When I heard the news that Hailey Bieber and Selena Gomez had posed for some BFF-level photos at an event this month, I (like the rest of the world) squealed with glee. I’ve wanted these two to mend fences forever, and this image, as people on Twitter joked, felt like it might solve climate change – it was that wholesome.
Then, I thought about it some more. Why did I need Justin Bieber’s first girlfriend and his wife to be friends? Why were we all so invested in these two coming together to the point where it broke the internet when they did?
Well, because it's always heartwarming to see women supporting women. But my investment went beyond that.
I'm sure the reason behind those internet-breaking photos had more to do with shutting down the relentless hate coming from both star's fanbases. Selena and Hailey seemed indifferent to one another, but social media was having a field day pitting them as bitter rivals. The photos, in my opinion, were a great way to get people to shut up.
I just don't love that I wanted more. I wanted to see them shopping together and hanging out more. For some bizarre reason, I needed these two women to get along. To be friends.
We’ve made it a badge of honour to befriend a partner’s ex — like it’s a level of selflessness that makes us Relationship Mother Theresa if we achieve it. This is especially true if the ex is in their wider social circle, still friends with our partner, or is somewhat in their life (often due to a shared pet or child).
If a friendship comes naturally between us and our partner's ex-partner, that's great! But I'm done with the idea that being friends — hell, being on friendly terms with the ex — is honourable. It's not. And perpetuating the idea that it is, just makes people feel like shit if they don't manage it.
Past relationships, even the ones that end amicably, are complicated. They're fraught with tensions and unsaid words and so, so much history. Sometimes, two people can overcome all of this stuff and find friendship after a split. Even so, that doesn't necessarily mean a new partner isn't going to feel the shadow of that past relationship — regardless of whether the people who were actually in it have moved on.
That shadow can suck. It can make you feel threatened by the other person even when you know deep within yourself that it's just insecurity talking. It can painfully remind you that your partner shared a different love story with someone else. Plenty of people can get past these fleeting thoughts, but depending on the nature of the past relationship and your own disposition, you may not be able to brush that stuff off so easily. I usually can't.
This isn't really to do with Selena Gomez and Hailey Bieber. When it comes to Selena and Hailey, we definitely don’t know the complete story. We don’t know what happened between Selena and Justin Bieber, and we don’t know how Hailey feels about it.
What I do know is that it would be completely normal for either woman, or both women, to have no hate for each other while also not being interested in friendship.
It does not make you a better person if you’re friends with the ex. It does not make you a total bitch if you don’t want to be. It’s just a choice, hopefully dependent on whether you want that person in your life or not, and not based on questionable reasons like proving something, insecurity or feeling pressure from your partner to befriend them.
This is the problem, though. In my experience befriending the ex is often done for the wrong reasons. I've befriended a partner's ex because I felt threatened by them, and thought if I kept them close then I'd know if they still harboured feelings for my boyfriend. I've felt pressure to befriend the ex because they were still close (in a platonic way) to my partner. It seemed bitchy not to.
It's not. They are part of your partner’s past, and even if they play a role in their current life or future (for example, they share a baby or a pet together, they still spend time together as friends) that doesn’t mean you need to play a role in theirs. Even if they're really interested in pursuing a friendship, it doesn't make you a bad person if you aren't. Your boundaries are yours to make.
Sure, if you can be on civil terms with an ex-partner, that's ideal — especially if they are part of your partner’s life now. All of this also doesn't give anyone a free pass to be an asshole or to intentionally hurt someone else. It's not about hate.
But civil doesn’t mean you need to be friends on social media or go out to coffee, if you don’t want to. Civil just means politeness when you see each other, and not wishing anyone ill.
What’s not ideal is forcing a friendship because you feel you have to, or get moral satisfaction out of it but find yourself uncomfortable or worse, consumed with thoughts about your partner’s past.
Maybe Selena and Hailey taking a few snaps together will be the end of our obsession with their relationship. It probably won’t. But whether they grow to be besties or never speak again, that’s fine. It’s healthy either way!
What's not healthy is forcing a friendship with an ex, or pressuring people into one.