The Washington Post

Carolyn Hax: Are friends’ exes off-limits?


Dear Carolyn:

A friend forwarded to me the online-dating profile of a former boyfriend of mine, and asked if that was him. She said they had spoken on the phone and were to meet in person. Apparently, she was trying to feel out what I thought about it.

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

I said I couldn’t tell her what to do, but I’m sure she knew I was upset.

I would never do that to a friend, and I feel that if she is my friend, then she would not contact him. What do you think?


For The Washington Post (Nick Galifianakis )

Yours is a common view, so over the years I’ve tried to see things that way, to have your perspective of feeling betrayed by friends who date your exes.

Nevertheless, I agree only in one very narrow circumstance: when the ex caused you significant and deliberate harm.

It can be awkward, even painful; I get that. I picture, say, a sibling with an ex-spouse and I wince. But even that doesn’t justify throwing our hoodies over people as if they’re chairs in a middle-school cafeteria.

There’s also this counterargument: If you were her friend, then she’d have your blessing to seek happiness wherever she thinks she’ll find it.

There are other men on Earth, of course, but for whatever reason, you and he didn’t work; meanwhile, she apparently sees something in him that works for her. While men may be abundant, promising connections are not. I can’t endorse denying a friend such a chance.

Dear Carolyn:

I have a close friend of many years (we’re in our early/mid-20s) who has been nothing but considerate and supportive to me. I can only hope I’ve been as good a friend to her.

Recently, she’s begun seeing someone who is in a relationship with someone else. She’s over the moon with new love, but I feel deeply uncomfortable listening to her stories about this entanglement. I can’t reconcile the caring, giving person I know with someone who would knowingly assist in the deception and injury of another.

I’ve tried couching my hesitance in terms of not wanting to see her get hurt by someone who is already invested elsewhere (and also clearly a bit of a [glass bowl]), but she’s waved away the objection and I don’t think trying to guilt-trip her is the right thing to do.

What exactly are my options here? Her relationship isn’t my life to live, but it makes me question her deeper character.

The Other Woman’s Best Friend

You can read character in the messes people make, yes, but you can also read it in the ways they clean them up. Plus, this could still just be a bad case of the young-and-stupids.

While both of you wait for the moral of this story to unfold, I suggest you stop couching and start telling your truth. Not to guilt or judge her — again, half of this story is yet unwritten — but to inform. “Talking about this makes me really uncomfortable, knowing he’s still with this other girl.”

You can be both blunt and loving, too: “You’re too good a person to stay in denial forever, but whenever you’re ready to get your head out of your [dark place], it won’t be too soon.” Take the long view before you take a stand.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or Get her column delivered to your inbox each morning at



Success! Check your inbox for details. You might also like:

Please enter a valid email address

See all newsletters

Show Comments
Most Read



Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Your Three. Videos curated for you.
Play Videos
Deaf banjo player teaches thousands
Unconventional warfare with a side of ale
It's in the details: Five ways to enhance your kitchen makeover
Play Videos
Drawing as an act of defiance
A fighter pilot helmet with 360 degrees of sky
Border collies: A 'mouse trap' for geese on the National Mall
Play Videos
Bao: The signature dish of San Francisco
This man's job is binge-watching for Netflix
What you need to know about Planned Parenthood
Play Videos
How to save and spend money at college
Pandas, from birth to milk to mom
Europe's migrant crisis, explained

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.