Tuesday, February 15, 2005

The Ex-Precedence

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!)


Anonymous said...

well, generally i try to stay away from anything ex-related. i wouldn't want to hurt his feelings or create drama. i feel guilty sometimes going out with guys he knows or hates. but i have to admit there have been times where i was actually attracted to and more compatible with my ex's ex-gf's ex-husband (if that makes sense). you're compatible with who you're compatible with and it's not you're fault if you guys get along way better. but it's not the "what, does he own her" factor. I think, for me at least, I'd rather not get involved with the mess. But if you think you found someone great, i see why not.
oh, and if she was a psycho, you'd know because your friend would have told you already or at least would have detected how soul-sucking she is by his energy level.


Anonymous said...

what the heck is a psycho-hose-beast? i get the psycho part, but hose-beast? it's such a funny sounding word.

Neal said...

I was hoping you'd say something about the inconvenience of a relationship that begins just enough before VD that you can't figure out what (if anything) to do for the possibily-significant other. There must be some economic or game-theoretic calculations that go into answering the question.

David said...

It's not that the ex-boyfriend owns the ex-girlfriend...it's just polite because the three of them will end up spending time together and the friend may not be comfortable. Ignoring the first boyfriend sends a single that the friend really isn't a friend and doesn't care about his feelings.

Anonymous said...

sk-I think the hose in hose-beast refers to an external male part that looks more like tubing than any other male part. And I guess beast means that the girl either just couldn't get enough of it or was rough with it?
Neal-thank you! In high school, it always drove me crazy that people thought Valentine's Day was the right time to ask someone out on a first date. Are you supposed to act like it's V Day and do all the flowers and all that bit? Or act like it's just another date, but it happens to be taking place on V Day? (And although I know VD meant Valentine's Day, I really got a kick thinking about what you buy someone you think you might be about to get VD from in the near future, though. A condom?)
Glen-the Thursday before Thanksgiving Thursday is the unofficial dump-day for people that want to make sure they don't get caught in the situation you described. Once thanksgiving hits, it's all over. Christmas, New Years, Valentine's...And you do it before the weekend before Thanksgiving to allow the person time to go out single once before visiting family and to have time to figure out what to say about why you're no longer accompanying them to family dinners,etc.

Anonymous said...

thanks ellen for the explanation. i looked it up and in the urban dictionary, it apparently originated with Wayne's World: usually a crazy, stalker, spurned ex, in the likes of 'fatal attraction', 'swim fan', the woman who ran over her husband dozens of times with her mercedes. yikes.

i didn't know that thursday before thanksgiving was the national break-up day. i thought it was usually after christmas. or in my case dragging it out as far as i could have; after his b-day because i couldn't wait til christmas.


Glen Whitman said...

"Psycho hose-beast" was indeed a reference to Wayne's World. I was wondering if anyone would notice that.

Ellen -- Thursday before T-giving as official "dump day" makes sense if you actually want to be single for the holidays. But I was addressing the opposite phenomenon, which I suspect is more common, of people deliberately extending their relationships because they don't want to be alone for the holidays.

Neal -- yes, that is a difficult issue. But I haven't come up with a clever game-theoretic analysis just yet. I wonder if some people deliberately avoid new dating relationships around the end of January just to avoid that vexing problem.

Alexis said...

First of all, it's pretty sad that people stay together simply to have someone on Valentine's Day. Is it really that difficult for people to be alone or to spend the day with friends and family? I spent the day with my family, went to dinner with six friends, and had a great Valentine's Day.

Anyhow, it's funny this whole Ex-Precedence thing came up. I was with a couple friends at SaddleRanch the other night and one of them said he knew he was over his ex-girlfriend because it wouldn't bother him to see her dancing with another guy. Personally at this point, it wouldn't bother me to see my ex with a stranger either, but with a friend is a whole other can of worms. Although I don't have any kind of "feelings" for my ex anymore, I don't know how comfortable I'd be if my best friend dated my ex.

I see the point Glen makes over the whole ownership thing, but frankly I don't think it's about ownership but rather respect. You share a million intimate moments with that person, do you really want to picture your best friend doing the same things?!?!

Katherine Alexis Q. said...

One more thing...Just out of curiosity, Glen have you ever dated a friends ex? Has anyone else? Did it work out?

Anonymous said...

Actually, what usually will bother me if a friend wants to date an ex or is interested in an ex is not that that person will be doing the same things with him that I did or that I'm not over him or anything like that--it's out of loyalty in a different respect. If we broke up because he was a giant a-hole, then why is my friend willing to date someone that treated me so badly? Or if you're a guy, why does your friend want to date a girl that was such a bitch to you? Wasn't he listening when you complained about her?
PS-Glen, I did realize psycho hose beast was from Wayne's World, but I don't think it was ever explained in Wayne's World either, just that it was someone that was nuts in some sense and an ex.

Anonymous said...

And I mentioned national dump day because it seemed relevant to the topic. I think a lot of people purposely stay in relationships just to not be alone for the holidays, but some people just accidentally do...they miss dump day and then realize they're trapped. But it's too late. Of course if you're me, you try to time the dumping just right and then when you have it all figured out, the guy's uncle dies. Not his favorite uncle or even an uncle he talks to, but it will be if you break up with him. And this reminds me, who remembers that Seinfeld episode where Elaine can't dump the guy while he's in ICU (or some wing of the hospital in a coma or something)?
Sorry to post so many times and for such length.

Anonymous said...

ah, but ellen, i like it when you post. =)

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