What To Do If You Run Into Your Ex At School, According To Experts
If you broke up with someone last semester, you might be dreading returning to campus this fall and potentially seeing them again. Knowing what to do if you run into your ex at school is tricky, especially because it's in situations like these when your life tends to play out like a cheesy sitcom. You'll probably end up running into them after 10 p.m. on a Saturday, when you're in sweatpants and a big t-shirt, with a pint of newly-purchased Ben & Jerry's in your hands. You don't want your ex to think you've resorted to eating ice cream in your PJs on Saturday nights now that you're single, so of course that's exactly when you'll first see them again.
If you're a little bit luckier, you might come face-to-face on the first day of classes, AKA the only day of the school year you wear makeup and get dressed up. But even if you're looking and feeling your best, an unexpected campus run-in with an ex can truly put a damper on your back-to-school mood.
If you're worried about running into your ex on campus after a summer of not speaking, there are ways to prepare beforehand and react appropriately in the moment. Here's how to handle this uncomfortable situation with as much grace as possible, according to two experts.
1. Consider the circumstances of your breakup, and react accordingly.
The way you react to running into your ex after not talking all summer is dependent on how your relationship ended. "If your relationship ended on good or at least neutral terms, there's no reason [not] to rise to the occasion and ask them how their summer was or any other genuine question about their well-being. Doing so is mature and compassionate, and your ex will likely recognize and appreciate that," says Julie Zeilinger, author of College 101: A Girl's Guide to Freshman Year.
On the other hand, "if the relationship ended on bad terms, especially due to abuse of any kind or other damaging, unhealthy dynamics, it's not only acceptable but perhaps necessary for you to avoid contact with that person altogether," she says.
2. Accept that this may happen again.
Depending on how big your campus is, you may never run into your ex again. But if you go to a small school or have mutual friends with your ex, chances are good that you'll inevitably cross paths. "Rather than waste mental and emotional energy trying to actively avoid them, you're better off accepting that these run-ins will happen," says Zeilinger.
"If you still have feelings for this person or feel emotional for any other reason when you see them, you have to take care of yourself. You can respectfully acknowledge them without feeling obligated to spend extensive time with them or engage in conversation with them."
3. Know that you're not obligated to catch up.
No matter how or why you broke up, you don't have an obligation to catch up with your ex or even say anything to them at all. "Actions speak louder than words, so you don't need to say too much, especially in your first run-in with your ex," says Emily Roberts, psychotherapist and author of Express Yourself: A Teen Girl's Guide to Speaking Up and Becoming Who You Are.
"If you are not ready to talk yet, try this 'breezy and busy' but still respectful response: 'I can’t right now; I've got so much to do. Let's talk later. Let me know when you're free,'" she says.
4. Be assertive.
"This run-in doesn’t have to be painful or awkward. The key to getting through this is assertiveness," says Roberts. She suggests making eye contact and smiling, because research shows that when you smile, you stimulate areas of your brain that make you happy. "It doesn’t have to be a big fake-y smile, just an acknowledgment of their existence," she adds.
If your ex asks to talk and you're OK with it, do your best to make the conversation happen when you don't have a class to go to, a test to study for, or anything important afterward. "No matter what they say, even if it's sweet and apologetic, it will bring up emotions that will linger in your head all day long," says Roberts.
5. Don't put on a show.
Although it may be tempting to grab your nearest friend and ask them to laugh loudly like you're the funniest person in the world as soon as you spot your ex, you'll likely come off as obvious. Likewise, if you see your ex, blatantly ignoring them could make it seem like you're still bitter.
"Don’t be the girl who tries to get back at her ex by obnoxiously flirting with people or acts like they never existed. Both of those ways of acting are forced and fake," says Roberts.
6. Stick to your normal routine.
The best way to prepare for possible run-ins with an ex is to just do your thing. "Stick to all of your normal routines. Eat lunch at the same table; take the same route on campus. Don't let fear of a run-in keep you from living your life, and don't let your ex push you off of your own set," says Roberts.
Don't let the thought of seeing your ex again stop you from having a great semester. The first time you run into them will likely be awkward, but you don't have to make it a big deal. Smile, say hello, and move on. New year, new you!
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