Humans love to feel in control of the uncontrollable, which, incidentally, is pseudo-control. Comforting, sure, but nonetheless an illusion. Take breakups. We can feel, for all intents and purposes, ‘over’ our ex based on how we see life working out. Who moves on first, how happy we are. Remaining friends and ‘in the loop’. Thinking that our ex got (or will get) their comeuppance. Of course, we might not account for all scenarios, like… our ex dating our friend.

It’s all-too-easy when a friend acknowledges your discomfort about them dating your ex for them to put your response down to jealousy. Let’s be real, this may well be the case (or part of it). Hell, even if they don’t, you might assume that you’re jealous. But often the onslaught of emotions on discovering that your friend is dating your ex runs deeper and more complex than that. Acknowledging the truth and what you’re feeling allows you to gain some protective and healing perspective. This is far better than dismissing yourself, getting sucked into unnecessary drama, or prematurely ending the friendship.

Let’s say that you confided in this friend about the ins and outs of your relationship.

It’s not unusual to have this sense of being drilled for information that’s now being used against you. You wonder if your friend thinks they’re better than you. Do they think that they can fix the issues that I couldn’t? Were they listening to me and appearing to commiserate while secretly thinking it was my fault? Are they trying to make a holy show out of me by disclosing what I confided to my ex? And you can’t help but wonder if your ex is going to be different with them. You know, give your friend what you couldn’t.

Let’s take this a step further and say that your ex mistreated or abused you.

The second-guessing and self-gaslighting is bad enough when you’re in the relationship, never mind having come out of it. But aren’t you bound to wonder if you have/had it all wrong when you see that your friend’s with them now? It feels like a betrayal. After everything they know your ex put you through, your friend going out with them can feel akin to an ‘up yours’. In a way, it can feel like your ex has taken their shady actions to a new level. Like they’re messing with your head and poisoning the water, something, incidentally, that the narcissistically-inclined like to do.

It could be that your friend knows how you feel or felt about your ex.

Relationships end for all sorts of reasons, although they’re all ultimately about incompatibility. That doesn’t change the fact, though, that you were emotionally invested in the relationship and you’ve been through good and maybe not-so-good times with your ex. And your friend has some awareness of this. No, you don’t have proprietary rights over your ex, but it’s possible that your self-esteem is still caught up in them. That’s not your friend’s fault, but it can feel as if they’ve put dating your ex ahead of the friendship. Given how you feel about things, it’s very possible that your friend was/is willing to risk the friendship, and this also triggers feelings of rejection and loss.

So, is it ‘OK’ for your friend to date your ex or for you to feel weirded out or upset by it?

Even if it’s ‘technically’ OK for your friend to date them–remember, you don’t own your ex or have copyright on any potential changes your ex might make–that doesn’t mean it will or ‘should’ feel OK. It also doesn’t mean that your friendship will be able to continue.

Your friend can date your ex but the context, not just of your relationship with your ex but your friendship, will dictate the OKness of it. It will influence what happens next. It’s possible to feel weirded out by it or to experience the emergence of grief feelings at what might feel like the finality of your relationship and also go on to accept the relationship. Sometimes you get upset about your ex dating your friend only to remember that it wasn’t an actual relationship, or that it was years or even decades ago, or that you don’t actually want to be with your ex.

And, yes, sometimes, for some of the above-highlighted reasons, it’s just painful. It will mean contending again with grief over the breakup or the effect of the person on you or possibly grieving the loss of the friendship.

The truth is, how you feel about the situation won’t just be down to your friend’s (or your ex’s) actions. A significant factor will be the story you tell yourself about them being together. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t reason to be upset, but if their togetherness becomes the story of why you’re ‘not good enough’, that’s coming from you, not the situation. It’s not your ex or your friend deciding your worth or what their being together means about your future.

Are you ready to stop silencing and hiding yourself in an attempt to ‘please’ or protect yourself from others? My book, The Joy of Saying No: A Simple Plan to Stop People Pleasing, Reclaim Boundaries, and Say Yes to the Life You Want (Harper Horizon), is out now.

The Joy of Saying No by Natalie Lue book cover. Subtitle: A simple plan to stop people pleasing, reclaim boundaries, and say yes to the life you want.
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