I'm Best Friends With My Boyfriend's Ex & It's Awesome

Photographed by Serena Brown.
My partner and I are at the pub with our friend Lisa and one of Lisa’s colleagues. My partner, Steve, gets up to go to the bar, Lisa goes to the bathroom. And as if on cue, Lisa’s colleague leans towards me with a concerned look on her face and I know what’s coming. Earlier, Steve and Lisa’s history came up – they were a couple for several years – and now the colleague wants to quiz me on it.
Sure enough: "Are you really okay with this?" she half-whispers. "With Steve hanging out with his ex?" Yes, yes I am, I tell this person, this relative stranger asking prying questions. Lisa and I are friends. I tell the coworker that we’re really close, actually. That we spend lots of time together even without Steve. The coworker looks suspicious and, as the evening continues, I notice her eyeballing the three of us, trying to figure it out. She doesn’t believe it. She thinks something weird must be going on. It isn’t.
Almost everyone reacts strangely to mine and Lisa's relationship, but it is other women in particular who seem to find it so hard to understand. I can see why. Many of my female friends talk about their partner’s exes as competition, as threats. They might look through an Instagram feed and worry that the ex is prettier than they are, or more accomplished. Maybe the ex has a really great job. A glamorous life. Flawless selfies. What do I have that she doesn’t have, they might ask themselves? So ubiquitous has this behaviour become – especially in the age of social media, which encourages comparison to others on a level that is spiralling out of control – that we've convinced ourselves it's normal.

When we started dating, Steve mentioned that he was friendly with an ex, and I gave him a mental bonus point. I’ve always considered it a major red flag if a man isn’t friends with any of his exes.

I was the same way with Lisa initially. Before I met Lisa, back in 2015, she was about to go to Sierra Leone with the World Health Organization at the height of the Ebola crisis. Lisa’s job is urgent, it is crucial. Essentially, if you need a high-tech mobile laboratory set up in a remote and dangerous place, you call Lisa. I struggled to see the positives, to think about what she was achieving. I couldn’t help but find her job intimidating. I immediately began comparing myself with her – she seemed like 'competition'.
But then, when we did meet, we clicked straightaway. We have a similar sense of humour, a similarly laid-back approach to life. By the end of that first evening, after several glasses of wine, Lisa was showing me the unsolicited dick pics she’d just received on Tinder. We arranged to meet up the following week, without Steve, to go to yoga. Now, we catch up at least weekly, we chat on WhatsApp most days. We’re even planning to go on holiday together.
Some people assume there’s an ulterior motive to our friendship, perhaps that Lisa is trying to get back together with Steve. And there are people who are convinced I’m only friends with Lisa to keep my enemy close. I wondered what Lisa thought about this, so over brunch recently, I asked her. She laughed so loudly that other people in the restaurant turned around to scowl at us. "People think I’m a snake in the grass, you mean?" she said. "Jesus, you don’t think that do you?"

When Lisa and I met, we clicked straightaway. We arranged to meet up the following week to go to yoga. Now, we catch up at least weekly. We’re even planning to go on holiday together.

I don’t. Lisa and I have been friends for almost five years. Steve and I have been a couple for almost seven years. We are (and I don’t want to show off here…well...maybe a bit) a great couple. Mine and Lisa’s friendship is such a non-issue that it barely registers. When I mentioned to Steve that I was going to be writing about it, he looked confused. "What do you mean?" he said. I reminded him that Lisa is his ex, that some people find our friendship weird. "Oh right," he said. "Okay, cool." And then: "What do you feel like for dinner?"
When we first started dating, Steve mentioned that he was friendly with an ex, and I gave him a mental bonus point for this. I’ve always considered it a major red flag if a man isn’t friends with any of his exes. Even worse, if they actively bad-mouth an ex. We’ve all met that guy who says all his exes are 'crazy'. It’s suspicious, I think. Nobody’s perfect and relationships, and break-ups, are complicated things. There are two sides to every story. Steve admits fault in his relationship with Lisa, and Lisa does too, but that was all a long time ago.
Today, Steve and Lisa’s history rarely features in my friendship with Lisa, or my relationship with Steve. Occasionally though, something does come up that reminds us about it. It almost always gives us all a good laugh. Last week, Steve went shopping with Lisa to help her choose a bike. But when the bike was delivered to Lisa’s flat in pieces and had to be assembled, Lisa did not ask Steve for help. After six hours of YouTube tutorials she relented and called a neighbour.
"Oh, why didn’t you call me? I’d have helped," said Steve. Lisa and I exchanged a look. We have both witnessed Steve trying to assemble flat-pack furniture. Steve has many excellent qualities but, as Lisa and I know only too well, DIY is not one of them. We both burst out laughing.
Sadly, the truth is that women are still encouraged to view one another as adversaries rather than friends in many avenues of life, from romance to work, motherhood to friendships. And although I think there are more and more positive examples every day of women lifting other women up, I think that for a little while longer at least, some people will continue to think mine and Lisa's friendship is weird.
But hey, maybe we can do something to help these attitudes change faster. Next time that suspicious look comes up when someone sees Lisa and me having a ball, rather than dismissing their questions as rude, we'll invite them to sit down and have an open conversation about it. Because it's only by challenging people to take a look at why they think the way they do that we can keep moving things forward.

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