The world is divided into two groups of people: those who think it's OK to date a friend's ex and those who believe it's completely off-limits. When you and your friend are both in the "OK" camp, it can work if they date your ex, or you theirs. When you and your friend are both in the "off-limits" camp, it's great -- it simply doesn't happen, because you both agree it's not a good move.
However, when you're in different camps, and a friend dates your ex (or vice versa), this can lead to big trouble -- anything from awkward social interactions to permanent rifts within groups of friends. While many would say the ideal solution is to avoid run-ins completely, in many cases it's just not possible, especially when there are overlapping friends, locations, and events. If you find yourself in this situation, you need to be prepared.
(*A note here: Of course, there are varying degrees of gravity -- a former fling may be less of a big deal than a serious relationship, and if we're talking about a recent ex-husband or ex-wife and your friend, well, then, we'll go out on a limb and say that perhaps you should reconsider your friendship unless there is an extremely unique circumstance.)
If you've found yourself facing this situation as the person whose friend and ex are now dating, here are a few tips on how to handle yourself with style and grace:
Have a support system handy: It's nice to ask one or two close friends to help you out. They can keep you posted on what they see and hear about this new relationship, as it's never fun to be the last to know. Keeping your thoughts limited to this tightly knit circle will also prevent you from blabbering your opinion about the new couple to everyone.
Don't overcompensate with fake happiness: You don't have to pretend to like what's happening, so don't overdo it with sappy sweet congrats and good wishes ... they'll see right through it. If you get caught in a confrontation, just smile, have a pre-planned friendly sentence or two to recite, keep it short and sweet, and move on.
Maintain your distance: You probably don't want to get any closer to the action than you need to, so when you're stuck in the same social scene, take the seat at the opposite end of the table, or strike up a conversation with the cute guy or girl at the other end of the bar. Until you're comfortable with the situation, it's best to avoid confrontation -- it can only make you upset and say or do something you may regret.
If you're the person dating your friend's ex, you've got a much harder job. While we strongly suggest realizing there are many, many other fish in the sea, if you absolutely see nothing wrong with this and/or cannot bear to refrain from dating this person, here are a few tips to make sure you keep your friend:
Talk to your friend: Ideally, you know that at best this situation is uncomfortable, and it's your job to talk to your friend. Your new partner (your friend's ex) should as well, but remember that they have broken up, while you and your friend are still "together." An explanation of how important your friendship is to you and a sincere acknowledgment of the awkwardness of the situation might help.
Be honest: If you want to keep your friendship, the worst possible thing you can do is lie. For most people, when all is said and done, it will be more about how you handled the situation versus the situation itself. What won't be excused is dishonesty -- for example, making your friend believe it's "nothing serious" when it really is, or lying about where you really were on Friday night when you bailed on that group dinner. This will destroy trust, and with it any chance of maintaining the friendship.
Maintain your distance: Same advice, different meaning. You've got the relationship; your friend does not. Try not to flaunt it. There is probably a reason that your friend and the ex broke up in the first place, and over time your friend will most likely realize that. Don't force them to come to that conclusion any sooner than they are comfortable with. Once you've had the initial conversation about the situation, we suggest backing off and letting your friend come to you, when the time is right.
Which camp are you in? Do you think it's acceptable to date a friend's ex? Why or why not?
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