Few people want to be alone on Thanksgiving... or Christmas... or New Year's... or Valentine's Day. As a result, many courtships that by all rights should have expired in the autumn linger on into mid-February. Now that V-day's over, the Annual Rite of Overdue Dumping should soon commence, thereby setting the stage for the Spring Mating Season.
This seems a natural time to tackle a sticky issue of dating ethics. Say you’d like to date your best friend’s ex-girlfriend. What should you do? According to the conventional wisdom (which I glean from having watched many sit-coms on the subject), you are supposed to approach your friend and ask if it’s okay.
On first consideration, that doesn’t sound right at all. What, does he own her? Needing permission to date someone else’s ex seems an awful lot like a throw-back to a less liberated era, when women were treated as the property of men. And besides, what kind of lousy friend would say no? Why would a true buddy deny you the opportunity to have some joy in your life? I smell at least a hint of vindictiveness at work.
But a true buddy wouldn’t say no, and that’s the whole point. In this verbal transaction, there is usually only one acceptable response, and it’s yes. So why have the transaction at all? Because it’s an exchange of information. You are informing your friend that you intend to pursue his ex-girlfriend, thereby giving him a heads-up to prepare himself mentally. In addition, there’s a possibility that the apparent break-up was not a real one; sometimes couples officially break up but remain involved romantically. When you ask if it’s okay to ask out your friend’s ex, you’re giving him a chance to fess up to the relationship’s ongoing character. Finally, if he’s a true buddy, he may want to help you avoid a train-wreck by letting you in on the real reasons the relationship failed. If she’s actually a psycho hose-beast, you might want to know it before getting involved.
Hayek is vindicated once again: there is often more wisdom embedded in social customs than meets the eye. (Incidentally, in case any of my friends are reading, this discussion is not motivated by any current events in my life. I have no designs on any of your exes!)