In praise of being friends with your ex’s ex

My ex’s ex was a lot funnier than me—that’s the first thing I remember thinking when I met Liz, well before either of us were exes of Brian. It made me nervous, because I was 24 and self-conscious. Now it’s a few years later, and I’m slightly less so.

Liz was someone I simultaneously admired and felt incredibly intimidated by. Even though we had a lot in common and knew a lot of the same people, we were never very close—I felt like I was a spaz who almost always said the wrong things whenever I was around her. Brian was one of my friends, and he dated Liz for a couple of years. I later ended up dating him too, a long time after they broke up. He was a good guy, but it didn’t work out, mostly because by then we were living in different cities.

He and I broke up one weekend when I was visiting his city—my old city. As far as break-ups go, it was pretty smooth. We talked about staying friends, although everyone needs some space after a split. Breaking up made sense, but it’s always still at least a little sad.

When she heard I was going to be back in town, Liz reached out to me asked if we could meet up for coffee. I knew she was planning a big move to a new city too, and I wasn’t sure I would get to see her again for the foreseeable future. We made plans to meet up in my old neighborhood.

I didn’t know if she had kept in touch with Brian, or if she knew he and I had gotten together. I wanted to see her, but I was also worried she might be upset with me. There are all kinds of unspoken rules about when it is and isn’t okay to date the ex of someone you run in similar circles with. We hear stories about those kinds of interactions all the time. But, since it was over now with Brian, I didn’t see any reason to let a relationship that was over stop me from catching up with Liz.

She and I met up to grab coffee to go and went for a walk. I felt nervous, but decided to broach the topic on my mind. Still unsure if she’d even heard we were ever together, I told her Brian and I had just broken up. She looked up in surprise—then she laughed. Immediately, I felt relieved and was so glad I told her. We swapped stories about our common ex, the kinds of things only two people who have dated the same person would know and be able to relate to. I already felt better about the relationship coming to a close, and I thanked her for cheering me up and making me laugh.

We kept walking and moved on to other topics, like her upcoming move and how I was liking my new city. She asked for advice about shipping everything she owned to a different state, something I’ve gotten pretty good at doing by now. I listened as she talked about her plans for the future in her new environment, and I realized we are both creative, driven women.

After that day, I knew I’d much rather be friends with my ex’s ex than be anything to the guy who didn’t work out for either of us.

In my early and mid-20s I spent a lot of time and energy on being jealous of exes, even to the detriment of one relationship. I wish now that I’d saved myself from that trap because all that emotion was wasted, and it served no real purpose. If we really took the time to get to know them, we’d probably discover we have a lot more in common with the exes of our exes than we ever could have thought.

And wouldn’t it be nice to have a small group of women you could talk to about your ex—not just to vent about things, but to reminisce and laugh and support each other? Who else would know so exactly what you’re talking about? And since you wouldn’t have dated someone if you didn’t like them in the first place—and have them life you back—doesn’t it stand to reason that you might also like the other people your ex has had in their lives?

Social conventions and jealousy and fear of hurt feelings can too often hold us back from connecting with people who could turn out to be our closest, most wonderful friends. I completely understand if a break-up was bad enough that you can’t be around people who remind you of your ex, or who know them that well. But if it wasn’t, and you have the chance, well, hanging out with your ex’s ex can be pretty great. I’m glad I was finally able to mature to the point where I could see my ex’s ex as a friend who could relate to me and my experiences, and not see her as a threat. Because she wasn’t ever one. She was just a friend in disguise. 

*Names were changed in this essay.

[Image via TSG entertainment]