This question has been debated for as long as I’ve been dating. Are there any “right” answers? Well, as with most things, what’s “right” depends on one’s point of view…as well as certain other variables, since no two relationships are exactly alike. Since the question has once again come to my attention, I figured I’d throw my thoughts in with the debate and hope my words can help somebody out there!
In my opinion, the only social etiquette, “rule”, “guy code/bro-code” or “girl-code/sister-code in this situation, is simply for that good or best friend who is interested in your ex-spouse or ex-lover, to first inform you of his/her interests and intentions … or at least as soon as he/she realizes that there is a possible intimate interest developing. Now let me clarify a few things….
No one is ever obligated to inform anyone of anything in this sort of situation. However, to offset the appearance or perception of tackiness (which you and others might believe it to be) it is always best and considered good manners for the friend to talk to you and/or for the EX to tell you that he or she have romantic interests in each other. This is simple adult behavior and no one has a right to get angry nor should they get angry or upset over the issue.
If the ex – be it male or female – is CLEARLY AN EX – meaning, the person is NOT some fuck buddy, “friend with benefits” or some “casual person” whom you’ve been sexing but is actually someone with whom you’ve had a significant relationship – if things between you and that former “significant other” are DONE as far as harboring any deep emotional feelings for that person is concerned, then that makes that ex-spouse/lover FAIR GAME for others who might be interested in him/her. Life goes on people, and neither you or anyone else, are in a position to have any say in what goes on in the life of that person who is now your EX-spouse or EX-lover. Now sure… perhaps you might still have SOME loving feelings for your ex –especially if the two of you had a very long relationship — as in many years of marriage or living together – e.g. common-law marriage, and/or if you guys had children together. Try as one might, some people do continue to harbor some feelings of love for their ex, even after one or both of them have long since moved on and found other intimate interests. Still, I’d hazard to guess (based on my experience) that such feelings are not anything that would have any strength of rekindling any new romance. You’re human – and it’s normal to have such feelings for the ex – at least until the time when another person comes your way whose love completely fills your heart with so much joy that any significant love for the previous spouse/love is all but displaced.
There is a “guy code/bro-code” or “girl-code/sister-code” that you – as the ex of your ex – and as the friend of the person who happens to be interested in dating your ex, need to understand and follow!
Check it: If you feel that you might still have hope of “someday” getting back with your ex, then the proper thing to do is to very clearly express that desire or hope to that friend – in a private conversation. No need to lie or hold back such truth from your friend. That person does not need protecting from your truth and he/she will [hopefully] appreciate knowing how you feel. I would advise however, not mentioning to your ex such truth, for often that person (the ex) might not take it so well – or, for all you know, he/she might be having the same hope! This might create a problem with the “moving on” aspect that is supposed to be happening with you and your ex in your respective lives. Don’t make the ex feel uncomfortable by telling him/her something tacky like, “Yeah babe, do what you want but I’ll always have hope that we can get back together someday.” NO! Don’t do that!! Not only is that tacky but you could make the ex feel uncomfortable AND you could risk making a fool out of yourself, especially if the break-up between you two was messy or the ex does not intend to ever get back with you! Your ex is trying to move on; you should do no less! If you guys were meant to be together or are destined to reunite at some point in your lives, it’ll happen when it happens! Get over the break-up already and hope the best for your ex – just as you’d hope he/she would for you.
If you guys have children, especially young ones, explain to them how you are fine – emotionally speaking, that the ex is moving on with his/her life and that the ex still loves them as their parent. Help kids understand this so that they too, can be happy for Mom or Dad, who are human – just like they are – with feelings and emotions, and who simply want to have and enjoy a happy life! Explain to kids that such pursuits have nothing whatsoever to do with who they are or their existence in the world or anything which they (the kids) might have done or not done. Children witnessing break-ups between parents need constant reassuring. TALK TO THEM!
You need to explain to both your friend AND your ex that you will not stand in the way of their romantic interests and pursuits, nor will you say or do anything to sabotage any budding or established relationship which might develop between them. If you honestly care for your friend, explain that you have no problem with him/her dating your ex, with them moving in together or with them getting married, should the relationship ever get that far. Remember: it no longer matters what happened between YOU and the ex that caused the relationship between the two of you to deteriorate. Whatever is happening NOW – between your friend and your ex is something new AND different!
If there are relationship problems, I’d advise you to stay out of it. However, if one or both people come to you for advice, simply be kool and impartial and offer to be there for either one of them for support. There is no need to be an asshole – even with your ex. With that said, DO NOT use the opportunity to bad-mouth or tell any known secrets about the other person! That’s also tacky. Again, be impartial and be a mature adult. Remember this and you’ll be better respected!
Again, if there are young kids: Explain to the friend dating your ex that you intend to continue being involved in their lives as their primary parent. You intend to carry out your normal parental responsibilities as much as reasonably possible and that you do not want the relationship between the friend and the ex to interfere with that. Agree that it is your hope and intention that all of the adults can reasonably work out kid-related problems and be respectful of parent time – for the kids’ sake. You might want to tactfully or even directly express (not threaten) to your friend that you expect him/her to treat your kids with the utmost respect; that to do otherwise, would cause very serious problems between you (and that friend), particularly if you are made to resort to law-enforcement or court involvement to resolve certain issues. Be sure to emphasize that this is NOT a threat; it’s simply the actions you, as a parent, have every right to take if, in your judgment, you find that your children are being mistreated in any way. It is important for both your friend AND the ex to clearly understand this – at least if you give a damn about your children. Also stress to your friend that, while you will not interfere in the new relationship with the ex, you will expect him/her to treat the mother/father of your kids with the utmost respect where the kids are concerned as well. As the ex of the ex, it is normal to focus such concerns on the well-being of your children.
Finally, if you do have a problem with your friend dating your ex, PLEASE be honest and tell them and explain your reasons! Get it off your chest! Be truthful and factual in your explanation but don’t make up shit, tell exaggerations or lies about the ex. Don’t reveal certain intimate details which you happen to know about the ex, no matter how tempted you might be to do it, how many times your friend might ask you or how many ways he/she might use in an attempt to get such information from you. Accept the fact that, regardless of the reasons you have for your friend and ex dating, your friend might still be interested and desire to pursue or continue the relationship. And so what? Let it happen! Things might work out for them or they might not.
Remember: don’t let the pursuit of your friend’s happiness cloud, hinder or destroy the relationship held between the two of you – as the friends you are now and have always been. Be happy for your friend and your ex. It’s that simple.