Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Dismaying Story #64: A Love Triangle with a Twist

Dear Andrew,

For the past six years I have become extremely close to a girlfriend of mine...not in a sexual sense at all, but as a 'we really GET each other' sense. We socialized all the time together...shared our most private thoughts and confidences with each other.

She's now dating my ex-husband. I haven't been with him for over seven years and yet I find this incredibly difficult to deal with. To begin with I almost encouraged it. It all started out as a joke of sorts with flirting and carrying on, both of them recently out of relationships and feeling vulnerable. I love them both and want them to be happy. Why is it that I don't seem to be able to cope with them doing that TOGETHER?

I'd always thought there was an unwritten rule that you don't hook up with your best friend's exes. Regardless of how long ago it was they were together. At first I thought I'd adjust, but as the months passed it became obvious to me that I was NOT going to adjust and that if I was really honest with myself, I'd never been happy about it at the start anyway.

Eventually I pulled away from her and said I needed more time to get used to them. She panicked and the two of them called it a day. That's not what I wanted...I just wanted to step back and let them relax and enjoy each others company without me being involved. We were all quite awkward around each other and it seemed the best solution.

So, then she comes back to me and tells me they're no longer seeing each other. I think she expected us to go back to the way it was, but I couldn't. For me the damage had been done. She continued to ring and visit and just as I was starting to get back on track and feel comfortable the 'old' way again, I found out she's actually been sneaking around seeing him and sleeping with him anyway. I only found this out because I had my suspicions with various things she'd say or do, and I waited for her to say something. She didn't so I approached my ex husband. We have a solid relationship as parents to the boys and we're good friends. I expected only honest answers from him and I got them.

I confronted her, we spoke about it rationally and in the end I closed the door on my friendship with her. I miss her terribly and I miss the different views and perspectives she used to bring to my life, but I actually don't feel I want to share any of my personal thoughts with her any longer.

Am I being selfish about this? I don't have any romantic feelings toward my ex husband any longer, so I don't believe that has something to do with it. I will say I struggled with the fact that my girlfriend deceived me. That was a HUGE trust issue for me.

Do I need to just get over myself and stop being so stubborn about this issue?

Signed, Minus One Good Friend

Dear Minus One Good Friend,

There certainly can be an "Ewww!" factor when two people with whom you are close start becoming more than just friends. This dynamic is commonly used in stories to heighten the tension around a new relationship, often with a sibling and a best friend. Think Chandler and Monica on Friends hiding their relationship from Ross, or Harry Potter seeking his friend Ron Weasley's approval for kissing Ron's sister Ginny. This also happens with ex-boyfriends, two close friends, widowed or divorced parents, or, as in your case, ex-spouses.

So why do you have that reaction? My theory is that you have existing relationships with those two people and you don't want that to change. Sure, you can still have relationships with both of them, but the budding romance means things won't be quite the same. Can you confide in your girlfriend quite as much, when you have to wonder if she'll talk to her new beau about it? You are good friends with your ex, so the same issue also applies in that direction. And what if they break up? You may be caught in an uncomfortable position in the middle. Their romance threatens your status quo.

I don't believe there are any "rules" about these types of situations. You gave up any right to influence your ex-husband's choice of dating partners when you divorced him, and girlfriends don't normally exercise that kind of control over each other. The issue here is whether they should have avoided this relationship to protect your feelings.

Well, you have two people who are alone and starting to feel an attraction for each other. They have a chance to enrich their lives with each other, to develop something special. Are the existing friendships you have with these people inherently more special or more important? On the other hand, the relationships with you came first. Should those relationships preclude the third one starting?

You also mentioned the trust issue with your girlfriend. Let's consider why she was hiding her involvement with your ex. Did she do this out of maliciousness or because she wanted to hurt you? Not at all. She could tell from the beginning you were uncomfortable, which put her in an awkward position. She didn't want to give up her chance for a romance, but neither did she want to give up her valued friendship with you, so she tried to have both. I'm not saying this excuses her dishonesty, merely that it has nothing to do with trying to hurt you and everything to do with her desire to keep you as a friend. She sensed she would lose you if the truth came out, and it turns out she was right.

One way you might gain some comfort is to put yourself in their place. Try realizing that their needs are every bit as important as your own. Imagine what it would feel like to be your girlfriend; she sees you valuing your own status quo more than her chance for happiness. How would it make you feel if the shoe were on the other foot?

There is nothing that says you must get over this and become comfortable with it. You may always feel uncomfortable with their relationship, and there are plenty of other people who would feel the same way. That is completely understandable. It is unfortunate, though, because the two people who end up losing are you and your girlfriend.

I wish you good luck as you try to sort through your feelings.

All the best,

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  1. Comparing real life to "Friends" is so unrealistic.

    When you divorce, your friends are suppose to be there for you, side with you, and not date your ex-husband, boyfriend, girlfriend or whatever.

    I'm sorry, but there are thousands even millions of fish in the sea to enrich our lives with - why does it have to be our friend's ex?

    I don't agree.

    The way I feel is that there was obviously an attraction between the friend and ex long before the divorce. All the sudden out of nowhere they are "attracted" to each other.

    That alone would make me feel that they were not honest from the get go!

    Sorry, but I don't think friends should date their friends ex's. It is just so uncool!

  2. Anonymous11:29 AM

    Where I come from friends don’t date their friends exs as a rule for many reasons and if there are kids involved then it become even more complicated when your friend also become a step parent to your kids and maybe contradicting how you raise them.
    Then throw in how her friend was with her other exs.
    As friends are, they share many of their escapades together so if she had a history of fooling around with her past EXs and then she hooked up with her EX husband I am sure she thinks she will be doing the same thing to him which will also add a strain to the friendship especially since she says she is on good terms with her ex-husband.
    Or maybe she just can’t handle someone else she knows playing her old sandbox.
    She is just going to live with the fact that it’s not her business what her ex and friends do and live her own life not theirs.

  3. Every girlfriend I've ever had knows there is an unwritten rule that no one dates an 'ex' regardless of time!

  4. have to agree with your other readers

    there is an unwritten rule about dating a friend's ex's

    and i'd like to add that just because her girlfriend (gf) felt she would loose her friend is she continued the relationship with the ex-hubby

    it gave her no right to lie -- in fact there is no good reason i can think of to lie to your best friend..

    if you don't think they would like what you're doing - them stop doing it

  5. I've heard that, too, but I've always thought it was selfish. For one thing, chances are if it went sour with you, most of your girlfriends won't want him, anyway. If one of them does, get over yourself and let her have him, especially in cases where he doesn't seem to be an unrepentant creep (the writer says they are on good terms at least as far as parenting, so he must have something going for him).

  6. Of course, as a good logical doctor, Andrew doesn't justify these "unwritten rules". Let's explore further. What if A, B and C are all friends with each other. One day, A and B begin a serious romantic relationship. One day, B breaks up with A because she loves C. Is it okay for C to go out with B? It'll probably hurt A.

    The rules are vague and arbitrary, but that doesn't change the fact that there is a cost. And I think a good person does not make a purchase at the expense of a friend.

  7. Let me also add that a good person may choose to pay the price if it will truly make their friends happy.

  8. When I was young, I used to date my sister's ex boyfriends. The problem was, they would spend the whole night talking about her!
    In this case, I agree with most of the readers ---- don't date your friend's old flames or someone is going to get burned. She can find another friend, but not another father for her children. If there are hard feelings and they should get married, the kids are the ones who will feel the brunt of the problem.

  9. Well, it had to happen at some point, a post where I get shot down in flames. (Am I allowed to take solace in the fact that even Tiger Woods misses a cut once in a while? No? Oh darn.) I just noticed that today is the three-month-iversary for this site, so I guess I should feel good about making it this far.

    Happily, the posts are not about me being right or wrong -- they are about providing help to the letter writers. In this case all of you stepped up and made sure she got some balanced feedback. For that I am grateful.

    Your comments made me sit back and think for a while. I came to realize that my response was influenced by the fact that I went through a similar experience, but had a different reaction. Years ago a former girlfriend of mine started dating one of my best friends not long after she and I broke up. They kept the relationship a secret until they became engaged. I realized the secrecy was because of me, but I always thought it was bizarre and unnecessary. I was truly happy for them and didn't mind that they were dating.

    Some thoughts on this:
    - An ex-girlfriend and an ex-spouse can be very different situations.
    - Not everyone would have reacted the same way I did.
    - When unwritten rules are so widely held, there is generally a solid reason.

    Again, thanks to everyone for helping out.


  10. Anonymous2:40 AM

    I find the attitudes here absurd with all this support of the "unwritten" rule that friends can never date someone's ex. "Unwritten rules" are about as good as the paper they aren't written on.

    The woman who submitted the situation has been divorced from her ex for seven years, for heaven's sake! That means that the marriage is dissolved, finished, over, dead, gone. She has absolutely NO right to dictate who he dates - no right at all. Her only link to him is their mutual parenting of their children, and her influence over him should stop right there.

    Then she admits that she ENCOURAGED her best friend to date him! When best friend did so, she got squirrely and decided she didn't like that after all, and backed out of the friendship.

    She considers other people's private business "sneaking around", and seems to be firmly convinced that other people should do whatever she wants them to do, just to keep her happy. The idea of making others happy by sacrificing her feelings doesn't seem to cross her mind.

    Is she the kind of "friend" you would like to have? She thinks she can tell other adults what they can and can't do, and if they don't dance to her tune, she won't like them any longer.

    I think Andrew soft-pedaled this far too much. The answer to this woman is "grow up, you aren't the center of all things!" and to leave it at that.

  11. I think it is wrong for your friend to date your ex-husband. I would not like that.If she were a true friend she would not have dont that.

  12. I know the feelings 'minus one friend' may have regarding the situation.But she needs to grow.Her ex husband is no longer bound in any way to consider her feelings.He is still a friend and cares for hischildren and to my mind that is very important.Let them get on with life the way they want to and make yourself scarce when they're together.

  13. Anonymous5:25 PM

    We all get placed in certain situations in life, it's how we deal with these situations that strengthens us or makes us lose it completely. The important thing to ask yourself no matter what the situation is, 'Am I compromising my priniples/morals in order for this to happen'.

    If it was me in your shoes, I doubt I would have encouraged this, even as a joke, but if she was any friend at all, and knows you as well as you think, she would never have allowed it to be any more than a flirtatious non-event. I wonder how she would feel if you hooked up with her ex-husband? Would she still want your existing friendship to carry on the way it had been going? And in all good conscience, would you want that anyway?

    You say you love them both and want them to be happy, and that is a very positive outlook. I think the issue isn't so much about them being together as much as this is about your friends betrayl of your friendship when she hid the relationship. Perhaps you would be in a different frame of mind about this if she had been totally up front with you instead of them 'sneaking around'. Why would they 'sneak' anyway? Maybe your friend is having an issue with her compromised principles, and wants you to redeem her.

    There is a saying, I can't remember it word for word, but in essence it says, 'we come into each others lives for a reason, a season or a lifetime. Perhaps after 6 years of freindship, the reason was ultimately for this outcome, and now there is a lesson to be learned from it.

  14. Anonymous12:04 AM

    Ok, I have sat back and read the comments, yep, I guess I would be pissed off as well, but on the other hand, it is their lives that they need to get on with.

    I think that 'minus one friend' does need to step back, and let them get on, fate will decide if this is a 'fling' or whether it is serious.

    If it is a fling, then I think your friendship is pretty much closed down, but if it is serious and they make a go of it, then you both need to make room for each other again.

    It would never be the same, but it sounds like the friendship was pretty strong, and there will be a lot of love left in there somewhere - it is up to the two of you to find that new level.

    BUTT and there is always a butt, I must say that if I was your ex, I would be most concerned about the Ex and current being friends and comparing notes.

    It will sort itself out, but you can both help to mend the friendship by talking about it. Don't throw 6 years away.