Men On Following The “Exes Code”

You're crushing on a friend's ex, but is it OK to ask her out? What are the rules when it comes to dating a pal's former flame, exactly? Here, single men share their views on bromance vs. romance.

By Dave Singleton

"I was sorry to hear the news that my best buddy Mark and his girlfriend Lisa broke up," says Virginian Jay, 29. "They're both great people and I'm sorry they couldn't work it out. But I have to admit, there was a small part of me that thought, 'this is finally my chance with Lisa,' who
It's important for you to anticipate what another guy's reaction might be before you proceed.
I'd had a crush on since college. Should I pursue it or not? I was torn."

Paraphrasing Hamlet, we ask: To date your friend's ex, or not to date her? That is the question!

Some men feel strongly that moving in on a buddy's former flame is a big no-no. We've all heard the adage "bros before hoes," which (in classier terms) translates to an unspoken rule amongst men: while girlfriends may come and go, your guy friends are always there for you. As one guy pal of mine puts it, breaking this rule is tantamount to committing the cardinal sin against Team Testosterone. Others say that it just depends on the circumstances. "I know a lot of people say it's 'against the code,'" says San Francisco resident Andy, 34. "But why should some set-in-stone code get in the way of love? If your friend is a real friend and you're respectful in your approach and timing, wouldn't he be happy for you?"

Recently, I spoke to men who debated the pros and cons of the following the "exes code" — a name I give to the often unspoken (and on some occasions, loudly voiced) rule that helps keep the peace by keeping guys from raiding their buddies' little black books. Before you risk your bromance for a new romance, make sure you consider the following issues first.

Try to see things from the other guy's perspective
It's important for you to anticipate what another guy's reaction might be before you proceed. With other men, it's essential to understand where the guy in question is coming from, show him some respect, detonate any possible threats, and assuage his potentially bruised male ego. "As guys, we know why some of us get angry when an ex-girlfriend dates one of our friends," says North Carolinian Bill, 35. "It's partly tribal. We have a sense of ownership once we've marked our territory, which I know sound primitive. But for some, it's true; it's a matter of respect. What's mine is mine and you shouldn't move in on that. And of course, there's the fragile male ego. I don't like the idea of my buddy and my ex having pillow talk and comparing bedroom notes. I don't want to even think about which of us was/is better in the sack."

You also have to realize that some men just don't want to be bothered or reminded of a past relationship, especially if it didn't end well or there's something still unexpressed (for example, guilt or remorse) between the two parties. Think about it: he'll now have to hear about how your relationship is going with his former flame.
What's mine is mine and you shouldn't move in on that.
Even if you've done your due diligence and covered all your bases, that awkwardness is sometimes enough to sink a friendship.

Finally, don't be surprised if he still carries a torch for her, since some guys might have more of a tendency to harbor strong-but-unexpressed feelings for a former flame. "My friend had no idea how much I still cared for Brenda," says 42-year-old Jack from Virginia. "I was deeply in love with her, but we just couldn't make it work. But I didn't talk about it much with him. The thing about men is that we tend to break up with someone because the situation is really awful and we can't see a way to fix it, and it doesn't really matter how much we love someone or even who's to blame," Jack says. "Those [issues] are moot; we carry the feelings with us, despite however we act on them."

Next, answer these three questions:
1. How close of a friend is this guy, exactly? There's a big difference between an acquaintance you know from the local bar or gym and a guy who's in your inner circle. The closer he is to you, the higher the stakes involved.

2. Was it an intense romance? Did he date her for one night, a week, a year? Was she the love of his life, or was he just not that into her? If it was an intense long-term relationship, you have to weigh your options very carefully before making your move.

3. When did they split up? Did they break up recently (in which case, your interest makes you look like a pouncing tiger)? Or was she someone he dated a few years ago? If it's been awhile since they broke up (assuming no bad feelings remain on either side) and they've both moved on, maybe it'll be easier for you to move in, so to speak.

Get his buy-in before making your move
"My current boyfriend lost his best friend over me," says Floridian Stacy, 37. "It's such a shame, because there was no cheating involved and he waited four months before asking me out after his best friend and I broke up after dating for six months. But he didn't clear it with his friend beforehand, and my ex just cut him off." The surest path to "bro-trayal" is not being upfront about your intentions. If you're interested in a buddy's ex, talk to him about it before you make a move. It doesn't matter if you'd planned to have the chat with him already or if you decided that — for whatever reason — their relationship wasn't that big a deal (i.e., it was short-lived, he told you that he wasn't really into her, etc.). Otherwise, you'll be looked at as a sneaky, Lothario-like version of infamous turncoat Benedict Arnold forever.

And make sure you let the woman you're interested in know that you intend to get your friend's buy-in as a deciding factor before she offhandedly mentions your flirting and it gets back to him. You can't be casual about this; if he's really a friend that you want to keep, you have to mount a proactive PR campaign to reassure him of your intentions.

For the other side of the story, read Women Speak About 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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