It’s the set of rules to avoid girl drama, the answer to all those tough friendship situations and the guidelines to promote respect among all women. It’s more than an MTV show and even though it’s supposed to be unspoken, we’re speaking up about it. That’s right—we’re talking about girl code.
So, why is girl code so important in the first place? According to Jessica Rozler, co-author of Friend or Frenemy?, girl code is the female twist to the Golden Rule, aka treating others as you’d want to be treated. “I think EVERYONE should treat each other with respect,” Rozler says. “It can’t hurt to have some rules to remind us of this fact. And yes—all of us need reminders from time to time.”
With this guide, collegiettes can get on the same page so we can all avoid the tears and drama we tend to cause one another. We’ve surveyed more than 40 collegiettes about boys, friends and how we treat other women overall. Get ready for the real girl code!
Rule #1: Avoid dating your friend’s ex—but if you can’t, talk to her about it.
So you’ve found yourself falling for you bestie’s ex-boyfriend. Needless to say, you’re truly between a rock and a hard place. While you can’t deny your feelings, you can’t shake the fact that you’ve shared a pint of Ben & Jerry’s with her while she cried her eyes out over him. What to do?
A whopping 75 percent of the surveyed collegiettes say that dating a best friend’s ex is completely off-limits. It’s particularly a big no-no if they dated for a long time, it ended badly or your bestie is clearly not over it.
“Personally, I wouldn’t date a friend’s serious ex,” Rolzer says. “I also wouldn’t date a guy my friend had even casually dated if it made her feel uncomfortable.”
However, the other 25 percent of surveyed collegiettes it’s okay if the guy was a casual ex-hookup. A hook-up buddy or a casual fling implies that your friend wasn’t extremely emotionally invested in the guy, so it’s more acceptable for you to go for him.
“If your friend wasn't super into the the guy and she told you that she’s completely okay with it, then I think it would be alright,” says Kathy*, a senior from Gettysburg College. “But if she still has feelings for him, I would say no.”
Regardless of their answers, 60 percent of the surveyed collegiettes emphasized talking with your friend before starting any sort of relationship with her ex.
“If it happens you like your friends' ex, don't wait to talk about it,” says Sandra*, a senior at Furman University. “In fact, your friend should be the first to know that you may even have the smallest feelings towards him. Putting it off could ruin the friendship.”
Bottom line: tread lightly with dating ex-boyfriends. The best scenario is to eliminate that possibility completely, but if you really feel strongly about him, talk to your friend first. You never want to make your bestie feel uncomfortable or hurt by your decision.
Rule #2: If it’s your ex your friend is crushing on, be honest to your friend about your feelings for him.
What if the roles are reversed and your bestie has fallen for your ex? You really can’t picture your ex with anyone else (you were a pretty awesome girlfriend, after all), and it might be really weird to think that his “someone new” might be your best friend. Do you prohibit your friend from dating him or give her your blessing?
“Feelings are feelings,” says Lauren*, a junior at the University of Virginia. “Don't go banning your ex from people, because it'll just make you look and feel immature.”
That being said, be honest with your friend (and yourself) about your feelings toward your ex. Regardless if you’re over him or not, be honest about how you would feel if she dated him. Don’t give your bestie the go-ahead if you know it’s going to hurt your feelings or jeopardize your friendship.
“Just be honest about how you feel and don't do anything rash that could ruin a really good friendship,” Lauren says. “Over him or not, it still might be weird for your friend to date your ex, and that's expected. But don't act like it's all going to be okay unless you are actually okay with it.”
Give your friend props for talking to you first and have an honest conversation with her. At the end of day, you both just want each other to be happy. With an open conversation, you can reach a solution that you’re both comfortable with.
Rule #3: It’s sisters before misters; don’t let a guy get between you and a friend.
It’s the classic tale of two girls liking the same guy. He’s cute, smart and athletic… how could either of you resist? Even though it might be hard to get over his amazing blue eyes or adorable smile, 59 percent of surveyed collegiettes say it’s best for both of you to back off.
“If both [of] you like the same guy, he should be off-limits to both of you,” says Amanda*, a recent grad from Villanova University. “It will end badly, and no friendship is worth ruining over a boy.”
Things could become a little more complicated if the guy is clearly into one of you over the other, in which case, you should be honest with each other about it. “If you and your friend respect each other enough and care about the friendship enough, you would have an honest conversation about it,” Kathy says. “Either way, you shouldn't let it get in the way of your friendship.”
Ultimately, no guy is worth ruining a friendship over (100 percent of the surveyed collegiettes agreed on that!). You’re better off choosing friendship instead of a guy, because, at the end of the day, there are other fish in the sea, and you’re going to want your bestie there to help you catch one.
Rule #4: Always tell your friend if her boyfriend is a cheater.
So you saw your bestie’s SO locking lips with another girl last night. Even though it will probably break her heart, 89 percent of surveyed collegiettes say that you should tell her immediately—no exceptions.
“I would tell her ASAP,” says Michelle, a sophomore from Rutgers University. “If her boyfriend finds out I ratted him out, I wouldn’t care because she deserves better.”
Your bestie’s boyfriend is clearly disrespecting her by being unfaithful. It’s your duty as a friend to keep her best interests in mind and then support her through the aftermath. “I would tell my friend immediately and support her decision,” says Kelsey, a senior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “Then just be there to listen and take her mind off it when she’s ready.”
If you’re friends with the boyfriend, this situation could get a lot more awkward. That’s when 11 percent of surveyed collegiettes say you should approach him and give him a chance to explain himself to your friend before you say anything to her.
“Give him a chance to tell her,” Sandra says. “By doing this, you stay out of a messy situation. But if he doesn't follow through, tell her. You would want to know if you were in her shoes.”
It’s a tough situation, but your friend would feel extremely betrayed if she found out you knew her SO cheated and you didn’t speak up. However she decides to handle the situation is her choice, but she will appreciate the fact that you have her back!
Rule #5: Little white lies are okay, but honesty is the best policy.
Your friend just got her hair cut in a bob (it’s not her best look), and you smile and tell her that it’s different and chic. Or when she asks you if you thought the exam you just took was super unfair (it wasn’t, she just didn’t study as much as she should have), you immediately agree and comfort her about her C. Even though our mothers told us that we should never tell a lie, we find ourselves harmlessly fibbing to our friends from time to time. “I would be lying if I said that we should never, ever lie!” Rolzer says. “I think we all tell little lies to spare the feelings of people we really care about.”
While these little white lies are okay when you’re keeping your friend’s best interests in mind, 67 percent of surveyed collegiettes say that honesty is the best policy. “There’s really no reason to lie,” says Cassidy, a junior at Tulane University. “Things are always better when people are honest.”
Forty-seven percent also specifically say you should never lie to a friend about important stuff. Be real about how you feel if she likes your ex (see rule #2), if that $150 dress she’s about to buy is actually flattering (be gentle) or when you’re angry or upset with her (don’t say you aren’t when you actually are).
You trust your friends to be honest with you about the things that matter most. While you might fib that her homemade lasagna is to diiiiie for (you’re not the biggest fan), keep it real when it comes to the important things.
Rule #6: Help a girl out and tell her she has spinach in her teeth.
Most of the time, we walk around like we’re ***Flawless (#bowdown). But even if we woke up like this, sometimes our appearances are less than perfect. We’re talking smudged makeup, spinach in our teeth and toilet paper on our shoes; those annoying things that we realize once we look in the mirror after hours of being in public. Don’t you wish someone had just told you?
Part of girl code is helping other women out, which means saving them some embarrassment. While it might be awkward to tell a complete stranger that her lipstick is smudged, 77 percent of surveyed collegiettes say they would want to know. “Of course I would tell her!” says Kacey*, a sophomore from Saint Joseph’s University. “Nicely and discretely, of course. I’d want someone else to do that for me.”
It doesn’t matter if it’s the girl you occasionally see in calc class or if it’s your best friend; just let her know. If you’re at dinner, discretely motion wiping off your mouth if there’s something on her face, or quietly tell a stranger in the bathroom that there’s a run in her tights. It might be embarrassing for her in the moment, but just think how you would feel if you didn’t know you had a rip in your skirt or raccoon eyes all day!
Rule #7: Don’t be catty; no one likes a trash-talker.
Girls get the rep of being catty and fake behind their friends’ backs. While we don’t like to admit it, we’re all a little guilty of gossiping. However, there’s a difference between venting and malicious trash-talking.
When you’re in college, you see your friends all. The. Time. While most of the time it’s great, their dirty dishes in the sink and their consistent tardiness can occasionally get on your nerves.
“Everyone needs to vent,” says Rachel*, a senior at New York University. “I love my friends to death, but there are times they get on my nerves and I just need to rant a little.”
However, venting turns into trash-talking when you insult your friend’s behavior or personality, accuse her of things that may not be true or act nice to her in person and secretly diss her behind her back. “It's NOT okay to completely insult your friends behind their back,” Rachel says. “If you realize you’re saying hurtful things to the point you shouldn’t be considered friends, that’s not cool.”
Most girls like to talk through their problems and get advice from others. If you’re expressing your feelings about one of your friends, try not to vent to someone she’s also friends with, because that just causes more problems. Instead, talk to your mom or maybe a sibling; pick a neutral source so you don’t cause any more conflict.
Hear someone else trash-talking your bestie? Most collegiettes say to either try to change the subject or defend your friend in a calm way. “If I don’t agree with someone, I say why I disagree nicely,” Michelle says. “You don’t want it to blow up into an argument that could lead to more trash-talking.”
Of course our friends get on our nerves, but it’s better to avoid talking behind their backs. If there’s something really bothering you, it’s better to just confront your friend directly about it without getting others involved.
Rule #8: It’s really not cool to call her a slut.
“Slut-shaming” is making derogatory remarks about a woman’s sexual behavior. Have you ever thought, “Oh, wow—what is she wearing?” when you see a girl scantily dressed at a party? Or quietly whispered about a collegiette doing “the walk of shame” across campus? You may not realize it, but what you’re doing is slut-shaming.
“Slut-shaming, in my opinion, is our least attractive quality as women,” says Sarah, a senior at Pennsylvania State University. “For every time we’ve looked at a girl and judged her with no means to back it up, just think of all the times someone else has probably done that to us.”
Labeling another female a “slut” or a “whore” is simply disrespectful. We all want to be respected no matter what, and that respect should start woman-to-woman. “Keep your judgments to yourself,” Rolzer says. “It's bad enough when men do this, but it's especially terrible when women do it. It perpetuates this stereotype that women are catty and can't get along.”
Instead of mentally chastising a girl in a tight miniskirt, give her props for having the confidence to rock it. If you hear a rumor about what so-and-so did with a guy the other night, avoid the negative labels, because it doesn’t really affect you at all. It’s every woman’s choice to act or dress however she’d like; it’s not really your business or your place to judge them.
As females, we owe it to one another to support and respect one another’s decisions. “Women should be building each other up, not putting them down,” Sarah says. “In the end, slut-shaming makes us look ugly and mean, and that’s never a good look for anyone.”
Rule #9: Look out for one another, especially when alcohol is involved.
More often than not, you can see a handful of girls who are just a little too drunk at a party. While everyone has the right to their cocktails and tequila shots, every high-school health class taught us that too much alcohol doesn’t lead to smart decisions.
“NEVER abandon a friend that you go to a party with,” says Heather*, a junior at Yale University. “I don’t think it’s even okay to leave a party and go to a different one without the girl you came with. If you go out together, you stay together!”
While most of us have our friends’ backs (and will take care of them if they drink too much), keep an eye out for other girls at a party, even if you don’t know them. “We should look out for other girls, whether they’re friends or strangers,” says Kaela, a junior at Clemson University. “Being drunk can make you more vulnerable. If we take it upon ourselves to look out for each other when we’re out, there might be one less drunk girl taken advantage of.”
Ask your friend if she wants some water if she can’t keep her balance, approach a girl who’s leaving with a guy to ask if she’s okay or pull your friend down from the bar when she starts dancing a little too crazily. You can prevent a girl from making a decision she might regret or save her some embarrassment. Everyone wants to have a good time, and looking out for others can ensure that the night doesn’t end badly for anyone.
Whether it’s figuring out a boy dilemma or avoiding a fight with your besties, knowing the basic guidelines of girl code can help you navigate any situation. The basic idea of girl code is to treat others like you would want to be treated. Keep this in mind so you can avoid the drama and strengthen your friendships with other women!
*Names have been changed.