Why no matter what your age, it’s never ok to break the girl code

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  • The Crown's Gillian Anderson is said to be 'bemused' after her ex 'moves in' with her friend, Jemima Khan. Best-selling author, Daisy Buchanan, recalls why it's hard struggling with those complicated feelings...

    You have no claim on him. You’re not with him any more. It’s complicated, I told myself. And surely she wouldn’t do this if she didn’t have to. And maybe it’s love. Maybe, one day, we’ll all look back at this and laugh, and I’ll dance at their wedding. My brain told me I was being a baby. Yet, my heart ached, all the same. Yes, breaking the girl code has repercussions on both sides.

    Friendship does not have rules or laws, but it’s broadly accepted that friends don’t pursue each other’s exes. Even if a relationship ended peaceably, it leads to a weird warping of intimacy – a strange overlapping, in which two of your closest confidants are in a position to compare notes. If things ended badly, you feel betrayed twice over. Your friend, the person who is supposed to help you to unpick your problems starts to seem like the source of your pain. It’s a shattering double loss.

    I cannot presume to know what Gillian Anderson is feeling, following the news that her ex and creator of The Crown, Peter Morgan, is now dating her friend Jemima Khan. I hope she feels that everyone has behaved maturely, and respectfully. But having been in that position, I wonder whether she is struggling, as I did. In my twenties, I wanted to believe I was too mature to demand that the ‘girl code’ be observed. Looking back, I wish I’d been much gentler with myself, and allowed myself the room to be upset. I suspect that it still stings when you’re in your fifties, as Anderson is.

    Breaking the girl code and exes

    Anyone with a Facebook account knows that if you’re in the wrong mood, seeing your teenage crush posting about their partner can bring you down – even if you kissed them once, in 1995, at a youth club disco. Exes are tricky, and the baggage that comes with them can be hard to handle when you have little contact with them. When a friend brings your ex back into the circle, the situation becomes at best, claustrophobic, and at worst, too painful to bear. For me, it was humiliating. At a time when I needed support and connection, I found it easier to isolate myself than to be open about my feelings.

    Breaking the girl code

    Gillian and her ex and The Crown creator, Peter Morgan, split ‘amicably’ in December 2020 after four years together

    Ultimately, the trouble with the girl code is that it’s a sexist double standard. We claim that only a bad feminist would choose her friend’s ex over her friend. However, we must remember that it’s definitely bad feminism to blame a girlfriend for the anguish caused by an ex boyfriend. Yes, friends don’t date friends’ exes, but if you’re involved with a man who is prepared to break your heart while staying so close to home, I’m willing to bet that yours won’t be the last unhappy love affair in the chain.

    The truth of the girl code is that when it’s broken, it spells doom for everyone. If your ex is willing to watch their new love losing an old friend over them, they probably don’t care enough about her, either. It doesn’t matter whether you’re fifteen, or fifty – it’s much easier to find a new person to date than a new, true friend.

    * Daisy Buchanan’s new novel Insatiable: A Love Story For Greedy Girls is out on February 11 and available to preorder now

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