Women Speak About The “Exes Code”

Is a female friend's ex ever fair game for you to pursue romantically? We asked several ladies this very question — and if getting permission first made any difference. Read their answers below.

By Dave Singleton

he "exes code" is a name I've given to the oft-unspoken (and occasionally, loudly voiced) rule that keeps the peace amongst female friends by keeping each other from pursuing each others' exes. (Note: the same rule applies to men, too.) And while the dating pool may seem to be getting smaller and smaller these days, there are certain men that you
I'm glad I looked into it before agreeing to date Rob.
should choose to stay away from — no matter how tempting or convenient they may seem. One type that falls into this category is your friend's ex-boyfriend. There may be certain circumstances that would allow for that romantic interest to bloom, but there are also many reasons why it's not such a good idea.

While the rules about crossing the line with a friend's current squeeze seem clear, opinion varies when it comes to exes. Are your gal-pals' ex-boyfriends fair game, or does the "exes code" still apply? What if they only dated for two months? What if that number changes to two years (or decades)? How close is your friendship with her? And what if their split was acrimonious — or your friend still carries a torch long after logic dictates that it should have been distinguished?

To explore these issues, I spoke to several women who shared their new tenets for the "old" exes code with me. According to them, not all exes are created equal — so evaluate the risks involved and proceed accordingly!

First, ask yourself these three questions:
1. Do you know what really happened between the two of them? If not, find out as best as you can. The results might help sway your decision one way or another. "My friend Amanda and her boyfriend Rob — who lives near me — split about six months ago," says 32-year-old New Yorker Tish. "When I expressed some interest in Rob and mentioned that I hadn't talked to Amanda in a year, a mutual friend said to me: 'I don't understand why you'd even consider dating a man who treated Amanda like such a jerk and cheated on her.' I was surprised, and it turned out to be true! I'm glad I looked into it before agreeing to date Rob."

2. How close of a friend is this woman? If you're not that tight, the rules loosen up a bit regarding dating her ex. "I knew Mary from a neighborhood group," says Virginian Jeannie, 34, "but we weren't BFFs, so I felt OK about dating her ex. It's not like we spent much time together or were intimate pals."

3. Was their relationship a serious one? There's a difference between a brief fling and a long-term romance. If it's the latter, make sure your friend isn't still harboring feelings for the guy in question. "The only reason I ever considered dating my pal Wendy's ex was because he wasn't really an ex," says Virginian Marnie, 28. "The term 'ex" should be reserved for a real relationship. Even Wendy admitted that it was just a casual, two-week thing. She didn't love him. If he'd been a serious boyfriend, I would have thought twice."

Be upfront about your intentions by asking your friend's permission
If you believe your infatuation with your friend's ex is really more than just a crush, it may be OK to proceed with caution. Communication is always important, though, and letting her know your feelings, intentions and respect for her wishes is crucial prior to starting a new relationship with her ex. If you are honest and straightforward, she may give you her blessing. So, again: feel free to move forward, just do it slowly enough that you both can get permission from all sides — you from your friend and your new guy from his ex.

Follow the golden rule: "Date unto others' exes..."
It sounds simple, but applying the golden rule and dating unto others' exes as you would have them date unto your exes.
Your friend might decide that she doesn't like her ex quite so much anymore.
Would you be angry if your friend dated your ex? Put yourself in the shoes of your friend, and decide if it is really the right choice for you.

Exes code aside, respect the "guy code," too
Dating your friend's ex can work, but there are some hidden dynamics that women should take into consideration first. For example, some men have a definite "no-no" code when it comes to seriously dating a friend's ex. "Men might hook up with their buddy's ex-girlfriends," says Marylander Mike, 36. "Maybe even make a booty call in private. But seriously date? Doubtful. My buddies and I feel like we're in a brotherhood. We always say that if one of our exes tries to date any one of the 'brothers,' then she's the type of woman who makes grown men spill each other's blood on the ground."

That's definitely a dramatic image, and certainly not the opinion of all men, but an interesting male viewpoint that might impinge on any real chance you have with him. Does his "guy code" also imply that any woman who would claim another woman's "territory" is suspect? In other words, even if it's OK with your friend, will her former flame take you as seriously in a relationship as you might take him?

Be prepared for your friendship to change, regardless
Of course, ideally your friend will be supportive of you dating her ex, and he'll be open to the idea, and they'll be friendly and convivial towards each other when you're all together… well, you get the idea. But if you start seriously dating your friend's ex, know in advance that the relationship could change as things progress. Your friend might decide that she doesn't like her ex quite so much anymore (or vice versa), and then you're stuck in the middle between your new boyfriend and an old friend feuding.

Or feelings that were once buried might resurface later, as they did in Andrea's case. "At first, I was OK [with it] when Carla — who I've known since grade school — and my old boyfriend Steve got together," says New Yorker Andrea, 33. "But then when I saw them out at my temple and at social functions, I realized that I just don't feel comfortable seeing them together. Is he sharing intimate details of our four-year relationship with her? Is she judging me for any so-called sins Steve thinks I committed in our relationship? It was too much to think about, so I cut them off."

Bottom line: it can be really hard to find a good person nowadays to date, and when you do stumble upon someone and your feelings are reciprocated, it's absolutely amazing. So if you are attracted to a friend's ex-boyfriend and you want to see where your romance might be headed, go for it — but do it carefully.

For the other side of the story, read Men On Following The "Exes Code."

Dave Singleton, an award-winning writer and columnist for since 2003, is the author of two books on dating and relationships. Send your dating questions and comments to him at
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