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Ask Anna: Why we should get rid of the 'girl code'

By Anna Pulley, Tribune News Service on

Published in Health & Fitness

Dear Anna,

I'm 34 years old. I have a friend (girl) who dated this guy (Chris) in high school. At our five-year high school reunion, she finally slept with him. They tried to be serious but it never worked out. Twelve years later, at another reunion, I slept with him. I thought it was going to be a one time thing, take it to the grave and never tell my friend. Now another three years later, my friend and I talk here and there. We have a lot of messed up history together and I have a lot of resentment towards her.

During COVID/quarantine times, I reconnected with Chris and now we are making plans to see each other and going on dates. Things could get a little more deep now. My friend is now married with two children. So my question is, am I breaking the "girl code?" Why is this even a code? Am I being a bad friend? Do I have to tell her, and if so how? If we keep dating, am I going to be looked at a certain way? I'm having difficulties believing that I am wrong for this. — Love Question

Dear LQ,

Let's look at the facts of your situation. Y'all are in your mid-30s. Your friend and her ex/your new lover dated 16 years ago (give or take a reunion lay or two), and she's now married to somebody else with children. I'd say it's safe to date this Chris fellow. And yes, I think you should tell her about it, not because you owe it to her, but because it's clearly causing you some guilt and anxiety.

For those who don't know, the "girl code" in its most basic form says that girls should never date their friend's exes (and, in some cases, their ex's friends, too). It tends to apply to straight women because, if queer women tried to follow this code, they would run out of people to date in approximately five minutes.

I understand where such rules come from — many of us want to be considered loyal friends, and it sucks to see your ex with, well, anyone, but especially a friend.

Yet, if we examine the "code" a little further, we see that it's really about controlling people, which is not a very friend-like thing to do. Besides, we can't actually control our friends' behavior, especially not when it comes to beastlier feelings like falling in love.

It's also interesting that men don't have an equivalent rule, which makes me think that the girl code is kind of patriarchal, in that it's about policing what women do, while men can do what they like. Take Chris. It's extremely unlikely that your friend is going to call him up and yell at him for going on dates with you. She will, however, likely have some words to share with you in this regard. Fair? Not so much.

 

The girl code is also about possession. It says thou shalt not date any man a friend has dated for as long as they both shall live, even if that friend is no longer on the market (as yours is), or if their "relationship" ended in high school, when they were basically children.

Lastly, a real friend wants her friends to be happy, to find love with someone they click and connect with, and to pursue their hopes and dreams. If you fall in love with someone who happens to be a friend's ex, a meaningful friendship would support that, because even though it didn't work out between them, it might for you.

A friendship worth keeping is based on generosity, on vulnerability and on acceptance. Not on some arbitrary, not-exactly-agreed-upon sex rule.

So date who you want — you're a grown-ass woman, after all. You don't need anyone's permission. But also try being a little more honest with your friend, despite your rocky pasts and possible rocky present. Leave the codes out of it entirely and try to see each other as you really are — messy, wildly flawed beings who've managed to stay in touch over the years and might now be able to laugh at the way your stories have unexpectedly turned.

Good luck, LQ. I hope you and your friend end up cracking this code.

___

(Anna Pulley is a columnist answering reader questions about love, sex and dating. Send your quandary via email to redeyedating@gmail.com or Twitter @AnnaPulley.)

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