Courtesy of Freepiks

The answer to an age-old question — is it ever okay to date your friend’s ex? — would generally be no. If the threat of possible friendship damage isn’t enough to deter people, there are various demonstrations of what this “trope” decision might look like down the road in popular contemporary entertainment. Across the timeline of traditional and modern dating, the question of whether or not it’s acceptable to date a friend’s former flame has spawned the mass appeal of love triangle tropes and toxic unspoken rules of friendship, all restraining one’s individual freedom. 

Reading like a Shakespearean tragedy, resonating like Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance,” and being depicted in HBO’s “Euphoria” — all of these instances have negative connotations to dating a friend’s ex. However, these references are purely fictional and cannot be translated into real life. These examples need to be placed in the rearview mirror, and people must refrain from blurring the line between media and reality. These stagnant tropes that have been repeated for entertainment are ingrained in a traditional viewpoint — controlling conduct and reinforcing the notion of ownership over others. 

An iconic cult classic movie, “Mean Girls,” depicts toxic ideologies humorously when Gretchen, one of the main characters, declares, “Ex-boyfriends are just off-limits to friends. That’s just like the rules of feminism.” The behavioral aspect of narrow ideologies that encompass unspoken friendship rules, modernly known as “girl code,” is highly disingenuous and incapable of elaborating on the actual complexities of human relationships. There is no issue utilizing these rules for entertainment purposes. However, when integrated into real relationships, they become a bargaining chip — a form of holding power over friends of the same sex. 

A 2019 survey of 1,500 singles conducted by the dating app Plenty of Fish evaluated just how real these rules are for a sample of individuals. The survey concluded that when it comes to following the rule of dating a friend’s ex, 33% of men expressed that dating a friend’s ex isn’t a smart move, and 65% of women agreed that a friend should never do it. Despite these stats, 77% of the singles said that before breaking the “rules,” approval should be sought before initiating something with the ex since friendship comes first. 

Friends don’t ask friends to relinquish feelings or invalidate experiences when faced with societal norms that require drastic reformation. This is a complicated situation, and there should be understanding and respect on both sides. Preserving friendships in the face of any conflict, including dating an ex, requires honesty and communication. Being formal and straightforward in informing a friend can go a long way in keeping the friendship. Hopefully, a friend would try to see that this isn’t a decision anyone makes lightly or would make unless they see the potential for a long-term and healthy relationship. If this was done out of targeted malice, this wasn’t a genuine friendship to begin with, anyways.

People shouldn’t be made to feel guilty or targeted for something that is often beyond their control. Feelings aren’t something people can tamp down and ignore with positive results. Trying to ignore genuine feelings to preserve a friendship could have the opposite effect and cause one to distance themselves emotionally. Hiding one’s feelings will only create division and less honesty between friends. At that point, it’s not really a friendship anymore. Trusting an established history with a friend is essential in a situation like this. Shakespeare formulates that a friend is “one that knows you as you are, understands where you have been, accepts what you have become and still, gently allows you to grow.” A real friendship shouldn’t contain tactics of guilt-tripping and gaslighting to control another person. 

In the end, no matter the outcome, an acknowledgment should be made of the real-life cases of couples that have started their relationships under these conditions. There is no room for toxic, one-size-fits-all ideologies of friendships and relationships in the 21st century. The issue is not that these ideologies have stood the test of time in contemporary entertainment; they’ve become a social norm that conditions how people perceive certain aspects of dating. The objective is to find love, and if you believe your friend’s ex is the one for you, then take a risk and go after what you want.