Friday 18 October 2019

Gwyneth, the ex factor and the art of co-mingling - can you really be friends with your ex's new partner?

Can you really be friends with your ex's new partner? As Gwyneth co-mingles with Chris Martin's new love, Esther Walker reveals how to do it

CONSCIOUS THROUPLING: Derek Blasberg, Gwyneth Paltrow and Dakota Johnson share a sundae — which is probably the second most surprising thing about this Instagrammed picture
CONSCIOUS THROUPLING: Derek Blasberg, Gwyneth Paltrow and Dakota Johnson share a sundae — which is probably the second most surprising thing about this Instagrammed picture

Esther Walker

leading the charge, as she does in most matters of modern living, Gwyneth Paltrow was recently pictured on Instagram at a party with Fifty Shades of Grey's Dakota Johnson.

This is interesting because, first, Johnson is the new girlfriend of Paltrow's ex-husband, Chris Martin; second, Martin was not at the party.

"Consciously throupling," read the caption written by party host and US journalist Derek Blasberg - cheekily making reference to the phrase "conscious uncoupling" that the actress used when announcing her split from Martin.

Poor Gwyneth, it will probably be on her headstone.

Full disclosure: I like Gwyneth. I like how she doesn't care what you think; how she has built her Goop business empire based on trolling the science community, sending them hysterical with rage while she rides off down a beach on a white horse, laughing, wearing a €5,000 cape made from freekeh husks. I most admire how she has created her own set of cliches to live by.

One of those cliches has become this blended family. Which we'd all love to have, by the way, if we ever got divorced, but real life so often gets in the way. Just as people who are yet to have kids say "I'll never let them watch television/eat biscuits" change their mind when they meet an actual three-year-old, most couples aiming for an amicable split descend into hissing maniacs. And your ex's new partner is a new circle of emotional torment that makes moving house and bereavement look like a walk in the park.

Yet Gwyneth won't be getting into all that negative rubbish, thank you. Her sheer bloody-mindedness that everything is going to be just totally copacetic seems to work. And co-mingling with her ex's girlfriend, without said ex present, is the next step in the masterplan.

Even if Johnson had been up for an epic catfight on social media and rival yoga videos, I bet Paltrow's trippy, New Age, crystal-powered tractor-beam smile just wouldn't allow it.

But it does raise the question: can you be friends with the new girlfriend of an ex? And, moreover, should you? I can be genuinely helpful here because one of my closest friends is my husband's ex, Melissa (who has written a book about men). Melissa and Giles were a couple for four years, but by the time we met, they had been broken up for another four. She had been married to her husband, Pete, for a year. The traumas were ancient history.

My predecessors both had a problem with Melissa so, determined to show them up, I was on a mission to be totally OK with her. And that is not my normal emotional state. In the past, I have been known to go berserk when I've found forgotten photos of exes in books or drawers. I've demanded all evidence of previous girlfriends be thrown out. But this was different. Melissa and I hit it off instantly, based on a shared love of interiors magazines and "interesting" salads. We both had our children at about the same time. Stuck in the house with babies and toddlers, we started up a sort of pen friend relationship over email.

We were soon sending each other missives with subjects such as "Delete after reading!" There were mad, sleep-deprived rants about our husbands or children, details of crazed crushes on local GPs or miracle cures for infant maladies. Giles gets on with Pete, so we've even been on holiday together. And it's handy - Melissa knows all my husband's quirks, so if I want to have a rant about him she can nod her head sagely and go "Mmm, yes" like a shrink.

But, we got lucky. I'm in no way co-mingling with Melissa on principle - it's completely selfish.

Of course, of the many differences between my friendship with Melissa and Gwyneth's with Johnson, the really crucial one is children. How anyone can navigate their husband's new relationship, with a smile on their face, where kids are involved is beyond me. Hat's off to you, Gwyneth.

'The Secret Life of Husbands' by Melissa Katsoulis is published by Little, Brown Book Group, ©Telegraph

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