Girl Code: Is it ever okay to get with a friend’s ex?
Is it ever okay to get with a friend's ex-partner? That's the question on everyone's lips this week after Ant McPartlin paired off with his personal assistant who, it transpires, was a friend of his estranged wife, Lisa Armstrong.
Relations have been acrimonious between the former couple since they announced their split in January. They are now said to be at loggerheads after Ant's new relationship with Anne-Marie Corbett came to light.
The latest twist in the tale was revealed on Twitter when Celebrity Big Brother star Nicola McLean sent Lisa a sympathetic message. "Thanks babe," she replied. "And to think she was MY friend!"
Lisa shared more details while in conversation with another follower: "Yeah My Friend and OUR PA who I let into OUR home," she responded.
"So much for the girl code," chimed another follower. "Exactly!" replied Lisa.
It didn't take long for the wagons to circle around. Loose Women presenter Coleen Nolan described it as a "real betrayal" and "a violation of the girl code", before sharing her experience of a similar scenario.
"One of my sisters once dated my ex," she said. "It was really upsetting. Your friend should be there as a shoulder to cry on when a relationship ends - not to date your ex."
She's right. A true friend - or in Coleen's case, a loyal sister - should do her very best to abide by the Girl Code, the first rule of which is not to date your friend's ex.
But what if she's not a true friend? What if she's a vague acquaintance, a distant relative or, I don't know, the person you have employed to collect your dry-cleaning?
Anne-Marie was hired as the couple's personal assistant, which Lisa made explicitly clear in her Daily Mail-worthy tweet.
In other words, she was employed by the couple to book flights, call restaurants and walk the dogs. Sure, the PA can become a confidante, a cheerleader and a mediator, but they are always a subordinate - and a strict one at that.
There is no doubt that Lisa and Anne-Marie built up emotional intimacy - that's the nature of the PA role - but it's hard to forge an authentic friendship with a person who has the power to fire you.
We may never know the depth or history of Lisa and Anne-Marie's friendship. What we do know, however, is that the Girl Code - and indeed the Bro Code - can be manipulated to fit the most convenient narrative.
Nobody wants to admit to good old-fashioned jealousy when a former partner moves on. It's better to sublimate the green-eyed monster with noble-sounding claims about honour, loyalty and respect - even if there was no real friendship there in the first place.
Granted, it might feel like a betrayal when a former partner falls into the arms of somebody you're friends with on Facebook or - perish the thought - somebody you once clinked glasses with at a hen party. But is this really a violation of the Girl Code? Or is it something much more primal?
The truth is that we all have different interpretations of the Girl Code. Some women treat it as an unequivocal law that traces back to Irish College. This group don't seem to grasp the irony of citing a for-women-by-women code of conduct in one breath while perpetuating the 'brazen interloping seductress' trope in the other.
Other women allow for certain provisions and statutes of limitation. You will find that this group have a slightly more realistic view of how the world works. They don't harbour fantastical notions about meeting The One on a cobblestone street in Paris because they have made peace with the mundanity of the proximity principle.
Like it or not, proximity is one of the most important factors in finding love. Sure, it would be wonderful to be seated beside The One on an airplane winging its way to Central America, but the reality is that we are much more likely to meet people through our existing social circles.
The proximity principle means we don't need seven degrees of separation to find somebody in our social circle that our current partner has dated, while the location settings of dating apps makes the Venn diagram even more convoluted. Haven't we all heard stories about friends and flatmates striking up a connection with the same person on Tinder?
This duplicitous carry-on eventually leads to online dating fatigue - which is where the proximity principle really comes into play. There are a growing number of single people who no longer want to take a punt on strangers. They don't want to meet married men masquerading as single gadabouts or con artists masquerading as unusually forward - and suspiciously beautiful - twenty-something vixens. Disappointed and disenchanted, they want the implicit background check that a mutual friend provides.
In rarer cases - and this part can be hard to hear, let alone understand - people simply fall in love. It's uncomfortable and it's inconvenient, but for heaven's sake, why deprive two people of a chance at happiness just because you can't move on?
Lisa Armstrong is hurt and heartbroken but she should know that the proximity principle prevails in the goldfish bowl of celebrity culture. And sometimes love knows no bounds.