How Do I Tell A Close Friend I’m Not OK With Them Dating My Ex?

Ahoy there, mateys! No, I’m still in hot old Delhi, not off on a summer holiday, but a woman can dream.

A asked:

A close friend has started dating an ex. How can I show I am not okay with this without shaming any of them?

Dear A,

One of the first lessons we learn when we’re making our introductory, tentative forays into friendship is the Code. Your friends were the ones who gathered around you in those days, and like any functioning tribe, you needed to have rules to keep everything together. Most basic to the Girl/Boy Code was “thou shalt not covet thy friend’s girlfriend/boyfriend”. This broke down into many subsects—seeing as most of us only had that many members of the opposite sex to go around—so there was “it’s okay to date my ex-girlfriend if I too am dating someone else”, or “if I am still pining after my ex-boyfriend and you decide to go out with him, then you are lost to me forever”. Stuff like that. You probably know what I mean.

The Code is never official, and is mostly fluid depending on the personalities of people you’re friends with. A more chilled out crew might be totally okay with swapping partners back and forth, while a group of married friends may be less okay with the idea of someone’s ex-husband and ex-wife suddenly showing up to a party with each other. The Code is not set in stone, but without needing articulation, it usually keeps itself up with no need for outside maintenance.

Unfortunately, things change when we become grown-ups. There’s not so much “how dare you kiss the man I dated two months ago” and more “if it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be”. That doesn’t mean you can’t be jealous or angry—you’re only human. But it does mean that the Code no longer operates on that very organic level, everyone tapped into it, and seeming to understand it without words being said. As it used to when you were younger.

Which means, dear A, that you may not be able to show your friend you’re angry with them. Oh, I’m sure your friend already knows. People aren’t ignorant about these kinds of things. But maybe he or she is justifying it to themselves by thinking, “Hey, A and K didn’t date that long and K and I are so much happier together, so why not?” Maybe your friend is even a little pissed with you for not being appropriately happy for them.

What I suggest is that once this has blown over, once you’re feeling less rejected and less vengeful and all those angry feelings at the bottom of your stomach, you give your friend a call and invite them out for a drink. It’s important this be done in person, because phone calls and emails can so often be misinterpreted. You go out with them, and you begin the first stabs at renegotiating your friendship. There’s a chance that it’ll not be the same again, of course, but maybe you can get past it.

In the meanwhile, if you’re feeling upset about it, there’s no shame in lying low until you’re ready to deal. Hang out with other people if you can, read, travel, work harder than before, until all your feelings are in a manageable part of your brain and you can pick them out and dissect them.

Aunty Feminist

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