Traveling home for the holidays becomes a whole thing as you grow older.
You've had the time to reinvent yourself, get rid of your acne, dye your hair platinum and indulge in all of your real interests (you know, the ones you couldn't do when you were young because you lived in a very rural town with only corn mazes to entertain you... right? Anyone else?).
And yet, returning home can bring up all of your old, suppressed memories, crazy relatives and — if you're really unlucky — the chance of running into your ex.
There you are, just walking into your hometown iHop to order your favorite Bacon & Pancake Sampler, when in walks your handsome AF high school ex, Aaron, with his new wife and beautiful baby strapped to his chest like he's winning some New Dad of The Year Award.
It's like, WE GET IT AARON YOU HAVE GREAT GENES AND JAW STRUCTURE.
You can sit there, stunned, with memories of how he once finger-banged you at Claire's step dad's house clogging any other constructive thought in your head.
Or, you can survive this run-in like a champ. Here's how:
Step 1: Don't panic.
Actually, this rules applies to any run-in with any ex at any time, anywhere. Seriously, panicking will make you sweaty, and the whole idea here is to act cool.
Take a deep breath and remember that it didn't work out with this person for a reason: You were either bad for them, they were bad for you or your lives didn't fit together in a way that made you happy.
Remind yourself why it didn't work out, and be thankful that piece-of-shit time in your life is over. Good for you.
If you find you can't help but panic, quickly bend down and tie your shoe.
It gives you something to do with your hands, helps you break eye contact, and if you're lucky, they might walk right past you... you weirdo.
Step 2: Try to take the high road (UGH, WE KNOW).
It's a hard lesson to learn, but there's something really satisfying about being the bigger person. So it might be incredibly liberating to look your ex in the eye and say "Hello."
It shows confidence, maturity and control. And, if you were in a particularly volatile and toxic relationship, it's also usually the way to "win" the breakup.
By not falling back into dramatic or combative behavior, it shows your ex you really are over them and you don't care enough to keep the fight or tension up.
If you just can't take the high road, remember: TIE YOUR SHOES.
Step 3: If you absolutely MUST yell at them, honestly, make it good.
Look, sometimes exes just deserve it: Maybe this person is an actual miserable jerk who ruined your life, or maybe they're an entitled, delusional prick who has never heard "no" before.
Or, maybe they were and still are just flat-out mean.
In this case — and only in this case — it's OK to go off on them and hand them the good verbal ass-whooping that's been coming to them.
But if you do decide to unleash your wrath, make sure you know what you want to say FIRST. Nothing is worse than coming up with a great comeback years after a fight and never having the chance to use it — this is your chance.
A good way to do this is to imagine yourself as an actor in an action movie and think about what you would want your famous line to be.
Nobody ever won an Oscar for "... and, like, anyway, no, YOU'RE an idiot! I mean loser. I mean idiot!"
Focus, damn it, and make it good.
Step 4: Put on your best "It's the holidays" game face.
If you see your ex and he/she is looking amazing, married, in love and over you, consider this a cold, hard life lesson, and just be thankful there's no weird, lingering gray area to wallow in.
There's something very freeing about a finite end to a relationship, and if you can do your best to muster a smile, we say go for it.
However, if all you can do is burst into tears, then maybe also say, "Oh, it's just the holidays, and my heart is so full of joy, I just have to let it out." (Warning: This theory is still in the beta phases.)
On the flip side, if your ex is single and — gasp — still in love with you and can't move on after you've said no, well congratulations.
You're the Joan Harris of your own life.
Do your best to be cordial, keep your distance, and if you can find a way to work it in, go for a slow-mo hair flip as you walk by.
You only get so many chances for a truly poignant hair flip in life, and seeing your ex who's still obsessed with you is definitely one of those times.
Honestly though, we're all just people at the end of the day who are hoping to get a memory foam pillow for Christmas. Know what I mean?
So keep your chin up, enjoy the season, and remember, you can always, always tie your shoes.