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Vogue Etiquette: Esther Perel and Eileen Kelly Want You to Rewrite the Rules of Love

Kelly: I think you can absolutely date someone your friend dated—with their permission. You don’t want to start on the foot of dishonesty—hooking up with a person and hiding it from your friend. But I think everyone has certain exes that are off-limits and respecting that is important. I would say I have one or two ex-boyfriends where, if any of my friends hooked up with them, I would be like, “Okay, you’re not my friend.”

Can you ever tell a friend you don’t like their partner?

Perel: This is Dan Ariely’s work: When friends say, “We knew, we saw, we felt,” and nobody actually says anything. That person says, “Why didn’t you say?” It’s not unwise to listen to our friends.

Kelly: If you don’t like someone’s partner, a lot of the time, it’s not worth saying anything. If they treat them badly; if they’re abusive; if they’re cheating on them, that’s when you can bring it up to your friend or disclose. But if it’s just that you don’t like their personality—which, we’ve all been there—is it really worth it if they treat your friend well and your friend is happy?

Can you give your friends unsolicited dating advice?

Perel: If you’re like me, you do. But I’ll say, “Can I tell you what I think? Because you know, it’s not my place. But at the same time, I can’t just watch this.” I have two sons who are dating, so I have practiced this—it’s the mother’s role. I have to practice the unsolicited dating advice and the solicited!

Kelly: I think that’s a part of friendship. You’re kind of in it together, especially when you’re single at the same time. Sometimes, you need someone to hold a mirror up to you. I mean, I know best, so they should listen to me—just kidding!

On Uncoupling

Is there a polite way to break up with your partner?

Perel: Yes, there are ways to break up that are kind and that are amicable and that recognize that people have come to a crossroads, where both people wish each other well. But it’s not the most common, partly because we have this notion that lasting means good and breaking up is a failure, which I think is a mistake. That’s a short answer to a big question.

Kelly: In person, and giving them the reason why. Everyone needs closure. The worst thing you could do to someone is not give them a reason; our minds are always going to go to the worst-case scenario. That’s why I don’t respect people who ghost—you’re putting that person through much more chaos internally than if you had just ended things. They’ll think: Am I bad in bed? Am I not pretty enough? Did I say something stupid on our last date that turned him off? You have a conversation. In person. That’s my hard rule.

How do you define conscious uncoupling?

Perel: Even when you consciously uncouple, even when it’s mutual, it’s about loss and the breaking up of a relationship. Uncoupling is a loss. It’s grief. It’s unfulfilled wishes. It’s unmet needs. It’s dreams that won’t materialize. And it’s gratitude for what one had and acknowledgment of what each brought and how much people gave and enriched each other’s lives. It’s accountability for what you did and what you didn’t do, and the responsibility you take in the ending of a relationship.

Kelly: In the way that Gwyneth Paltrow meant, the terminology was that they had this invisible string of having children together. It’s very different than if, let’s say, you’ve never lived together or you’re not tied together financially. I think that it’s easier to consciously uncouple if you have a reason to stay in each other’s lives.

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