Dear Aunt Sue,
Do you think guys and girls can really be friends? Or does it always get messed up? My boyfriend and I recently broke up, and I really miss some of his guy friends. I hung out with them for more than a year, and now it’s like they’re off limits. I especially feel close to this one guy, and I think he feels the same way. We would both like to stay friends, but I’m not sure how it would work. Hanging out alone might be awkward, since we’ve never really spent time together like that. And we’re both pretty sure my ex would veto the whole situation. It just seems like such a stupid waste-we get along really well, so I just don’t understand why we need to give that up just because of my ex.
Also, I’m not gonna lie-he’s hot. I’m not interested in him that way right now, but there has always been kind of a vibe between us, though neither of us has ever talked about it. Also, I don’t know if it matters, but my ex broke up with me. Things haven’t been great for a while, but I wanted to work on it, and I was pretty hurt that he walked. He moved on pretty quickly to hooking up with someone new, so it’s not like he’s sitting at home missing me or anything. What should I do?
I’m glad you wrote, because this is a pretty common question, and I appreciate the opportunity to weigh in, i.e. bitch up a storm on the issue. First, let me clarify, by saying that you have actually asked two separate questions:
- Can guys and girls maintain a platonic friendship, or does it get too complicated in the sense that one person will develop emotional or sexual feelings for the other?
- How legit are the rules prohibiting getting involved with the friend of an ex?
With regard to the first question, my thinking about platonic friendships has evolved over the years. When I was in my teens and 20s I was convinced that it was impossible. Every friendship I ever tried to have with a guy got messed up by sexual tension. I always felt robbed when it got complicated – I didn’t understand why guys had to mess up a good thing by wanting to get physical. Once that drama was exposed, of course, the friendship was never the same and usually ended awkwardly.
Once I got into a long-term committed relationship, I counted many men among my friends. It was easy, though to tell the truth it was always easier when they were also in relationships. Now that I hang out with a lot of married couples, the friendships are really comfortable and devoid of tension. I think my experience is a pretty typical one. When people are in committed relationships, they usually choose not to act on the feelings of attraction that arise toward others. In fact, they neglect and repress those feelings so successfully that sexual tension does not have the opportunity to develop. There is no vibe, because both parties are strictly observing boundaries around commitment and fidelity.
However, when two young people are single and developing a friendship, they are not required to observe any boundaries. They are free to explore any impulses or urges that arise. So it’s very common for one person or the other to feel an attraction, and to communicate those feelings either in subtle or direct ways. If the attraction is mutual, the friendship changes as the relationship shifts. If the attraction is not returned, the friendship still changes, but now there is a problem to work through. Sometimes friendships survive that kind of drama. (In fact, sometimes friendships grow between people who were previously involved, though I must confess I have never had the desire to befriend an ex in that way.) It’s hard, though, and usually the rejected person benefits most from moving on entirely and getting past those feelings.
You mention a vibe with this guy, and that the two of you have talked about wanting to remain friends. I cannot see any reason why you should not become closer as friends. It sounds in this case like there may be a mutual attraction, though you are concerned about the timing; it is probably still too soon. Which brings us to the second question. The utterly ridiculous and absurd Man Code aka Bro Code. Originated by Maxim magazine, the Man Code gives guys permission to act like idiots.
Here is a sampling of rules from the Man Code:
- When questioned by a friend’s girlfriend, you need not and should not provide any information as to his whereabouts. You are even permitted to deny his very existence.
- The minimum amount of time you have to wait for another man is 5 minutes. The maximum is 6 minutes. For a girl, you are required to wait 10 minutes for every point of hotness she scores on the classic 1-10 scale.
- Never allow a telephone conversation with a woman to go on longer than you are able to have sex with her. Keep a stopwatch nearby, and hang up if necessary.
- It is the God-given duty of every man to assist any other man that may be in need of assistance in obtaining every guys’ dream (threesome with two girls).
Haha, rude. But there is one Man Code rule that has seriously taken hold and become law in the culture, and it’s making guys and girls everywhere miserable.
- Under no circumstances may you ever hook up with a friend’s ex.
In fairness, there are obvious examples where observing this rule makes sense:
- A guy who crushed your best friend.
- A guy who behaved badly toward anyone you care about.
- You should be sensitive to the timing of any breakup. A waiting period is the decent thing to do.
But never? Even if it was just a hookup? That’s harsh. I’ve had girls tell me they could never “go there” if their friend had hooked up with a guy randomly two years previously and it didn’t work out. OK, I understand, he hurt her feelings. But maybe that wasn’t totally his fault. Maybe she liked him more than he liked her. And you and he can never hang out and get close because of that ancient history? That’s just plain stupid. She needs to grow up and move on. There is a slightly less extreme variation that requires you to ask permission of said friend. But even that may be too limiting, if your friend is more emotional than rational.
As far as I am concerned, there is never any reason for anyone who has been dumped to seek permission from the dumper for anything.
Jen, you say that your boyfriend broke up with you, and has clearly moved on by hooking up with someone new. He has therefore proved, that He is Just Not Into You at All Anymore, and as such, has no right whatsoever to have an opinion on who you hang out or hook up with. In fact, I would argue that he has a moral obligation to wish the best for you, and if that means seeing you with his good friend, so be it. I just don’t see who gets hurt in that situation. Except his pride, and who gives a shit about that?
Screw the Man Code!
In summary, Jen, I think you an Ex’s friend should feel free to see whether there is the potential for something special between you, without any regard whatsoever for the feelings of Ex. In other words, go for it.