Dating conundrum

Can you date a friend's ex if she's just sort of a friend?

Published April 11, 2003 7:11PM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I'm in something of an ethical conundrum so I figured I'd throw this at a disinterested third party and perhaps you can help me with my dilemma.

There's this guy that I like -- he's fabulous and interesting and not at all like the guys I've dated before. That intrigues me a good deal -- he's not the bookish, geeky kind of guy I usually date. He's self-confident, a bit brash and has social graces. And the extra bonus is that he likes me. We've gone out on a couple of dates so far and I definitely want to see more of him.

The ethical problem I have is that I know his ex-girlfriend. In fact, I met both of them together and they just broke up about two months ago. It was, to my understanding, a fairly friendly breakup and occasionally they still spend time together. The problem is that I am pretty certain she is still in love with him and I am afraid of hurting her feelings. She's much younger than I am and I sort of feel like I am stealing candy from a baby.

I know the golden rule is: Thou Shalt Not Date Your Girlfriend's Ex -- but what about a person you've just been sorta friendly with in the past? What if she considers me a good friend and I really hurt her? On the other hand, what if this guy and I work out?

Seriously Conflicted

Dear Seriously Conflicted,

I think if you've just been sorta friendly with her, then it's OK. The reason for that rule is that if there is a deep bond of friendship between two women, you don't want to ruin it. But if she's just an acquaintance or a casual friend, it's OK to date her ex.

Of course sometimes, as you indicate, two people have different conceptions of the depth of their friendship. She may think you're a very good friend but you may consider her just an acquaintance. If you two were actually good friends, you'd have items of hers in your house, for instance. You'd be with her on her birthday. That kind of thing. If not, you're probably just acquaintances.

She doesn't have to like it if you go out with her ex. She might say mean things behind your back. That's OK. Saying mean things behind people's backs is what makes the world go 'round.

In fact, this is a good time to take a look at some of the tough facts of life: No matter how nice a person you are, you're going to win sometimes and other people are going to lose sometimes and they don't have to be happy about it. Not everybody is going to like you. Life is full of little contests. When competition is ugly, though, is when you compete as a spoiler, so nobody gets the man. Or when you take a man just to keep him away from someone else. Or when you take him just because you can, just to demonstrate your mighty powers of attraction. Or -- and this is where feelings can get hurt -- where you take a man not because you love the man but because you love the thrill of victory. That way home wrecking lies.

I don't think you're in any of those situations. It sounds just like the normal shuffling and reshuffling of attractive young adults. So enjoy his company and just accept the way she feels about it; you can't change the way she feels, and she's not going to want your sympathy.

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Want more advice from Cary? Read yesterday's column.

By Cary Tennis

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