You and your friend like the same person. Now what?

Jenna Birch
Contributing Writer
Yahoo Lifestyle
Hannah Jacobs for Yahoo Lifestyle
Hannah Jacobs for Yahoo Lifestyle

Friends being romantically interested in the same person? This happens far more frequently than you might expect. Over the past six months, I’ve seen two of my girl friends lose friends over an adult version of romantic rivalry. Feelings can make us do strange things, right? Well, that depends on who you ask. Some people think it’s NBD if you like the same person as a friend, and some think it’s a total friendship ruiner. There are a few different likely scenarios in which you may be interested in the same person as a friend is. Here’s how to handle those different situations and keep your friendship intact.

Situation #1: You and a friend are interested in the same person.

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In this situation, you and a friend are both into the same person, but you’re not that close to the friend in question. You can’t keep in mind the feelings of everyone in your circle of friends all the time, right? Right. Just be graceful. Make a commitment to yourself that you’ll get to know the person you like, and show interest appropriately, but you’ll also read the situation with an honest dose of realness; if the other relationship seems to be taking off faster, you can (and should) bow out gracefully.

This is the easiest situation to remedy, but there’s still likely to be some stung feelings if the romantic interest chooses you over your friend, or vice versa. The best way to deal with this is to lay low, no matter what the outcome. Act like a grown-up, don’t gossip, and try to be graceful no matter which way the romance goes.

Situation #2: You and a best friend are interested in the same person.

Here’s a scenario that’s just a little bit tougher to handle. For best friends, there are some unwritten rules. You will not go for any of your friend’s exes. If your friend makes their (genuine, not fleeting) interest in someone known, or begins to date someone casually, you will back off until they’ve had a chance to explore the potential. In any possible romantic circumstance, where you’ve been interested or dated someone, you’ll be mindful of your friend’s happiness with someone from your past (or present).

That said, there are occasions in which you may like the exact same person as your bestie at the exact same time. This can get a little dicey if you don’t talk about it, because you don’t want to inadvertently cause tension or rivalry with someone you love and would hate to lose. I’ve seen good friendships fractured for this very reason. This is where you both need to get really honest with yourselves, have a discussion, and make a mutual decision about how to proceed.

In my opinion, the best compromise is this: Whoever’s relationship with the romantic interest is farther along should explore it now; if it’s not a match, then you can bow out and give your friend a chance. If both relationships are at exactly the same stage, you should both proceed in getting to know the person better, but inform your friend right away if there are romantic developments — if things get physical or intimate, or someone asks the other out.

The name of the game is transparency.

Situation #3: You are interested in a good friend’s ex.

Where romantic flames once were hot, there’s potential for blood to boil. It’s crazy how divided people are on the subject of dating friends’ exes. Some people think exes are totally off-limits to friends. Others believe it matters how long you guys dated, and each case needs to be addressed in isolation. Yet others have no qualms about friends dating their exes. As a good friend once said to me with a shrug, “Why would I care? I just want everyone to be happy.” When she proceeded to watch a close friend date her ex, I knew the claims that she wasn’t “possessive” were entirely real.

If you don’t want to lose the friendship, then it’s your job to bring it up to your friend before anything romantic happens. If you ask permission, or “if it’s OK,” to date your friend’s ex, then remember: You should honor their wishes, whether or not they say, “Yes, it’s OK,” or “No, I’m really uncomfortable with that.” If you plan on dating the ex anyway, then don’t ask for permission; it’s hollow and disrespectful. Pose it as a statement of honesty, given out of respect for your friendship before anything progresses: “[Insert name here] and I have really hit it off, and I feel it could go somewhere. We’re going to explore the connection, but I wanted to tell you first before anything moves forward.”

In either case, you’ll know exactly how your friend reacts when you deliver the news, and you can have a clear conscience about the mature way you dealt with the situation. You’ll also have all the data you need to make the best decision, without losing a friend — you’ll know the risk of that outcome and can decide whether or not moving forward is worth it.

Jenna Birch is author of The Love Gap: A Radical Plan to Win in Life and Love (Grand Central Life & Style). Her relationship column appears on Yahoo every Monday. To ask her a question, which may appear in an upcoming post, send an email to jen.birch@sbcglobal.net with “Yahoo” in the subject line.

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