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A reader writes: I was friends with a couple in high school, though always closer with the guy. We went to the same university, but the couple broke up in second year. It's now five years later and I am still friends with both. Recently my guy friend expressed interest in being in a relationship with me. I was hesitant, knowing the "girl code of ethics" states you never date a friend's ex. But I decided to go for it. What is the etiquette for telling the girl (who, by the way, is living with a new boyfriend)?

Don't make it a big deal

Your female friend has moved on. If your male friend wants to move on with you, so be it. Change your Facebook status and let the chips fall. But I suspect you fear drama. If your female friend's the kind of woman who's always looking for a fresh drama storm, casually work it into a conversation in person first. Keep it low-key. Making a big deal out of telling her sets the new relationship up as something that deserves a big reaction.

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Miranda Williams, Toronto

What's stopping you?

Your girlfriend is living with another guy and you think you have a future with her cast-off boyfriend? What's stopping you? I am a firm believer in not messing around with any man who is with someone else, but this guy used to be with someone else five years ago. Unless you are close friends with this girl, then don't even ask her about him, just accept his invitation with an eager heart and see what he's about.

Patricia MacDonald, North Bay, Ont.

Don't lose two friends

Weigh your options carefully. On one hand, you're already long-time friends with him - always a plus. But wait! How many times have I decided it was okay to have a "relationship" with a good friend and had it work out or, if not, we stayed friends afterwards? Zero. The second consideration is the feelings of your girlfriend. Sure, she's with someone else, but she may still feel betrayed. You don't want to lose two friends just to have a possible relationship with one. Personally, I would say forget it.

Wendi Galczik, Ladysmith, B.C.

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The Last Word

I want you to know that I have spent several hours now scanning the back issues of Tiger Beat magazine, and as far as I can determine there has never been a standardized "Girl Code of Ethics" that experts have been able to agree upon.

If there were, it would consist of rules such as "Do not make mention of feminine sanitary products while your brothers are eating for the sheer sadistic joy of it" or "Recognize that your father's 'stepped on a duck' joke will not be greeted with the same degree of merriment coming from you as it did from him." It can be damn hard to be a girl sometimes. But not in this case.

I write to you as someone who has been in violation of your "friend's ex = off-limits" rule for a few years now. Not just because I feel there are no rules out there that apply to me when it comes to my Rambo-like, target-acquired approach to courtship. But mostly because everyone involved is an adult capable of understanding that human beings are not cattle-no matter how scarred you might end up from the prodding of a former romantic partner's branding iron, those marks don't make you theirs for life. Your friend has relinquished any emotional claim she might have had on this guy five years ago. As Patty says, what's stopping you?

Miranda's wise to advise not making a big deal out of this new development to your female friend. As a wise woman once said, "You don't want no drama." Even if your friend does feels a twinge of betrayal at this new relationship (and it would only be natural if she did), any reasonable person will recognize she doesn't have a leg to stand on and will, ultimately, wish you two the best.

But wait, cautions Wendi. Maybe she won't! And what if this thing with your guy friend doesn't even work out? Then you will have lost two friends, all because of your selfish need to love and be loved in return.

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I guess we all have our own personal Girl Codes of Ethics, and I'm assuming Wendi's involves a lot of hand-washing and meticulous covering of public toilet seats with paper. But mine says go for it.

Next week's question

A reader writes: Six months ago, I got out of a relationship because he was emotionally abusive to me. Everyone was supportive at first, but my sister has been talking to him and spending time with him, even though I have expressed my dislike.

She claims she only does it so that her son and his son (from a relationship before me) can spend time together. She keeps telling me she will stop, but doesn't. She doesn't seem to understand how much it hurts me to see them spending time together, even though I tell her it does. In the three years I was in the relationship neither of them liked each other and were constantly telling me how much they disliked one another.

Am I being selfish for not wanting my sister to spend time with him, or am I in the right? Part of me wants to shut her out of my life, but if I did that I would lose my nephew.

Do you have an answer to this question, or your own dilemma? Weigh in at grouptherapy@globeandmail.com and include your full name and hometown. (We will not print your name if we publish your personal dilemma.)

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Lynn Coady is the award-winning author of the novels Strange Heaven and Mean Boy, with another one currently in the oven.

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