The Ex Factor


Why is it that so many lesbians stay friends with their exes, and what does it mean for their new relationships? Christine Allen investigates the case of the ex.


“This is my mate, Helen.”

I shake the hand of the woman my date has introduced me to – a friend that she has spotted whilst smoking in the beer garden. It’s our third date and I’ve being doing my best to make a good impression, knowing that in situations like these friends’ opinions are given generous weighting.

When Helen leaves our company, I ask how my date knows her. “Oh, we were together for four years,” comes the reply, as casual as you like. “We broke up eight months ago. It’s great though, because we’ve managed to stay really good friends.”

A week later a friend of mine calls me, seeking advice. Her girlfriend has just told her that she wants to meet up with the (take note of italics) ex for ‘catch up drinks. ‘Should she allow it? Would it be too possessive to ask her not to go? Too clingy to express concern?’

Some time following this phone call, the girl I’m dating lets out an ‘aww’ sound as we watch an episode of Orange Is The New Black. Mistaking her cooing noises for approval of Piper and Alex’s on-screen kiss, I continue watching until she practically shoves her phone in my face. “Helen’s just sent me a list of apartments to look at,” she gushes, clearly chuffed at her ex’s ‘thoughtfulness’ regarding her living situation.

It should come as no surprise to the reader that myself and the girl in question broke up shortly after that //OITNB// interruption, and yes, Helen’s constant background presence was part (but not all) of the reason. However, the friend looking for my advice is still with her girlfriend. She has decided to “trust her”, giving her the go-ahead for the catch up encounter with the ex.

Am I imagining it, or are the majority of lesbians in Dublin in frequent communication with an old flame? And if so, should we simply trust those friendships to be little more than platonic? Or is that a leap of faith bordering on foolishness?

My straight mates have altogether less accommodating views of partners remaining in communication with old flames. Citing “drama” as the main reason, one stated that an ex was an ex for a “reason”, and a close friendship with an ex is a deal breaker. On the other hand, many lesbians I have spoken to view friendship with an ex as par for the course, with one going as far as to say that a person’s ability to remain friends with an ex was “a good sign”.

So, what is it that causes lesbians to desire friendship with their exes? Whenever I’ve experienced a break-up with another woman, I’ve found that the main thing I’ve missed was the companionship and connection we shared. In fact, I remember agreeing with an ex during a post break-up discussion that our separation had felt like losing a best friend.

It makes sense. Throughout our childhoods, long-term close female friendships are fostered and positively encouraged. Could this be why we fail to cut ties with other women following the ending of a romantic relationship?

But isn’t maintaining a close relationship with an ex not only selfish but unhealthy? While I get that there are instances where exes become genuine lifelong friends, I can’t help thinking the idea is extremely idealistic. Isn’t it fairer to say that in the majority of cases, two ex’s that remain friends will either end up hooking up again, or at least continue to have a closeness that invokes jealousy and insecurity in a new partner?

Then again, are our friendships with lesbian ex-lovers really maintained out of choice? After all Dublin, let alone the gay scene, is a small place. Perhaps we maintain friendships with these women in order to ease the inevitable awkwardness that ensues following a midnight chance encounter on the stairs of The George? Or it could simply be a numbers game. Maybe there are not enough lesbians to go round, forcing us to transfer an ex from the role of lover to listener?

The other afternoon I received an unsolicited update from a mutual friend regarding my ex’s love life. Apparently, she was spotted in a compromising position with Helen at a World Cup house party. Hearing this initially hurt. However on reflection, it was the validation I needed to fully move on. While not every woman who is friends with an ex will end up locking lips with her two weeks after a break-up, in my opinion, an ex in a partner’s life is a situation that requires close monitoring.

If you find yourself feeling ill at ease with the closeness between your partner and her ex, my advice is to speak up. If she’s worth your time, she’ll take you seriously and kick the ex to the curb.








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