One might say your fight or flight response has set in: Your heart rate is up, your stomach is churning, and your eyes are suddenly darting around your environment for places to hide. Yup, you’ve spotted your ex. Now what? How are you supposed to act — especially when you still have unresolved feelings or fresh wounds? Many of us have wondered how to gracefully run into an ex at some point, and while it may feel pretty darn challenging to stay poised, it's not impossible.
Whether you dated for three years and broke up a month ago, or dated for three months and broke up a year ago, these run-ins can feel anywhere from a tad awk to downright excruciating. In fact, a 2010 study in the Journal of Neurophysiology showed that people experience greater activity in the part of the brain that registers physical pain when simply shown photos of their exes. Seeing someone you used to share a close bond with may be uncomfortable, but here’s the good news: according to Chelsea Leigh Trescott, breakup coach and podcast host of “Thank You Heartbreak,” you can actually come out of these scenarios unscathed — and better yet, with your dignity intact.
There are two kinds of ex run-ins: The ones in which you make eye contact from 10 feet away and have absolutely no choice but to make conversation and the ones in which you spot them from afar and have to quickly make a choice about whether to acknowledge them.
It can be challenging to figure out what to do in the latter situation, and obviously, it will mostly come down to your comfort level. If you feel like it’s too painful for you to have any sort of interaction, keep it moving. While you don’t want to chase them down, Trescott suggests bravely finding your way over to them if they’re within your sight and you’re confident you can emotionally handle an encounter.
“Be the person who has nothing to hide and has no reason to hide,” she says. “If you do nothing, there’s a good chance you’re both being at the same place, at the same time, will come up later in conversation between mutual friends and a story of avoidance and you not being ‘over it’ will come out of it. Swallow your pride and acknowledge them. It may make you feel uneasy but, inevitably, the act will leave you feeling proud.”
Now that you’ve made the (oh so mature) decision to face your ex (bravo!), it’s time to hone in on how you’ll behave during this interaction. Trescott suggests that the best way to approach this run-in is by tapping into a different kind of energy.
“If you’ve ever walked by someone on the street and seen them alone and smiling, you’ve probably felt amused, even inspired, wondering what's so effortlessly lighting up their world,” she tells Elite Daily. “The truth is, many of us want to be the person who is glowing for no apparent reason. When running into an ex, channel this same sort of energy and grace. Ask yourself, how can I embody that quiet and even mysterious ease? Aim for an independent air that feels like you are present to their world yet slightly removed.”
While it might be tempting to throw your happiness and success in your ex’s face (“My fiance and I just got back from Barcelona, NBD,” etc.), Trescott says that one of the most common missteps people make in these situations. Instead, she advises approaching your ex as if you have absolutely no history and nothing to prove to them about having moved on or having a better quality of life now.
“Focus on two main qualities: sincerity and strength,” she says. “How can you rise about the drama that took the two of you down, and communicate with this person as if you don’t recall their shortcomings or their highlight reel? By investing your energy in the present moment and in hovering above the situation, it will come across like you have forgotten the power that your ex had over you, and this will be a powerful takeaway for your ex.”
It’s totally normal and understandable to feel nervous during an interaction with your ex, but Trescott warns against giving in to this kind of energy too much.
“Don’t start looking around the room or fumbling for your phone thirsty for distractions,” she explains. “Rather than focusing on yourself and what you’re up to, ask them about themselves and, if possible, ask future-focused questions. This will lessen the tension or the chance that nostalgic feelings will be provoked.”
Keep in mind that breakups are messy, so it makes sense that these run-ins with someone from your romantic past may be as well. In other words, if it doesn’t go swimmingly, don’t be hard on yourself.
“Ultimately, whether the experience goes swimmingly or is an utter disaster, both of you — and anyone who hears about it — will probably chalk it up to you being exes,” adds Trescott. “The reality is, most people assume and expect the worse when it comes to exes being in the same room together. So, if it’s awkward, don’t panic. They probably felt what you were feeling, too, and feel responsible for the tone of the conversation.”
Who knew it’s possible to run into your ex while keeping your cool? By maintaining a confident, friendly, yet slightly removed air, avoiding any unnecessary bragging, preventing your nerves from getting the best of you and focusing on asking them questions rather than rambling on about yourself, you can keep your head held high, despite your history with them. Remember: there is no “right” or “wrong” way to deal with running into your ex. If anything, you can pat yourself on the back for surviving the run-in unscathed — oh, and naturally, cackle with your BFF about it later over a bottle of Barolo.
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