If Hell had a tenth circle, it would probably involve being caught in a continuous loop of running into your ex. No, not the one you still hook up with pretty much every weekend, and not the one with whom you’re on such solid, healthy terms that you’re planning on giving toasts at each other’s weddings. We’re talking about that one ex, the one you never got over, the one who never gave you closure, the thought of whom gives you sweaty palms and an irresistible urge to jump out the nearest window. You know: the one you live in fear of bumping into when you’re out and about.
So what do you do when it actually happens in real life for once instead of in your nightmares? Don’t worry, there’s no need to change your name and flee the country—you can handle this. If avoiding them isn’t an option, or if you’ve already accidentally made eye contact, just follow these steps:
1. Don’t forget to breathe. Literally I can see you holding your breath right now—stop that and take a long, deep inhale. Now a slow, controlled exhale. Good. Take another deep breath. You’re not having a heart attack, and you’re gonna be fine.
2. Be polite—no more, no less. Don’t pretend to be your ex’s biggest fan, and don’t try to use this surprise encounter as an opportunity to expose their terrible true nature. Anyone who’s met you already knows your ex is, at best, an idiot—after all, they let you get away! Keep things exactly as polite as they need to be, and it’ll be far easier to disengage afterwards.
3. Keep it shallow. Look, if you want to have a big, tearful confrontation with your ex right now, be my guest. It may be cathartic, or it may ruin your week—who can say! But if what you want is to get through this as quickly and painlessly as possible, avoid the temptation to either brag about your life or fish for information about theirs. Save yourself the headache and stick to small talk.
4. Disengage ASAP. Don’t let things get awkward or fraught—after you’ve said your necessary hellos and how-are-yous, cut to “It was great to run into you!” and keep moving. If your ex tries to lure you into deeper conversation, say something noncommittal and end the encounter immediately. The easiest way to survive the encounter is to keep it short and sweet (or, okay, minimally sour).
Voila—you just survived the most terrifying event known to humankind! See, I toldja you could do it. Go forth and enjoy the best reward of all: the privilege of moving on with your life.