Why do you have to break up with your friends' exes?

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Hannah-Rose Yee
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Karlie Kloss and Harry Styles are hanging out. Should that really be that big of a deal? 

My friends are a ragtag, ramshackle bunch.

Mostly, they’re the situational mates that you pick up by sheer virtue of all being in the same place at the same time. School friends. University friends. Friends whose mothers were giving birth at the same time as your mother, so you’re not only the same star sign but you were born in adjoining hospital beds, an anecdote that is relayed every time your parents see each other in the supermarket aisles in the city in which you grew up.

They’re all very different people. But what unites them in the great venn diagram of our existence is not only having me at the centre – I promise I’m not that self-obsessed! – but that they all have excellent taste in partners.

I’m not surprised. On the whole, my friends are excellent people. They are bright, bold, brilliant women with bright, bold, brilliant lives. When a man or a woman comes into their orbit it’s because they are as fantastic as they are. And when they leave it’s – mostly – not because of some Love Island levels of melodrama or bed hopping, but because things just fell apart. There’s no good guy and no bad guy. Just two people who loved each other until they didn’t. 

When your friends are this brilliant, it’s no surprise their exes are pretty great, too. 

But maybe I am more self-obsessed than I claim, because whenever my friends break up with their partners there’s a little part of me that wants to slump on a sofa, toss back my head and moan: What about me?

I wonder if Karlie Kloss feels the same. Yesterday, the supermodel (and soon-to-be sister-in-law of Ivanka Trump, yikes) was pictured dining on designer Diane von Furstenberg’s yacht somewhere off the coast of Sicily with Harry Styles, according to E!

If you can remember your scripture correctly, you’ll remember that Kloss and Styles quite probably know each other from before this maritime adventure. Back in November 2012 Styles and Taylor Swift dated for a rollicking rollercoaster of three months, ending their relationship in January 2013. The brief dalliance resulted in at least two, possibly three, hit singles and screeds and screeds of gossip columns. 

Swift’s longterm best friend is Kloss.

Taylor Swift and Harry Styles in Central Park

Taylor Swift and Harry Styles dated for a few months back in 2012. 

Prevailing wisdom suggests that when your friend and their partner ends their relationship, your relationship with their ex ends too. As they begin to disentangle from each other you agree subconsciously to stay on their side of the sticky tape dividing all the rooms of their lives. She gets you in the separation. He gets all his ‘70s Hong Kong martial arts movies and that one crusty fry pan he’s been carting around since uni.

But why does it have to be like that? Styles and Swift only dated for a few months, but some of my friends were with their exes for years, decades, even. That means that their exes were in my life for years – decades – too. 

They came to every birthday party, every boozy Sunday afternoon at the beach, every housewarming blow out and every first job celebration. They brandished gifts at every engagement party and wedding and even gallantly took part in a few baby shower games. Sadly, they were there at some funerals, too.

With the exception of one friend of mine, whose breakup with her ex of almost nine years was nothing short of nuclear – we still obliquely refer to him as ‘dickface’ to this day and I would never want to be friends with him – most of my friends have gone through relatively simple, sad separations, borne of changing lives and changing personalities. I loved all those exes like I love my friends, and I wish I didn’t have to give them up. 

My friend Rachel has managed to stay friends with both Tessa and Harry, friends of ours who split five years ago. “When they were together I obviously wasn’t anticipating that they would break up and I became genuine friends with this guy,” she tells me. She waited three weeks after they parted before sending him a text. That led to a phone call and then a few drinks at the pub the next time he was in town. Over the intervening four years they’ve caught up every few months. “I didn’t break up with him, so why should I not be friends with him?” Rachel says.

On the whole, Tessa has understood Rachel’s urge to stay in Harry’s life and relishes the ability to check up on him through her. (Only once, when Rachel hosted a Christmas party, was there tension. After initially wanting to invite both of them, she checked with Tessa and was told that it would be awkward to have Harry there. So he was ditched. Again. “Totally her prerogative,” Rachel says.)

I’ve never been able to stay friends with a friends’ ex. It felt like a line I couldn’t cross, even when I wanted to.

I remember running into Adam, a high school friend’s wonderful ex from our early 20s, at a train station a few years ago. We did a quick, 25-words-or-less rundown of our lives and marvelled at how all the things we dreamt of when we knew each other back then – me being a writer, him travelling the world – came true.

I didn’t worry too much about whether my friend would disown me for talking to him, and I hope Kloss felt the same, clapping eyes on Styles over spaghetti vongole and Prosecco or whatever it is that people eat on yachts bobbing about in the Mediterranean. I just wanted to reconnect with someone I hadn’t seen in almost a decade. That’s what friends do, right? 

Images: Instagram, Getty