Befriending women who've dated your current or former partners is a powerful subversion. Photo: Giorgio Fochesato/Stocksy
Recently, I met a girl who I immediately recognised as the current girlfriend of one of my short-lived exes. She was wearing a cute dress and was bright, friendly and funny.
Against the advice of my friends, I told her about our "sausage sister" connection. Amazingly enough, she did not lunge at me and maul my face off. Instead, she broke into a smile and said, "No way, I'm so glad you told me!"
I initially bonded with one of my closest friends under similar circumstances. We'd been acquaintances for years but were never close – until she dated my first boyfriend after me, and asked me to dinner following their breakup. The meal started with awkward small talk, but when we addressed the elephant in the room, the walls between us melted as I offered her advice based on how I'd gotten over the same guy years earlier. Two years on, we catch up whenever we're in the same city, and chat frequently on Facebook. We barely ever talk about him now.
Once, I messaged a girl I didn't know to tell her that a weirdo I'd hooked up with had texted me her name out of the blue, with no context. "I always believe women," she replied, thanking me for letting her know to avoid him. A few months later, we were both seeing the same polyamorous guy, and when he turned out to be a jerk, I immediately gave her a heads up. We never met in person, but we always had each other's backs.
Society loves to tell us that women are in constant competition, especially when it comes to men. Gossip rags are still screaming about Jennifer Aniston and Angelina Jolie's supposed feud over Brad Pitt a full decade on, even though Jen herself has said it's time everyone got over it. Trashy daytime shows have made their living off these tired stereotypes since the dawn of TV. Songs, movies and books chart "crazy" ex-girlfriends trying to ruin new relationships. (Dear men: if all your exes are "crazy", maybe – just maybe – you're a gaslighting douche.)
The idea that we silly women can't help but take off our stilettos, bare our teeth and scratch each other's eyes out with our manicured nails in a bid to Get The Guy is an insulting, sexist trope. Even in the circumstance of cheating, women are often encouraged to blame "the other woman", when it absolutely takes two to tango.
Let's cast our minds back, instead, to the 2006 cinematic masterpiece John Tucker Must Die. (This is, doubtlessly, the first time anyone has thought about said film since 2006, let alone referenced it in a national publication.)
Plot summary: three high school girls discovered they're being played by the same guy. They're catty and slut-shamey towards each other at first, but eventually become friends and plot to get even. Spoiler: John Tucker does not, in fact, die, but he does realise he's a pile of turds, and resolves to be a more honest man. Classic Hollywood and its unrealistic endings.
Spectacularly, this work of filmic art came to life in 2014 when, after discovering they were all dating the same guy, three British girls showed up at the airport together to greet him upon his return from holidays. He fled with his grandma while the girls chanted "liar, liar". What would've been devastating to endure alone instead empowered these girls to forge new friendships with others who'd been through the same thing.
Breakups hurt. Relationships are complicated. It can be easy to hate your ex's new squeeze, or be jealous of your partner's ex. Hell, sometimes it's understandable – friendships are not always desirable or feasible. But to automatically assume that women are always in vengeful competition totally dismisses our agency, painting us as blubbering messes who can't string together a rational thought without immediately collapsing into a tub of Ben & Jerry's while watching Hugh Grant films and screeching hysterically.
Befriending women who've dated your current or former partners is a powerful subversion – a middle finger to the archaic patriarchal idea that heterosexual romantic relationships are worth more than sisterhoods, and that women must instantly hate one another in such situations. What's more, these friendships foster intimate connections between women who can offer advice and solidarity steeped in lived experience – something other friends can't do.
Eventually the initial connection becomes irrelevant, and instead of having someone to bitch to about your mutual ex, you've got a gal pal who's always in your corner – someone you can share weird sex stories with, cry to about your bad day and bombard with memes.
When there's no bad blood and everyone has moved on, it can be great to meet exes' new partners. I can't wait for my best mate, who also happens to be my ex of five years, to get a new girlfriend so we can be BFFs, because let's face it – if someone's dated me, they obviously have great taste. A boyfriend once told me he hoped I'd never befriend his previous girlfriend, because we're both, in his words, "powerful women". Talk about an accidentally strong sales pitch.
Female friendships are everything. The ones that have become the silver linings of unpleasant splits have helped me heal, and the ones born from amicable breakup connections have been just as valuable.
F--k the patriarchy – let's be friends.