you look at, which is very unfriend-like behaviour. I say if you date someone and it’s serious enough (like he’s met and hangs out with all of your friends), if you break up then you both get joint custody of your friends; it’s not fair to your friends to stop being friendly to him.

    But men don’t care about that as much. They might care about seeing their ex if the break-up were particularly bad, like if she cheated, but that’s about them seeing their ex. You should be friends enough with her to be able to not discuss her ex who is also your friend. Basically kind of keeping the friendships compartmentalized, at least for a little while. After a certain point, say a year or two, you can start letting the two friendships blend a little bit, like inviting both to the same party, or making small mentions of things about the other person (but only if they’re relevant).Well, you can do those if you’re friends with 2 adults, not 2 drama queens. If they both live on Planet Soap Opera, nix the blending idea; maybe even nix both friendships cuz soap opera friends are a lot of work.

  6. Anonymous

    What about an ex-boyfriend’s (girl)friend? In other words, a friend of your ex-boyfriend who happens to be a fabulous potential BFF? Is it okay to hang out with that person if she’s still close to your ex, but is making an effort to also be friends with you? Help!

  7. I have two friends who were dating, but just broke up about a month ago. This has been tricky, because I still want to be friends with both of them – but it’s weird trying to navigate that. For some reason, it’s been easier to remain close to the guy. His ex is my friend, too, but we’re not as close. (And my husband is also friends with both of them – but is closer to the guy.)

    Tricky, tricky. I have no advice – just wanted to say that yes, these things come up more often than you might think.

  8. My worst experience was when my husband’s good friend hooked up with my good friend and it went really badly. She feels totally uncomfortable around him and he is oblivious (and kind of a crappy person but he’s my husband’s friend so I suck it up.) But that makes parties really hard.

    Now, on topic, I think it can be done, as long as you are upfront with both parties about your friendships. And make it clear that you’re not taking sides. Eventually both will move on and it will become a non issue. That is, if it wasn’t a really bad break up or divorce or something. Relationships sometimes don’t work. Actually, most times they don’t work. If people can manage to be adults about it, I think a friendship with both can definitely work. Just know that for a while you probably have to pick one to invite to your parties. Not both.

  9. Jackie

    Not quite the same thing..but a casual friend of my ex-husband called to ask me out. I told him that I was not ready to begin dating yet. Then he said he hoped I would change my mind, but when I did, he would need to clear it with my ex before we could actually go out. I just found that weird and wanted to suggest that he and my ex should just go out. Problem solved!

  10. I’ve got this situation in real life: a guy I’ve been friends with for many years broke up with his wife, who I really liked and had hit it off with from the first time we met. He made it clear that it was okay with him if I kept in touch with her, so I made the first move, telling her that I’d like to keep in touch but that I’d leave it to her to say what she was comfortable with. She wanted to keep in touch, and if anything, our relationship has grown stronger since we interact directly. They both live in my hometown, and I don’t, so our friendships are mostly electronic; but I see both of them (separately, of course) when I’m visiting. At this point (a couple of years on), it seems pretty normal to me. Of course, the ex-wife is still very close to her ex-husband’s sister, so hanging out with me is a non-starter by comparison, as far as emotional baggage goes!

  11. san

    I say, it can be possible. I have a friend who used to be a guy’s ex-girlfriend and it’s working out nicely. I think as long as you can keep the friendships separated, there is no problem.

  12. As the “other woman” in your scenario it was really hard. I wanted to stay friend’s with my ex’s friend, but it was just too awkward. We didn’t know how to talk to each other anymore, he was like the elephant in the room. Even things we used to talk about were awkward. I don’t really think it can be done, but if you can do it more power to you! And for the record I don’t think this girl was my BFF soul mate. If the girl was I’d like to hope that a bad relationship would bring about a good one.

  13. In another life, I dated a guy and met a good girlfriend of his. She, in turn, wound up dating a good guy friend of mine. I became really good friends with the girl. And the two guys became really good friends. Confused yet? A few months later, both of us girls had broken up with the guys. But, we remained friends. Talk about a wildly confusing web.

  14. Allison

    What about if a girl is friends with a whole group of guys, starts dating one, they break up, and she tries to stay friends and party with the rest of the guys? (I was friends with the girl this happened to. It was ugly for awhile.)

    The thing is, everyone and every situation is different. I think your best bet is to wait until the initial shock and hurt of the break-up is gone before pursuing a friendship. And it’s better to make things a little awkward initially by coming right out and discussing any difficulties or problems that could arise.

  15. Anonymous

    so i was the guy who had a girlfriend (W), with whom my best (female) friend (M) had become really close with over a short period of time. W and M didn’t know each other before i starting dating W, but they hit it off right away. it was an intense 3 month relationship with W, and it had a really messy ending (at the risk of sounding partial, it was clearly her wrongdoing). right after the breakup, M was on my side, but slowly she has gotten back to being really close with W (its now 3 years later). at times i think it’s unfortunate that they are friends, but i’ve moved on and am in another relationship. i also recognize that M is a grown person who can make her own decisions, and one decision does not a friendship break. friendships will always have hurdles, and true friendships will find ways to overcome them. it probably helps that we are not all physically in the same city anymore – i could see that getting dicey real fast.

  16. Marcia

    I don’t recommend it — may be OK for awhile, but after time, it gets too complicated. There are other BFFs in the sea — keep fishing!

  17. I don’t know that I’d consider it off-limits so much as a logistical nightmare. If you’re having a dinner party, can you invite them both? If not, who gets an invite? Does the other person feel left out? Etc, etc, etc.

  18. I say it is ok… I am friends with my boyfriends sister… it was weird seeing him the first time when her and I were hanging out… but he will get over it. If I can be mature enough to forgive his ways… he can get over his sister and I being friends.

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