The Washington Post

When a third-wheel ex controls the relationship


Dear Carolyn:

The chemistry in my nine-month relationship is awesome, the hard work feels minimal, and we stay up late and talk often.

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’ve always wanted my lover to be my best friend. There’s only one problem: He already has a best friend, his ex-girlfriend of eight years (friend of 17). He broke up with her because it was an unhappy relationship and their counselor said it was “maladaptive.” He’s made it clear to her that she would be the last woman on Earth he would date again.

While she says she understands, she’s still in love with him. Now that I’m in the picture, she makes all the time in the world for him. Since they both have flexible schedules, they go camping and canoeing together. They spend more time together than he and I do. They’re planning their summer trips together.

When I told him how I felt, he said that he will not stop spending time with her because she’s been a wonderful friend in dark times, and that if it causes an issue every time he mentions her name, he’ll just stop telling me when they hang out.

(Nick Galifianakis)

She loves to bring him homemade food (and I have to listen to him talk about how good it is). She even does some of his grocery shopping and comes over in the morning when I’m still there, in bed.

Did I mention that she’s in a loveless marriage and has been living with her husband for over 30 years? I am the age of her oldest child.

My intuition tells me this is an extremely hot but completely screwed-up relationship, but I’m seduced by our insane physical connection, his intelligence, the delusion of what it COULD be, and the opportunity for me to become the model self-confident woman unaffected by trite things like silly ex-girlfriends.

Are we stupid?


Fish, barrel. I’ll let it swim.

For the record and in general, I feel for any opposite-sex-platonic-best friend of a relationship-minded heterosexual person (got that?). New relationships nudge all friends aside somewhat, but the opposite-sex best friend is usually either regarded with suspicion veiled by efforts to be above all that, or openly treated as a threat, or cast out on the business end of an ultimatum. Yet in many cases, a friend is a friend and the assumption otherwise is just not fair.

Also for the record, I think it’s great that you’re trying to be mature about the best friend.

But when you maintain that effort despite an almost comical tower of evidence (I’m thinking “Yertle the Turtle”-style) that you’re the only one prioritizing this relationship — day to day and as an institution — it puts you on the dysfunction bus with the rest of them.

So if an argument for staying is what you want from me, then you’re on your own. If it’s a push out the door, then I’m skeptical, because you’d have left by now without my help if that’s what you really wanted.

What’s left to advise? That you stop kidding yourself with artificial, high-minded goals, and instead take a cue from the guy, of all people: Decide what you will and won’t abide, draw those lines for others, and live accordingly. Anything else just wastes your time.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or Sign up for Carolyn Hax’s column, delivered to your inbox early each morning, at



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