#1284: “I have to see my ex again in a year and it is a constantly ticking time bomb in my head.”

Sometimes your brain just wants to be obsessed with somebody for a while.

Hi Captain,

My now ex (he/him), and I (she/her) broke up at the end of May. It was pretty much mutual. He asked if we could stop being exclusive for a while (we were long distance). I was already having other problems with the relationship, so I hit the self-destruct button and told him we should just break up.

I was still heartbroken after the whole thing, but it’s been a couple months, and I’m doing okay? I told him I wanted to go no contact until September, and we’ve both stuck to that. I have deactivated pretty much all of my social media to stop myself from staring at his stuff. We left the door open to be friends down the line (hence the specific time period for no contact). However, I’ve realized in the last couple months that he isn’t really a person I want in my life. I did A LOT of the work to keep our relationship going (doing most of the visits, practically begging at times just to get a short phone call, etc.). He was also really thoughtless, and not super great with boundaries, which usually ended up with me getting hurt. I don’t hate him or anything, but honestly? I would be fine never hearing from/ speaking to him again.

However, we both belong to a really tight knit community that is spread around the region. This community is made up of smaller groups that have gatherings a few times a year. While there will be no gatherings for a while because *gestures vaguely at the state of the world*, I’m assuming that there will be a large get-together next May.

These gatherings aren’t big enough that I can just avoid him. We have mutual friends. I’m worried that if I don’t reach out at some point, it’ll make things awkward when we do see each other again. It doesn’t seem like a huge issue, but my brain is turning it into a BIG DEAL, and I’m worried it’s only going to get worse as the event slowly creeps closer.

Is there some way I can not fixate so much on this? Should I reach out before hand? How should I act at this event? I’m not really interested in friendship with him, but I don’t want to straight up ignore him the whole time.

Signed,
Can we just pretend it didn’t happen?

Dear Can We Pretend,

Exes do not disintegrate and pass from this plane of existence once we break up with them and I understand why your brain is picking at this particular anxiety sore spot, but what if I told you:

  1. I copied your email subject line verbatim as the post title, but you don’t *have to* see your ex next year. If it’s still troubling you as much then, you could decide to skip the whole thing, you could make an agreement with him to trade off every other gathering, you could do other things to see friends in that social group.
  2. You don’t have to ever be friends. Bumping into him at social stuff and remaining polite doesn’t mean you’re automatically friends again. “Oh, yeah, we broke up, and while I want to stay friendly for the sake of group stuff, I wouldn’t call us friends.” 
  3. If you both do go, it will be weird when you see him whether or not you do anything to prepare or mitigate it. That’s just how feelings work, you can’t decide what they’ll be in advance and you can’t control what shape they’ll show up in.
  4. My prediction for the exact flavor of weirdness is “anticlimax” crossed with “surprising pleasant acknowledgement of your own growth,” something like, “Wait, what? I was IN LOVE with THAT GUY? I was worried about what HE thought about ME?” 
  5. I may be wrong about the flavor, but I still predict that the weirdness will be both less and different than anything you could possibly imagine now, simply because when more time has gone by, he is going to be so much less important in your life than he is right now.
  6. On the day itself, if you run into him and say “Oh hey, nice to see you” and make the smallest of small talk for 30 seconds as you walk by on your way to hang with other people, you can cross “Did not act like a complete asshole to my ex in front of everyone we both know” off your 2021 to-do list. Ice broken!
  7. When in doubt, don’t aim for “cool,” or for evoking some kind of emotional response for him, aim for neutral & polite. Think of it as giving everybody a second chance to meet and form a pleasant, peripheral acquaintance. Would you say whatever it is to the nice stranger handing out drink tickets and skee-ball tokens at the info desk? No? Then probably don’t say it to your ex. As long as he is polite, respond in kind. That’s all you have to do.
  8. If you see him at the thing and he does act like an asshole, may I suggest saying “Nope!” and turn your attention back to whatever you were doing. You can start polite but you don’t have to pretend.
  9. There is a maneuver where, if someone holds out their arms to try to hug you and you don’t want to hug them but you don’t have time to say anything, you can take one of their hands in a handshake and lock your elbow to keep them at a distance. If they keep advancing for the hug, keep holding their hand as you sidestep or duck under the arm you’re holding onto like it’s a dance move, and then keep moving past them. I figured this out once from sheer ‘NO HUG’ instinct but practicing with a friend makes perfect!
  10. Even if you could somehow anticipate and prepare for the exact weirdness formula, you don’t have to do any work about this. You really, really don’t. Do you think he’s going to do any work about this, even though he is equally free to text you before the thing and say, “Hey, can we get the weirdness out of the way?” and try to take care of your feelings and make stuff easier on you? He isn’t.
  11. The beauty of breaking up is that you don’t have to work on or fix anything about the relationship anymore. You were together for a while, it ended, you still have feelings about that, it’s okay, but there’s nothing else to work out. You get to be done worrying about what he thinks, how he feels, how to be around him.
  12. Speaking of work, he sounds kinda passive, if not downright lazy, an incompatible-with-you quality in a partner but an attractive quality in an ex you don’t actually want to spend any more time with. If he’d spent your whole relationship being super-Intenso guy DETERMINED to DEMONSTRATE his UNDYING LOVE, I’d have different advice, but this is a man who is historically cool with letting you make all the effort, so he sounds unlikely to chase you around the event venue or try to force a confrontation or serious talk. I think this frees you to be a basic amount of polite and breezy and watch as he gratefully follows the path of least resistance.
  13. If you really need plan ahead, put “schedule time to worry about Ex” on your to-do list today, open your calendar to April 30, 2021 and write “Possibly text Ex to see if he’s actually going to [Thing]?” on it, and then cross “schedule time…” off your to-do list. You can make a decision then about whether it’s more or less awkward to text him before the thing or wait ’til you get there for your 30 seconds of awkwardness, maybe this will trick your brain into thinking it’s handled.
  14. You’ll have lots of friends there who can be nice buffer-friends, so whatever happens, you won’t have to go it alone. “It’s my first time seeing my ex, and while I’m pretty sure it will go fine, can you stick close to me the first day so I don’t have to be alone with him? I want to get through the ‘Oh hey’ part of things as quickly as possible.” 
  15. Thirty seconds of weird. Most likely you’ve gotta get through 30 seconds of weird. After that you’ll know if he’s a “comforting old friend” kind of ex, like that hideous puff paint panda sweatshirt you forgot you owned, a “bullet-dodged” sort of ex, or just another face in the crowd.
  16. You can’t avoid, plan, or stress your way out of that thirty seconds. If he’s there and you’re there, you’re getting that one awkward “Uh…hi!” moment. You will survive it. 
  17. How much of the next year of your life do you want to invest in that thirty seconds of potential weirdness? Thirty seconds that, depending on pandemic stuff, might not even happen? Rewrite your initial question as “I am not over my ex and my brain thought would be fun to have an extinction burst of excuses to obsess about him.” No shame! Brains make jerk moves sometimes! You are doing all the right stuff to take care of yourself, so please continue with your VERY healthy boundary-setting and being-nice-to-yourself strategy. This will pass.
  18. Imagine an electric fence around your brain, and thoughts of your ex as intruding locusts. “Oh, look, another intrusive thought about my ex.” ZZZZZZAAAAAPPPPPPPPP.
  19. Imagine thoughts of your ex as Space Invaders and imagine you on the ground all “pew pew pew” as you disintegrate them one by pixelated one.
  20. Imagine the thoughts of your ex as wispy little cirrus clouds evaporating away when the sun comes out.
  21. As you scoop the cat box, imagine each “clump” is a thought about your ex, ready to be double-bagged and coming soon to a dumpster near you.
  22. This WILL pass. You will not feel this worried or this obsessed forever.

❤ and awkwardness.

Readers, comments are open for one specific purpose:

If you have a brief, extremely anticlimactic, un-dramatic, “I was worried about what it would be like but it all went perfectly fine, considering” story about running into an ex for the first time after a breakup, perhaps the Letter Writer would like to read some of those?

 

117 thoughts on “#1284: “I have to see my ex again in a year and it is a constantly ticking time bomb in my head.”

  1. So short story shortest, dude was super intense in the span of a few weeks, and I was very not, so I broke it off and suggested a few months of no communication. I assumed he’d be way more intent on restarting the communication, but we ran into each other at some kind of festival a few weeks later, did that head-nod of acknowledgement that you do for strangers on the street, and otherwise ignored each other. It was fine.

  2. I had a complicated & intense relationship with a person. When it all went down in flames, I was heartbroken and angry for months.

    I had to see them at wedding the next year. I stressed over it so much. I put on my best makeup, dressed my best, and then hung out with the hundred other people at the wedding. The most I had to interact with them was when I was saying hi to another friend who was talking to them (I don’t remember why I didn’t wait until later). I walked up, said hello to the ex, said my piece to the friend, and walked off. They said hello back as briefly as I did.

    That was it. We continued to exist in separate spaces of the wedding. It was still hella stressful, but no one tried to make it weird. It was a lovely wedding.

  3. There was an event that I had gone to with my ex every year throughout the duration of our relationship, and we separated two months before the event happened. We already had travel arrangements and such that we had made together, so I pretty much sucked it up and put up with him, including one bout of crying on a friend’s shoulder because of his lousy behavior. The following year, I hadn’t seen him in the better part of eight months, and I was super worried about what would happen when I ran into him at the event.

    He saw me across the way on day one, standing in the middle of a group of mutual friends, and came over to swoop on me for a hug. I took a step back out of swooping range and said “I’m good, thanks, but how are you?” and he gave me an incredulous look, turned on his heel and stomped away. Didn’t say another word to me the rest of the event and I have not seen or heard from him in the seven years that have passed since.

    (But I did end up marrying the friend who’s shoulder I cried on that first year.)

  4. Long ago I had a very sad and dramatic break-up with a boyfriend of a couple of years, and then we didn’t see each other for a few years, and then he was back in town to help his parents move and he suggested getting together. I was in a huge tizz about it, and then the day arrived and we got together for a quick lunch, and it was like…”Huh. This guy. Is just a person.” Like meeting a celebrity and being surprised how much smaller they are than you imagined. Seeing him in person showed me that the Big Real Feelings were gone and only the Memory Feelings were left. He seemed smaller and much less interesting/dramatic than I’d expected during the time I was getting ready to see him again. And in fact the experience let me let go of the relationship in a way I don’t think I entirely had, before then, even though in many/important ways I had moved on.

    1. I really like the distinction between Big Real Feelings v. Memory Feelings. That should go on the list of useful vocabulary for sure!

  5. Dated a guy for 2 1/2 years in high school. Broke up with him after I started college, which was a Big Mistake on my part — because I should have done it sooner and my timing sucked. But regardless, he had been completely in love with me, he was very hurt, etc.

    After my freshman year ended I went back home for the summer and went to a graduation party for a friend who’d been the year behind me in HS, and he was there. And … it was a non-event. It was very weird to see him, but he didn’t really talk to me, and everything I saw solidified my decision in my mind – yes, I was right to break up with him, no, this wasn’t a big deal, no, I never need to see him again. The end.

  6. My best instance was when I ran into a complicated, scary ex a couple years later. They looked completely different – the shape of their face was dramatically different due to weight change, and their hair was much longer. I treated them politely like I would a stranger because my first response wasn’t “oh shit there’s my ex” but “acknowledge random person I don’t recognize as I go along my original business”. The ex responded in kind; they were maybe confused due to me treating them so completely neutrally.

    I had to process the super complicated emotions later (there had been abuse) but the non-relationship I have now is exactly how I’d want things.

  7. STORY 1:
    I dated a guy in college at the end of a spring semester and we broke up during break. I was enrolled for summer semester (so think, a couple weeks after) and ran into him at the bookstore. I ran into him there because we were picking up the same books… for TWO classes we had together!!
    It was so awkward. We didn’t know anyone else in those classes so the first couple weeks he sat next to me until we both made new friends. After a while the awkward just became the new normal.

    STORY 2:
    Another guy in college, dumped me a week before spring semester… and I was devastated. I didn’t leave my bed and cried my eyes out. I barely held it together at school because we were in the same (very small) department but I just avoided him. Valentine’s day was right after spring semester started, and I didn’t know how I was going to get through the week. So to distract myself, I booked a trip going skydiving on Valentine’s Day. Guess what I was thinking about all week instead of my ex…. I was so scared but it was really liberating.

    I’m not suggesting you go skydiving or actively seeking out hanging with your ex in class awkwardly, but I think when I started focusing on other stuff like a new class or something scary I wanted to try, each of these ex’s just faded into the background. It was awkward and weird but you’ll make it!

    Extra Happy Ending: My husband and I got together because he saw pictures of me skydiving on facebook… which is how we started “talking”.

    1. The Planned Post-Awkwardness Distraction is a great strategy. On a similar note, a couple years back I’d been crushing on a friend for [embarrassingly long interval]. I finally convinced myself to stop putting far too much mental energy into hypotheticals and just say something to him, with about 94% likelihood that the best I could hope for would be to be let down gently.

      So I deliberately scheduled said conversation for the weekend before a big trip I’d planned. Couldn’t do much obsessing beforehand, because too many trip logistics to think about! Couldn’t focus too hard on the letdown afterwards because vacations are fun but also stressful and intense!

      So maybe not skydiving, but especially if the LW’s a planner by nature, it’s much easier to convince a brain to ‘Think about X’ rather than ‘DON’T think about Y’.

  8. I was part of a fairly small queer community. Had an intense, mostly long distance relationship. Because of the smallness of the community I knew I’d see her again and was a bit worried she would make a big public scene about the breakup. We saw each other at a small community pride (around 100 folks at it) the following year. Nodded at each other across the room and it was fine. I had a happy pride, and didn’t need to worry about running into her after that.

  9. I ran into a ex at bookstore, I was browsing, he was sitting in a chair by the entrance reading. I was so shocked to see him I gave a polite wave as I walked past to the science fiction section. But then I worried I was being rude so I took a deep breath and turned around to say hi and have an awkward conversation…except he was rushing out the door.

    In conclusion the book I bought, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N. K. Jemisin, was excellent, totally recommend it.

    1. Anything that NK Jemesin has written is a solid choice for getting over an awkward ex or any other occasion!

  10. Ohhh I think I’ve got the perfect one for this: an ex behaved badly when I broke up with him (I’d wanted to do it in person but he called to confront me the day before; subsequently tried to argue I couldn’t break up with him if he didn’t want to and then insisted that I tell him how good he was in bed). I saw him about 6 months later at a party full of mutual friends. I was there with my new partner, and my ex clearly wasn’t a fan of that. He awkwardly inserted himself into a conversation to return something I’d lent him and after about 15 seconds of him making strained small talk he left me alone the rest of the night. Never heard from him again, and he actually stopped coming to events hosted by mutual friends (though I’m not sure if that was the reason)

    I wish I could say I’d planned for it but after that my best friend and new partner took it upon themselves to play interference and keep an eye out for him trying to engage me again. Maybe the LW can bring someone as a plus one or deputize a close friend to step in?

    1. Similarly, there is a an ex of one of my close college friends who has had some years to think about how he lost four friends for the price of being a jerk to on girlfriend, and he turns up in shared online spaces occasionally… and we’re just polite to him. Nothing more. Like replying to someone’s great-aunt on facebook after they replied to your comment.

  11. Dear LW,

    I was worried about seeing my ex at a wedding… specifically, I was a bit worried about him meeting my new boyfriend (partly because I had met up with that ex a couple of times and had, erm, not bothered to tell boyfriend, because the one time I did tell him i got the feeling he didn’t sound thrilled to hear about me meeting up with my stupid ex, but that’s another story.) I worried, too, about seeing him and us being weird around each other.

    So anyway, I obsessed and obsessed and worried about it, and wrote imaginary emails to captain awkward in my head, etc.

    The wedding day came and here we are at the reception, and I get my drink and i get chatting to friends, and I look up and somewhere in my line of vision and out of my control, there’s my ex and my boyfriend, and they politely shake hands as they say hi. That was IT.

    All that obsessing, and in the end it was fine.

    You’ll be fine too! Xxx

  12. My ex who I dated for three years, lived together for one year. I broke up with him in a slow way that included protestations of “you’re my best friend, I can’t imagine life without talking to you every day”. After going from ‘taking a break’ to ‘breaking up’ and going no contact, we largely lost touch for years and I felt terrible about how I wasn’t more direct.

    Years later when we ran into each other at an event, he ended up introducing me as “someone he used to date”. Fair enough! We talked for a bit, and then a few months later became benign and unobtrusive Facebook friends.

  13. I ran into an ex (with whom I hadn’t spoken for at least 20 years) at a friend’s divorce party. We had a pleasant conversation.

  14. After my ex-husband and I split up, a long time went by before we saw each other again. We split up, he got stationed somewhere else, and we did our divorce entirely by mail. During the court hearing, he called into the court from several states away. Several years after we got divorced, I met up with him, his wife (wife #3 for him), and their son so that my daughter (also his daughter) could spend some time with his family over the summer.

    When I saw him, I almost gave him a big hug and a kiss just from muscle memory – after all, the last time I had seen him we were still married! Thankfully, my rational brain took over and I simply waved, “Hi! How’s it going?”

    A few years after this, when wife #3 became ex-wife #3, I told her this story and we laughed together over a bottle of wine.

  15. Sorry to go off-topic but just wanted to say the new blogge template looks great! And works great on mobile too!

  16. I got involved with a guy I was working with on a side project, then broke it off when it turned out he was also seeing another person involved in said project without disclosing that to either of us. There was some drama, but I moved across the country for grad school and that was mostly that.

    I say “mostly” because, prior to the break up, I had agreed to do another side project with this dude about a year later. For lots of reasons, I was unable and unwilling to back out of it, and I spent most of that year in an ever-increasing anxiety spiral.

    And then it happened, and it was fine. There was some slight awkwardness at the beginning, but very quickly we slid into professional mode and just focused on completing work in front of us. When it was over, we shook hands, I flew back to school, and that was truly that. And as a result of that experience, I ended up much more confident in my ability to handle awkward, emotionally fraught situations with tact and care.

  17. So I have a version of this where I was straight-up avoiding an entire neighbourhood because “Ex Lived There” and I was terrified of bumping into him. But one day I was randomly in that area, and it really was more convenient to stop in for groceries there than elsewhere. For the first few minutes, I was SO guarded going through that store, nervous I’d bump into him.

    … and then I had a giant “So what” moment. As the captain here has said, I thought about returning the awkward to sender: I wasn’t doing anything wrong being in that store, if he did show up and it did get weird… I decided I’d let him carry the weird feelings (other context: we had been together for years and this guy had broken up with me in true Salt The Earth fashion. Which added to my “Not my job to smoothe over all potentialities” thinking.)

    For all that, I didn’t actually see him in the damn store, and I’ve been back there a few times since. With that, the Captain might mod this comment out – the reason I thought I’d post anyway is that the mindset shift I had in that moment might be helpful for you.

    You’re not doing anything wrong if you go to the event. Be blandly polite to Ex. If he tries to Make It Weird, let him deal with that and go on with your awesome life. If he has Feelings about seeing you, let him deal with that. You don’t need to mitigate this.

    1. I spent months going round the town I live in, worrying about seeing my ex or the friends she moved out to live with. And then one day I came out of a shop and there she was, passing the doorway at that precise moment. We had a short and awkward conversation and after about two minutes we both made “well, I’m very busy soooooo….” noises and went about our days. I did see her and, on a separate occasion, one of the friends on other days and they didn’t see me. I just acted as though I hadn’t seen them, and reminded myself that I live here too.

      With lockdown, and also because I think my ex has moved away, it is much less likely that I will see any of the key players any more, but sometimes they still pop up in the wild on Facebook, commenting on a mutual friend’s status or whatever. I just remind myself that no one is staking claim to territory here, we all have the right to continue to live where we live and be friends with our friends. My presence in a shop doesn’t preclude my ex shopping there. Her visit to the library doesn’t mean no books for me ever again. It’s a big world and our decision to stop sharing it doesn’t mean we have to divide it up.

  18. This isn’t exactly the same as it wasn’t pre planned so I wasn’t stressed in advance but.. only one time in my life have i gone out wearing pyjamas. They were sort of trouser-y pyjamas and I was just getting a train from my parents’ house with a pile of post-Christmas luggage, straight into a cab then straight into my flat to collapse on the sofa. So decided not to shower and not even to bother putting trousers on, because who cares, right? Well my ex was on the train, which makes no sense as he doesn’t live near my parents. Then the train BROKE DOWN. So I spent 3 hours in the same carriage as my ex, both pretending not to see each other. It was fine. I mean it was embarrassing as hell but definitely fine. Also I guess the universe really wanted to tell me to wear trousers.

  19. Not an ex, but a friend– I worried, but then our paths just *didn’t cross* for years, even though we were both at the same large event. The closest was people saying, “Hey have you seen [x]? I saw them yesterday.” A couple times I saw a glimpse of her talking to someone else in a hotel foyer, but I was off someplace else with other people. Like, I thought we had more in common, but it turns out I’d been attending her stuff with her because she was my friend, not because I was actually interested in her stuff.

  20. I moved out of state not long after a bad break-up with an emotionally abusive ex and then about 2 years later he emailed me that he was moving to my new city to go to grad school (we were both over 40 fwiw) and wanted to meet up for dinner. I was a WRECK, mostly worried that all the hard work I’d done to get over him would fly away at first sight (he’s really good looking and charming when he wants to be). So I dressed up in a new, fabulous outfit, put my chin up, and met him for dinner only to see he had gone the opposite way – showing up in khaki shorts and a ratty t-shirt to show how much he DIDN’T care (tho he cared enough to look a fool at a nice restaurant, LOL!).

    Dinner was fine, though I was too nervous to eat much and surprisingly, I did NOT fall into his arms like a ninny afterwards, just a friendly hug goodbye. Then I got an email asking me to go out again, but I just said I had plans that night, thanks for asking. Never heard from him again.

    The dress, shoes, and bag were used many times for special occasions after that. I don’t regret a thing 🙂

    (aside: No, I don’t know why I said yes to dinner, I guess I felt obligated since he was new in town)

  21. I’ve had quite a few interactions with exes of this nature, they’ve pretty much all been anticlimatic, and one thing I’ve found is that I usually built it up into more of a thing in my head than it ends up being even for myself, if there’s enough time involved. When something is fresher, seeing the person feels like a BIG THING in my head because I have no emotional distance (and processing the trauma of a breakup can take a while and sometimes stuff pops up when you’re not expecting it to). But given enough space and time and work to process, by the time the event actually arrives where I might bump into the person, it has lost a lot of it’s emotional weight and thus is less stressful than expected. Not guaranteed, but has happened often enough for me to note it as a pattern.

  22. Ex-husband. Loads of angst, drama, misery, pain, and anger involved. Met again at a memorial service and it was fine. He felt like a stranger, just a guy, pleasant enough. We interacted, but it was completely nothing.

  23. “I don’t hate him or anything, but honestly? I would be fine never hearing from/ speaking to him again.”

    This is the key to why the LW doesn’t really have anything to worry about when she finally does run into her ex. It will be very low-stakes.

    I’ve been there before and, honestly, it was just some standard small talk that I didn’t even have to put any thought into. It seems like a really monumental thing now, but in a year when she cares even less than she does now, it will just be a thing that’s happening.

  24. A high school ex and I had a dramatic, drawn-out breakup over the course of a year.
    The first time we ran into each other, it was in a crowded bar, there was a brief moment of eye contact, but no reason to interact.
    The second time, we’d grown up enough to both apologize via instagram, and we saw each other briefly at a reunion. We both asked after each other’s families, then separately continued saying hi to other friends.

  25. I’m very glad to have the comments thread available, because I had had a flashback reading it that I will now be able to share.

    Long long ago, in a galaxy far far away on the other side of the continent, I had a traumatic breakup with a terrible girlfriend. Much drama, many feels, so betrayed. We both belonged to an organization that had small local events and large regional events and even larger multi-regional events, and yet I hadn’t really thought I was going to run into her again.

    Just about a year after she dumped me, I was at a quite small event and poof, there she was. And I looked her right in the eye and wondered why the hell she had ever mattered so much. The Terrrible Maelstrom of Misery absolutely failed to materialize, my heart didn’t shatter or even particularly go blup.

    I think there might have been a faint whisper of awkwardness, but the encounter mattered so little that there was nothing for the awkward to stick on. I said “Oh, hi,” turned, and walked away.

    I felt so much better after that, I can’t begin to describe it. It wasn’t even a case of “Hurrah, I’m healed, throw away the crutch” — it was “Holy heck, I finally peeled away the big fat bulky bandage and there’s barely a scar where I thought I was going to be crippled.”

  26. Long term relationship of 3 years that ended after he refused to move out of our parents houses, into a flat of our own. I bumped into him in a Costa years later. He was the barista. We did not acknowledge each other. The thing that made it weird for me is that when we broke up he had been working at Starbucks so I was completely unprepared!

  27. My first serious relationship, we were talking about marriage and kids, ended in a dramatic and painful way. I obsessed over him for months. A friend sat me down and said “Stop! Stop talking about him, or trying to run into him or worrying about him. Guaranteed he isn’t worrying about you.” It hurt, but she was right. So I did my best to do just that. About a year later, I’m walking down the street, and there he was. And I didn’t recognize him at first. In my head I went from “Who is that?” to “He looks familiar” to “Holy crap, it’s my Ex!” We said hello. He asked about my Mom; I asked if he still worked for the same company. We said goodbye. That was it. Very boring. A non-event.

    1. I dated a guy for about a year, my first “serious” boyfriend (early 20s, I was a late bloomer). I broke up with him, had lots of big dramatic feelings about never dating again. 6 months later, he wanted to get coffee. I said yes, and then spent the next week angsting about seeing him. Anddddd….it was a complete nonevent. Seeing him didn’t spark any feelings, it was just “huh, a person”. He spent the whole time talking about how he had gotten more “fit and attractive” since our breakup, I spent it trying not to yawn into my coffee. Now we are polite acquaintances at best.

  28. I had to meet up with my ex at a wedding about a year after we broke up (but weren’t officially divorced yet). Honestly, if you think it’s going to be trouble, you can always take the Captain’s advice and not go – I sort of wish I wouldn’t have gone thinking back on it.

    Anyways, your adrenaline will probably spike and it might be uncomfortable. But easy and breezy and just “Oh hi!” and walk away works wonders. Having a friend as backup, or to run point, also is good.

    My ex really wanted to “be friends” for his reputation (it was a surprise divorce for me), so was pretty invested in being a good guy. He said, as I was leaving, “Well, I guess this will be the last time I ever see you,” and I breezed back, “Oh, I’m sure we won’t be the only couple to get divorced; I’ll see you at the next wedding. Safe travels home!”

    Listen, it was SO AWKWARD and I did cry on the way home. But I survived, and…I was wrong – I haven’t seen him again. Even if it is terribly awkward and the worst, you will still survive it. Good luck, OP, it will be okay, and the longer time passes, the easier it becomes. (Also, it’s a lot easier to get obsessed with things in a pandemic because you can’t distract yourself. So be gentle with yourself, too.)

  29. My ex and I had THE MOST AWFUL breakup. He’d behaved badly, I was heartbroken, we’d been together for nearly 20 years at this point, I was a wreck, I knew, I KNEW, that I’d go to pieces like a CD dropped off a tall building if we met.

    We didn’t meet for over a year (there was some fraught emailing). And then he wanted to meet because he’d found some of my financial paperwork in one of his boxes and maybe we could say hi and I said OK because I needed the paperwork but I JUST KNEW I’d be a wreck because this man had broken my heart and ruined my life and I’d loved him so much for so long….

    And when I finally saw him, my brain went ‘oh. He’s not as good looking as I remember,’ and my heart went ‘yeah I’m not really feeling this either,’ and I bought him a coffee and took my paperwork and went back to my office thinking ‘ah well, that was a mildly tedious way to spend my lunch-break,’ and that was it.

    1. The “my brain went ‘oh. He’s not as good looking as I remember’ ” thing happened to me too! It’s almost a surprise when it happens, isn’t it?

      I was jerked around pretty badly by someone I thought I would love forever and ever. When he left (I live in a different country than the one I’m from, which is a popular destination for people who want to have a year abroad), I gave myself permission to be Very Angry about how he treated me, got rid of the little things I got from him, talked to Team Me honestly about how he acted, and cut my hair since I’d only been growing it out because he’d said he liked it. Y’know, the cleansing fires of rage and all that good business. Washed that man right out of my hair and then cut it all off to boot. I actually look better with short hair and hate having it grow too long anyway.

      Last thing I did was delete all the photos of him from my social media. I wasn’t ready to look at him, so it took a while to gird my loins and do it. And when I did, this beautiful, gorgeous man who I felt was doing me a grand favour by paying attention to me suddenly became just some guy. Nothing special at all. Not heart-stopping, not horrible, just kind of… there. I guess his magical unbelievably gorgeous unicorn status had timed out or something. Without the infatuation behind him, he became unbelievably ordinary.

  30. My ex lives in the same town and we both get around on public transportation, so I never really had the bumping into after a long time thing. However, it does mean I have to make small talk with him every month or two. It was hard at first, but I have worked out the solution of asking after his mother and nieces, all of whom I genuinely liked. Polite conversation that doesn’t worry the people around us. At this point, he’s figured out the drill and asks about my brother and sister.

  31. I had a friendship go south to where it ended in a breakup, splitting friends group, dividing activities etc. We avoided eachother for over a year then both moved away. I had to see her at a wedding, and I was super anxious. I spent a lot of time worrying about it and telling my date the backstory so they could run interference if needed etc.

    Wedding went fine. She said Hi politely. So did I. We complimented eachothers outfits, spoke 1 or 2 sentences about the venue and that was it. No scene. No drama. No mentions of the past. It was such a non issue my date was super confused and convinced that couldn’t have been the one I was so worried about.

  32. As a teenager, I had a first date/first kiss/first lotta things with a dude who then totally blew me off. I agonized over what I’d done wrong, and whether my coming on too strong had been why, blah blah blah.

    A year later, he came to the place I worked. And… nothing. Just a kind of awkward “Oh, it’s you… hiiii.” And then he bought, like, a stick of gum and left. Awkward, no big deal, kinda funny in retrospect.

  33. I had a horrible breakup with my second boyfriend, L. It was a mess. We’d dragged out the relationship long past its “best by” date and eventually there was sex that I didn’t want and possibly he didn’t either? and by the time we broke up it was really awful for both of us as well as our extended friend group (including my first boyfriend, C, a good friend of L’s who’d introduced us). I avoided him, I avoided his new girlfriend, I avoided online spaces he was in, I wrote and shared an angsty poem about our relationship that further burned any remaining bridges, and we didn’t speak for years. One time I got into an elevator he was in and it was so, so, so awkward to be stuck in an elevator together, omg. (Partly because I didn’t even recognize him at first, so I had no idea why this guy was looking at me this way… OH WAIT IT’S HIM OH NO.)

    But then C got married, and I knew L would be invited, so I braced myself and went, expecting to do the tight-smile-little-nod thing and otherwise avoid avoid avoid.

    To everyone’s absolute shock (including mine!), when I saw L there, I went to hug him and he hugged me back. I still can’t explain why I did this! It had just been so many years and somehow when I saw him I remembered the parts of him that I liked, and not the parts that were torture to be in a relationship with. We’d both grown up a lot, and I guess we’d figured out how to let the past be past.

    And then we made small talk for one (1) minute and didn’t interact for the rest of the night, but in a much less tense way than I’d been expecting. Somehow that hug turned us from Evil Exes to people who just didn’t particularly have much to say to each other.

    LW, unless you’re literally stuck in an elevator with your ex, you really won’t have to talk to him or interact with him in any way. It’s a big event, there are lots of people there, you will both have other things to do. But as someone who has been stuck in an elevator with their ex, I can reassure you that as horribly awkward as those few minutes might be, it’s only a few minutes and then it’ll be over. And you might have an interaction with your ex that isn’t at all what you expect and diffuses the tension in some way. Regardless, I hope that your many friends there will support you in avoiding him and recovering from any interactions you do have.

    Good luck!

  34. I met him at work and I was young and naive and he was older and, I thought, wiser. I’ve always had a weakness for funny people who tell great stories, and that’s what I thought he was like when we dated.

    Eventually we stopped seeing each other at the first work event after the breakup I got stuck with him at the same table. As he told a story, I realized it wasn’t very interesting, and people weren’t really paying much attention. He was rambling and couldn’t “read the room” and tell that people weren’t that interested in hearing it. He didn’t even notice when the head of our work got up to make the obligatory speeches that they do at those work parties and when he finally did he seemed miffed that he had to stop talking.

    It hit me that this guy probably never liked me that much – he liked that I was a captive audience for him. I spent so much time wondering what I could have done to want this guy to have stronger feelings for me, and in that moment I was glad he never did.

    1. Someone did! I had the same thought and looked at YouTube – there’s several. I searched “avoiding hug” 🙂

  35. I had my heart broken badly by my almost-first love, and I was depressed and in messy, embarrassing mourning for a long time. We both attended a large weekend-long event a year later. I hadn’t known for sure whether he was coming, and as it turned out, we ended up in the same room for about half an hour. We never spoke or made eye contact, and that was weird but fine. It didn’t spoil anything about the rest of the weekend.

    It didn’t feel great in the moment, but it was such a non-event, a nothing, that I completely forgot it ever happened until just this second, many years later, when this letter reminded me of it.

    I have a vague sense that some pot-stirrer pseudo-friend might have come up to me at the time and said, “Ex is here,” and I might have said “Oh, huh,” and that was that, though I may be inventing that memory: I remember almost nothing about the whole thing now.

    I doubt knowing in advance that he would be there, or exchanging a few bland words, would have made a difference. If we ended up in the same room today, I would have no problem exchanging a few pleasantries, a whatcha up to, and then wishing him well and going about my business.

    I love the cat-litter thought-ritual idea and plan to use it for many things.

  36. Long (long, long) story short. Abusive marriage. Acrimonious breakup. Bitter divorce. Lies upon lies to my son so he’d hate me. Stalling and lies and obfuscation and obstruction about every single practical aspect of splitting and parting. Fear. So much fear. Hours and days and nights huddled into myself endlessly worrying over what they’ll say, what they’ll do, how they’ll respond, how they’ll try to hurt me. Every unavoidable interaction planned out days and days ahead of time and picked apart and obsessed over for days and days after.

    Ran into her in the grocery store. I raised my eyebrows. She nodded. Passed by without a word.

    it gets better.

  37. When I broke up with my HS boyfriend we talked about being “Friends” but we didn’t have much social life in common, and he high key (but I rounded it down to low key) cheated on me, but I was bad at conflict so I said I was gay. Annnnyway, I didn’t see him or talk to him for at least 9 months after the breakup.

    We ended up going to a mutual friend’s prom. I was worried it was going to be awkward when hew as at the sam eovernight after party. We legit kept half the party up shooting the breeze and it reminded me that there actually had been a reason we were together in the first place.

    I had a similar feeling last year when my ex who I’d been with for 12 years came over to say goodbye to our elderly kitty who was quite ill. I hadn’t seen him for 6 months. The weirdest part was how NOT WEIRD it was. I mean, it didn’t change how I felt about him, and not hugging someone after being with them for 12 years is a WEIRD FEELINGtm. But it was fine, conversation was the same as always. (I did have a mutual friend over as a buffer.)

    The anticipation will be worse than the event. I’m sorry it’s probably hard to celebrate your freedom in our current circumstances, but I hope you find a way to revel in that soon!

  38. my on & off FWB of several years reacted very badly when i told him i had started a relationship with my current boyfriend and we needed to end our hooking up. at his request, we had no contact for a few months. a few months after that, we had lunch for his birthday. i was super worried that it would open the floodgates of the messiness at ending our arrangement, but it was almost boring how unmessy it was. we ate tacos and drank margaritas and went our separate ways. my brain is an expert at inflating anxiety and the captain is right that the actual event is almost always anticlimactic.

    these days, we text periodically, send pictures of our pets. he actually pet-sit for my bf & me when we went out of town last winter. the other day, he asked if my bf wanted to send over his resume because my ex is a recruiter in their mutual field. (i have a type 😊) we will never be as close as we were in the days of late night karaoke + scotch + hooking up + talking about all the things, but we are cool with each other and closer friends than i thought possible when i ended the benefits part of our FWB situation.

    i know my situation is not directly analogous to LW’s, but i wanted to let her know that it is very possible to move people into different roles in your life. your ex may cheerfully become someone who you exchange brief hellos with annually and you two never think about each other in between. most importantly, you don’t have to decide right now how you will feel forever. this is way lower stakes that your brain has tricked you into thinking.

    sending all the love 💖💖💖

  39. My housemate and I have a running joke about our fashion line, Rue The Day- clothes to wear when you might see an ex. We live in a small city, so that’s basically always. It’s silly, but putting on something i feel cute in helps me prepare for being Oh So Chill And Polite in those anticlimatic moments.

  40. Broke up with an abusive ex, who then decided to join my small circle—I was flabbergasted. When I saw him, I was polite but terse. I would not say I was friendly. I acknowledged his presence with a nod or a “hey”. This lasted a couple years, and it did get easier with time. I let a couple people in our regional circle know why I was never going to be friendly with him, and left it at that. And then he died (seriously), the end.

    1. Hey is a perfect, full, loaded sentence – it is polite and neutral and acknowledges the person and then lets THEM do heavy lifting if they want to broach a topic or make conversation. To which, “excuse me, I see (host) needs a hand” is a perfect response.That’s my go to excuse for leaving any interaction at a social event.

      My first prolonged interaction with my abusive ex husband (14 years married) was 6 months after i took our kid and ran away – at his dad’s funeral. I sucked up the initial awkward and expressed my true regret over his father’s passing and then made busy helping my in-laws in the reception line and kitchen and kept an eye out for the kid (9 at the time) who was ensconced with her cousins.

  41. In my varied experiences, folks who were passive / lazy IN the relationship are more so, not less, once they’re an ex.
    This advice from the Captain is very wise, and the framing of “are they put in any effort or energy about this?” is helpful for chucking the worries into the “f*ck it, not my problem” pile for me.

  42. I had a relationship that ended quite badly (not important why now), and we avoided each other for probably over a year. One day we met up when we were both going to catch a bus. We stopped and had a coffee for a bit and had a nice (not horribly personal) chat, and hung out in a group a couple of more times after that. He even met my new boyfriend (now husband). We didn’t try to start up a friendship because really we weren’t that compatible other than a deep love of music. It’s been a long time now and really we only interact on Facebook to send each other interesting music we’re listening to. Cheers and good luck to the letter writer!

  43. Not my ex-meet, but happened at my wedding.

    Two of the people we invited had had a mini-hookup one New Year’s (prompted mostly by the host providing abundant libations and trying her hand at playing Yenta). Due to differing expectations about what it meant, it ended a little badly.

    When we sent out invites to the wedding, we privately contacted both so that they were aware that the other was also invited, in case they had a problem. One said she was fine, and the other said she was also fine with it, but asked if we could take her shoe-shopping before the wedding so she could make sure her heels were higher than her ex’s.

    At the wedding, they had no problems being in the same friend-group and didn’t have any one-on-one convos, as far as I know.

    And yes, we did find her the tallest of high heels. 🙂

  44. Oh wait, I forgot I had one of my own!

    There was a guy who was in the same local Children’s Theatre group as me, and we dated for like three days I think. Then he dropped out of the group and we didn’t see each other, largely because I went to an All Girls HS.

    A few years later, I went to an amusement park, and when I got on a ride as a single, I noticed the guy next to me was my middle school ex. We said “hi” and sat in awkward silence, waiting for the ride to start. Finally the ride powers up, lifts into starting position, and….freezes. For 15 minutes.

    In any movie, this would have been the time where we start to reminisce about our shared past and the other theater kids etc., and rekindle the old flame. Instead we just continued to sit in bored silence the entire time until they fixed the ride and it started moving again.

    Ride was fun, though. I screamed a lot.

  45. I had an ex who was jealous and controlling during our relationship, took the breakup very badly, and kept trying to reach out through email, social media, phone, etc. and kept talking about coming to see me so he could get “closure” (when we broke up he was living in a different state). Until the day I moved 500 miles away I was afraid every time I opened my door that he would be standing there waiting to talk to me. I asked our common friends to give me a heads up if he was ever going to be in town or if we would be at the same thing, and whenever he was I would just not go. A few years later we were in the same city at the same event for A Work Thing, and I was over missing out on things because he lacked boundaries, so I went. We interacted with the same group for a while, not really addressing each other but not ignoring each other either, and before we left said a casual goodbye, and that was it.

    Oh and I had a boyfriend at one point who was a bit concerned about being at a place with his ex, who was not really one for calm, mature interactions. One night we were out for a friend’s birthday and she was there. She was cordial enough to him and refused to even look at me, in a not-particularly-subtle-but-not-causing-a-scene way. Then she got a bit drunk and ignored us entirely the rest of the night. All in all, a successful outing.

  46. My ex and I see each other once or twice a year, in a group that sounds very similar to the one you and your ex are part of. When we broke up, I couldn’t imagine how that would ever be ok. The next event was a month or two after the break-up, and even more recently after I’d realized I needed to pull way back on contact after initially trying to leap straight to “friends.” So, I did skip that one.
    By the time we were next both at an event together, it was fine. The Captain is right – the greeting was awkward. And, honestly, years later, the greetings and goodbyes are still a little awkward (it’s a very huggy group, and there’s always that “should we…hug?” moment, and I worry that he’ll be offended if I don’t so I usually do). But other than that, it’s fine, and I don’t think either of us did anything specific to make it fine. Not useful as advice, but hopefully reassuring? It probably will just be fine. My ex and I chat some at these events, we each spend way more time talking to other people, and people who have joined the group would have no idea we were ever romantically involved, unless it comes up, which is usually in a context like one of us says something about our own family member and the other agrees or shares an example, and then people want to know why we know each other’s family.

  47. I was kind of in a similar place, in that I wanted more effort toward a relationship from this guy who wanted to play the field. I had some pretty intense feelings for him, and I was the one making the effort to communicate. Knowing this, I forced myself to stop initiating communication, and I got over him during the next few years of radio silence, since he made no effort to contact me. Until he eventually did; he was in my town and wanted to meet at a conference cocktail hour he was attending. I had no reaction when he casually mentioned he was seeing someone. I mean, of course he’s seeing someone (or maybe several someones?), and I don’t care, because I’m not going down that road again with him, ever. Being polite and having a friendly conversation was not difficult for me.

    Curiously, he is apparently available again, because he’s made the effort to contact me and be flirty about it. But I’m not interested in anything more than a friendly, platonic, long-distance chat — which, several years after the fact, is now within my comfort zone. Thankfully we don’t live anywhere close to each other, and double-thankfully we have Covid-19 going on, because I don’t want to deal with an ex being flirty in person.

    Maybe that’s another thing to consider — we really have no idea what things will be like next May. Maybe the May event will happen and maybe it won’t….

  48. My ex and I were invited to the same destination wedding. The groom told me there was a chance we’d be in the same van for the 3 hour drive from the airport… So I organised a group of guests and drove a separate car. We both just kept our distance from each other, except for when I was helping take some group photos (and it was fine), and one point where he sat at my table (presumably to talk to me?) and I kept on dancing.

    I had a good friend who hung out with me at the reception, and was on the same page, so I didn’t spend the night worrying that he was going to sneak up on me. My big fear was that he would want to have a heart-to-heart, which tended to involve me managing his feelings while he blamed me for the fact he was having them. I am very happy those conversations are out of my life!

    But, it was a wedding. It wasn’t about us. I certainly understood that guests are expected to leave their drama at the door, and I suspect he did too. Making some changes to avoid being cooped up with him was a simple process – no one wanted to force us together. Being in the same room for a day was, thankfully, no big deal.

  49. I have only had reasonable (not necessarily FUN but FINE) experiences with exes unless I’m still deeply hurting or deeply in unrequited love. And on more than one occasion I’ve found that when both parties are maintaining good boundaries (as it seems you and Ex are!), that both parties want to talk more about the present and future than the past–so, stuff about the event, possible summer plans in a general way, stuff like that. I’ve never ever had Relationship Stuff come up in these casual meetings–some awk, for sure, but awk you can pass through like a bumpy stretch of road.

  50. I dated a guy for, gosh, I don’t even remember, 3 or 4 months? 8 or 9 months? Who knows, it’s been years. He needed to go home (24 hours of flight time away) to renew his passport, visit family etc and was planning to come back afterward. We were texting and chatting multiple times a day up until the last week before he flew back…radio silence. (You all know what’s coming, but I didn’t.)

    When he got back, we met up at my local. I was very excited to see him. He didn’t order, and told me that a week before he flew back, he’d gotten back together with his ex-fiancée and they were engaged again. I was blindsided, and kinda crushed. I was pretty upset for a few weeks, and then realized that he’d been a shithead, and started feeling better.

    Then he sent me an email saying he’d like to be friends, could we have dinner (given later events, I suspect he’d gotten swiftly un-engaged again). I said “I wanted to date, and that didn’t work out. I do not want you for a friend.” and blocked him everywhere. I knew it was inevitable that I’d run into him at some point–we lived in the same smallish neighbourhood, even though it was a big city. I was dreading it so much, and the day it happened I was rushing somewhere–the salon for a treatment? the pet store for frozen mice? I don’t even remember–and saw him walking with someone, definitely not the fiancée from back home. He was holding hands with her and he grabbed her hand super tight and looked at me smugly, and I looked at him and really saw him.

    I’d been so worried about running into him and how awkward it would be, maybe awful, maybe I’d feel crushed all over again…and all I thought was “It’s so weird that I ever found you attractive” and just kept walking.

  51. Ooo yas. I dated a guy for 4 years. We were marriage tracked for sure. Super attached to a mutual dog, his friends, and mostly his amazing family and their friends. But after realizing we didn’t have much of an emotional connection, I broke up with him and moved several states away. Several years later we both attended a mutual friends party and it was super chill! We chatted for a lot of it and I realized, he’s a really great guy. I’m super happy I dated him *when I did.* We had a lovely afternoon and didn’t speak for like, 5 more years when we had another totally chill encounter.

    Seeing exes doesn’t have to be fraught – and it doesn’t sound like it will be with your (much too) chill sounding ex.

  52. I (VERY) briefly dated a (much) older man, whom I thought was young at heart & not overly paternalistic. Duh

    He started declaring his love, drunk dialled me, tried to share his daughter’s sexual proclivities with me & informed all & sundry we were a couple. He basically made a nuisance of himself.

    We were rostered together at the sailing club & the first time I attended post my hard NOPE, he attempted small talk. I had agonised over seeing him. I remained highly neutral, mono syllabic & icily courteous. He has avoided me ever since. When other members have asked, I just say it was an ill suited venture. Quite a number habe since become more supportive toward me.

    My big issue has been around forgiving myself for such a lack of judgement. It has helped that others have reflected to me that he’s quite predatory & I twigged remarkably quickly.

    You’ll be okay, we are allowed to make the mistakes that help us. 😊

  53. I broke up with a man I had been dating for about 2.5 years, living together for one. I had already made plans to go to an annual community contradance with one of our roommates. So two or three weeks after the breakup, I drove over to my old house so we could carpool. Roommate had not told me that she had since made plans to also ride with everyone in the house, which is how I ended up crowded into the backseat with my very recent ex trying very hard to make friendly conversation so as not to make everyone else wildly uncomfortable.

    At the dance, I took a break to cry with some friends behind the barn, kept an eye on which circle he was in to avoid having to partner together, and met a girl who reminded me that the world is full of beautiful and interesting people who I have yet to meet. She was, unfortunately, very straight but I am incredibly grateful for the lifetime of friendship I will have with her.

    A year later, back at the same dance, I saw him again with his new girlfriend. At that point, we had had a plethora of odd run-ins including while simultaneously on first dates in the same brewery, bringing a girl he was dating to the yoga classes he knew I attended, the time he hid behind a car while I talked to his coworker and then texted me about that conversation later in the day, and matching with that new girlfriend on tinder who acknowledged the situation and asked if I wanted to meet up with her anyways (and who had the same uncommon name as my mother).

    At some point, I had texted him asking if he wanted to discuss boundaries/being at the same event because we traveled in the same social circles and I didn’t want our friends to have to navigate which of us to invite. He totally ignored me. When we were together, I had done so much to help him manage his feelings and help him express his emotions. I guess he just couldn’t do it by himself? But in the end, running into him stopped being so stressful because it was almost comical both how often it happened, and how weirdly he reacted. It actually made me feel way more in control to just go to events even if I knew he would be there, because I was choosing to value my friendships and hobbies over the momentary weirdness he might cause. Not to say I didn’t still feel a bit of a drop in my stomach when I saw him unexpectedly or wasn’t happy when he finally moved away. \

    When we were together, I lost touch with my independence and my friendships because it just took so much energy keeping him going. Refocusing that energy into myself and my community, regardless of his presence, was incredibly rewarding and healing.

  54. For me it was, “Oh! Sorry, didn’t notice you standing there.” Then back to the conversation he was hovering at the edge of. I mean, I literally didn’t see him, as if he’d been running some sort of cloaking device until the light hit at just the right angle. Very weird.

  55. The other one was, he came to me as I was finishing a conversation with panelists at a con. “I’d like to catch lunch with you this weekend!” I was all out of spoons and running on empty. Having learned the hard way that “later” basically doesn’t exist for this guy, I said, “Well, I need to eat dinner, NOW. You’re welcome to join me.” He did (didn’t eat, as he had a preplanned dinner engagement later), but hung out with me while I ate and my brain-sugar finally came back up to a serviceable level. We had a lovely conversation, and I also remembered why I’m not involved with him anymore.

    1. “We had a lovely conversation, and I also remembered why I’m not involved with him anymore.”

      This.

      I had a super ugly friendship breakup with my best friend and roommate of many years.

      Decades later, I see my ex BFF every few years at some party or wedding and every time we have a lovely conversation where I’m reminded of why we were once close and also why I’m glad we’re no longer close.

  56. After 3-4 years of radio silence, I ran into my way-too-passive-ex (whose passiveness caused me to break up with her) at a professional networking event where I wanted to make a good impression (same small field, heavily influenced by reputation).

    I tried to be distantly polite, say hi and talk to other people, but she kept invading my personal space, being flirty, and inserting herself into my conversations. For extra awkwardness, my current partner was there (also in same field, though we were actively keeping our interactions professional for the sake of networking), and I introduced him to her as such.

    It was quite awkward for me, but it was also very obvious that I was behaving as best I could and that she was making me uncomfortable. So other people noticed, and helped engage me in conversations, and subtly kept her away from my interactions. I had a lovely and productive networking session, my reputation was okay, I politely exchanged contact info with her when she insisted and then proceeded to block her new number when I got home.

    Moral being, even if your ex makes it weird or pushes your boundaries, you can still be polite, avoid him as much as possible, and count on your other friends for help. If complete strangers were willing to run interference for me without an ounce of context, I’m sure your friends will for you if it ends up being necessary. You got this ♡

  57. I ran into an ex years after we had a bad breakup. I was out walking my dog. I was like, “Oh! Hi! How are you?” and he kept doing this weird thing of being like, “How *are* you?” and saying everything in a really concerned tone of voice like I was about to burst into tears any second, which wasn’t happening.

    He also kept asking me about people I hadn’t seen in years. It was like if the last time you saw someone was during finals week of your first semester at college, and then ran into them a decade later and they asked you about your dorm roommate and how you did on finals, and were basically completely incapable of comprehending that time passes for other people as well. So, annoying and puzzling, but not traumatic.

  58. This isn’t a story about a romantic relationship, but I once had a very bad breakup with a friend. It didn’t help that at the time we were also roommates. It was the kind of thing where by the last day we were barely speaking even though we were in the same house, except when she was accusing me of stealing her things. And also she called up all our mutual friends and told them I was a thief and also a terrible person.

    Since we still lived in the same city and had the same “stomping grounds” I was constantly terrified of running into her. What would I do? What if I was with people? Would she start screaming at me that I was a thief? For years I stressed about it, avoided places where she might be, etc. etc. I would see someone who vaguely looked like her and my adrenaline would go on high gear.

    And then one day it happened. I saw her from across the sidewalk plaza. We were walking towards each other, yes it was really her this time, oh no she saw me! What do I do!

    And she smiled a great big smile and said “HI! Long time no see! How’s it going!” and we had a five minute Normal Person chat about the status of our respective lives, and went on with our day. As though we’d just lost touch for a couple of months because of busy lives, not because we had set fire to our friendship with gasoline and gunpowder. We both did an excellent job of pretending.

    And it occurred to me that she probably was dreading running into me just as much as I was dreading running into her. She didn’t want a weird public interaction any more than I did. And so we just went through the motions of small talk for the acceptable amount of time and moved on, relieved to have it over with.

    And for the record I did not steal anything of hers.

  59. After almost 15 yrs together, Now-Ex wanted a divorce, if the alternative was treating me kindly. Like you, LW, we have tons of mutual connections through an active local community. I skipped a lot of events that 1st yr, but the next yr I agreed to go with (mutual-ish but closer to me) friends.

    He walked past us & said, “Hey, [my name].” My friends laughed & said it sounded like he was making his voice seem deeper than it was. Later I was talking to his friends who’d asked me to come say “Hi.” He barely acknowledged me. That was it.

    I did end up leaving before the end where he & his new partner (a former friend) would be part of a presentation. The thought of running in to either of them had really messed with my head for a while, & I definitely felt super awkward a few times that day. But it was, just like the captain anticipates, mostly anticlimactic. It’s not the most fun I ever had at one of those events, but I’m glad I attended because now I know how went.

    It felt worth attending just to get that 1st meeting over with. I recommend telling a trusted friend how you’re feeling so they can help you navigate the event & any interactions. Best of luck!

  60. Hi LW,

    My most painful ex was not a bad person, but she was not a healthy person for me for a variety of reasons. After the break-up I went no-contact with her as soon as I could, and through various means (including spending several years on separate continents, can’t recommend it enough) I managed not to bump into her for more than a decade.

    When I knew that we were likely to be living in the same area again, I was… not nervous, exactly, but I really wanted to Get It Over With. A couple of people suggested that I try to ‘accidentally’ bump into her at her work, but I felt like that would be a weird power dynamic – I know I’d be pissed if I found out an ex had ever done that to me. I also didn’t want to reach out to try to arrange a meeting, because I didn’t want to turn it into A Thing any more than it already was. I didn’t want a big to-do, I just wanted it done.

    When it did finally happen it was… so weird! But fine! We were walking in opposite directions on the same sidewalk; I had headphones in and she was talking on the phone; we clocked each other and waved, but we each had a perfect excuse not to stop and have a conversation, so we didn’t. And that was that! I do think that if we’d been in a situation with more pressure to chat, we would have managed that; and I’m definitely not concerned about it now. But it was great to have this initial experience of being able to see her, and be seen by her, and have the ‘…huh.’ moment, and then just keep moving.

    The great thing about your situation is that if it is an event of any size, and if you have even one other person there you can recruit to help you move through it, there shouldn’t be a problem orchestrating a flying hello like I had (if that’s what you want). In the meantime, I have a technique that helps me when my brain is like a dog with a bone: I thank it for trying to protect me from discomfort (which is what it’s trying to do by fixating), but tell it that I’m aware of the issue and I’ve got it under control for now, so it has permission to let go. It’s a bit goofy but I swear by it.

    1. Having conversations with your brain might sound goofy, but I agree with you that it’s useful. I would have serial crushes that would last for months, until I was tired of them but couldn’t seem to get rid of them. I finally came up with the idea of superimposing the words “YOU DON’T HAVE TO THINK ABOUT THIS” over whatever romantic image my brain was projecting — and it works! Sometimes I get so lost in figuring out the best font, size and color for those words that I forget the romantic image entirely. Instructing your brain to distract itself in a specific way is a good strategy. Maybe the LW could try it.

  61. so, me & ex were friends, then partners, then friends, then Explosively Not Friends over the course of more than 10 years. ex isn’t great at emotional processing. they also can’t separate the ideas “hey, what you did wasn’t OK” and “you are EVIL! and I Know you did EVIL thing because you want to HURT me” …so they will bring up any and every perceived offence (from years back. even the tiny stuff.) to try and prove that the other person is more at fault.

    the narrative of us becoming Explosively Not Friends (heavily edited) is “we had an argument on social media -> they made passive aggressive post about me that I got a notification from -> I didn’t want to escalate or ignore, so I removed our social media connection & went on a date -> I came home the next day to FIFTEEN DMs of incoherent rage from them”

    we live on the same bus route, and both have weird work hours. I am also significantly more physically imposing than ex. so, for months I was legitimately worried that they’d be on the bus and I’d get on and then they would try to hash it all out. I thought they’d shout and scream and maybe try to hit me, and even if I only lifted a hand to push them away/deflect I’d be seen as violent and I/both of us would get thrown off the bus or maybe arrested.

    …and then I got on the bus late one night, and they were at the back of the lower deck. they did rage-eyebrows at their phone…? DS…? and I went upstairs. we got to my stop, I came downstairs, they did rage-eyebrows at the tiny screen and I got off & walked home.

  62. My ex-husband and I both worked downtown after our (amicable) divorce, but I didn’t run into him for about four years. When I finally did, we had an okay conversation, but he went off on multiple extended, in-depth descriptions of his work (app development) and it was SO BORING and I was instantly transported back to memories of sitting in a restaurant near the end of our marriage, listening to him as my eyes glazed over, thinking “can I do this for the rest of my life?” but being terrified about losing all the good bits. The years apart allowed me to be able to appreciate that he was a really decent guy but that I had definitely made the right decision.

  63. Broke up with a guy whom I applied the Sheezelub principle to in order to realise I needed to. Some months later, saw each other at a place both of us had reasons to frequent. Exchanged hellos, I would’ve been up for a little more polite chat at that point, but both of us had places to be. When I returned from my errand, passing by the same spot, he was gone.

    I haven’t seen him since, in part because I’m not a local of that town anymore. Sometimes my brain wonders where he is/ what he’s up to, but I’m not overly tempted to find out, given he was a jerk.

  64. I had a similar relationship dynamic with a guy once. I was always the one initiating everything and in the end he just ghosted me. It was horrible for a long while because there was no clear end. I eventually unfriended him everywhere and deleted his number so I wouldn’t be tempted to contact him again.
    I work with a film festival every fall and he works in the bar where we have our final party. The first year after the breakup I didn’t go to the party, I was to worried about it and choose not to. But the second year I decided I couldn’t just skip something important to me, so I went. All my friends were there, I didn’t even think of him. At some point he was walking passed me, stopped for a second to say hi, I said hi back and that was it. It was fine. All that tention just went away.

  65. Oooh! I do!
    I went on a date with a woman who went super intense and weird when I didn’t want another date. We are both in a local meetup group and I felt SUPER nervous about going back and seeing her there. I was so scared it was going to be really weird and awkward and obvious to everyone around. But I kind of thought, well, what if I decide it’s NOT going to be awkward and I just act super normal?

    Apparently that took the wind out of her sails.

    I did run into her again a little while later when she was on a date with someone else. That had more of a chance to end up weird but I made a snap decision to stick with Ostentatiously Normal and it was over much quicker.

    You got this, OP. ❤

  66. Just a few months after a messy breakup, Ex and I were both invited to a mutual friend’s wedding. I was dating a new guy by then, who was going to be my +1. I also needed to get Ex to sign something housing-related to finalise the breakup on paper. Talk about freaking awkward.

    Whilst I was over Ex, and totally uninterested in having him in my life, he’d been a worm in my brain for 6 years (4 years unrequited love, 2 years relationship) before that. Jerk brain had a lot to say about the upcoming event.

    I won’t deny it: on the day, it was awkward. It took way too long for him to read the paperwork and sign it. The photographer – caring only about getting the photograph to look right – stood me right next to Ex.

    But after from that? I had a great time. I barely noticed Ex, and when I did, it was accompanied with the thought of ‘thank goodness I don’t have to care what you think or do anymore’.

    Get a stop watch ready. Stand, sit, or lie in some uncomfortable position. Not one that hurts – just one that you’d like to shift from. Make yourself stay there for 30 seconds. Not a pleasant experience, but not the end of the world either. That is what your encounter with the Ex will be like. He isn’t thinking about it in advance, and he’ll forget about it immediately after. You are free to do exactly the same.

  67. I had reconnected with an old friend and thought it was going great until I found out she was plotting behind my back to do a shitty thing to me. She asked me to coffee, so I told her I knew she wasn’t actually my friend and I was not ever going to be available for getting together with her anymore.

    I also found out at the same time that she had arranged to move in with a couple of my other friends who didn’t know anything about the shittiness. I hate drama; I didn’t want to involve my friends in the drama she had tried to start, and I also didn’t want to lose my friends.

    They sent our invitations for a party that I would have been excited to go to, but now I was dreading seeing and interacting with this person at my friends’ house, which was also now her house. I decided to go, anyway, and it was fine.

    We mostly avoided each other, and I had a great time with my friends. Eventually we both ended up in the same group conversation, and I had made a comment about some medical issues. She asked how that was going and I said, “Oh, you know,” and waved vaguely at the air. Then I went to get a drink and didn’t interact with her again the whole night.

    I had to see her a few more times that year, but then she moved into an apartment across town and I haven’t even heard my friends mention her since.

  68. My very first relationship ended in flames – he cheated on me with my best friend. More than a decade later I reconnected with the friend, who at this time was married to the guy. I was so worried about that first meeting, even more so because it was a birthday party for my child and I’d invited my mom and sisters who had a ringside seat for the relationship bonfire that happened years prior. He showed up and it was weird for about 10 seconds. He started talking and I thought “I was into this guy? Why?” In my head I remembered him as funny, smart, and interesting. He’s nice, but he’s none of those things unless I was okay with the same joke over and over and listening to him talk about the one and only topic he’s knowledgeable on. My mom and sisters all mentioned that he had changed very little over the years. Obviously one of us had though. 🙂

  69. Just like the Captain said. I once had a sex friend who I was very, very much in love with. It wasn’t reciprocated. In fact, he was actually in love with my best friend. I kept that sex friend relationship because… idk, denial I guess ? Then he moved across the ocean, and I spent six months obsessing about when he’ll come back and he’ll see how well I’m doing without him and how interesting and non-clingy I’ve become (yeah, see the irony) and he’ll fall into my arms like God intended and we’ll have the hottest love-making session ever.

    Well, life went by, I got new friends, new hobbies, a partner.
    Two years after the cross-continental move I get a text from him saying he’s back in town and inviting me for coffee. Cue intense panic, butterflies in the stomach, you name it. I still decide to go to the date.

    I went from “OMG he’s here” to “idk, he talks a lot I guess” to “he’s hot but kinda weird and pushy, why did I like him again?”
    So…yeah, what Captain said. 1)A year is a long time 2) it’s okay if there’s some weirdness about it 3) the most likely issue is anticlimax

    P.S. sorry for the incorrect syntax I’m not English

  70. From my own personal experience… #4 is SO. TRUE.

    The first couple of times I saw my ex after we broke up (and had to stop trying to be friends because I found out he was lying to me about something major) WERE quite awkward, and it was hard to navigate that emotionally. But two moments stick out that I now look back at and laugh:

    1. A couple months after our fallout, the person subletting from my roommate needed a more permanent place, and one of Ex’s roommates was moving out, so I took her to see the place. Subletter was/is a very pretty woman, and when Ex saw her (before he saw me), his chest got all puffed up and he started doing his whole trying-to-flirt braggy thing that I’d come to know so well. I had to bite my cheek to stop from laughing at how obvious he was being, and that was my first “haha wow I thought I was going to marry THAT guy???” moment.

    2. Two years later, we were all at a mutual friend’s wedding, and for the first time I realized I didn’t hate him anymore, felt friendly-ish toward him, and I actually ended up trying to help him and one of our other friends make connections with two of the bridesmaids. We’re not friends, ten years later, but that’s okay – we’ve both moved on and I don’t bear him any ill will (and I’m pretty sure that’s mutual).

  71. Not a relationship breakup, but a friendship gone really bad. So bad, I had to hand out the African Violet and end the friendship. She didn’t take it well. Anger and resentment were all abound. Hurt, pain, unfinished business, open wounds, the works. I didn’t feel relieved as much as I hoped, either.

    A few years later, I saw her + husband at a funeral of another friend. I kind of knew she’d be there, and thought: well, who’s going to throw a tantrum at a funeral?

    I saw her across the room, and she fired me a look of a thousands hates. But later in the aula, I invited her and her husband to my table. It was.. weird? But not bad! Everyone was really sad about the death of our shared friend, and in our mourning, we also kind of mourned the lost friendship.

    It was bittersweet seeing these old friends again, but when we were chatting, I also got several reminders why the friendship was over for good and would never work anymore.
    When the conversation ended and we all went our separate ways, it felt like some door had closed finally and we all could let go.

  72. I (she/her) was in a similar situation once! A long term and long distance relationship ended on mutual and friendly terms, and as you’d expect from two people who were living across the world from each other, we slowly drifted apart to the point where we sent the occasional friendly “happy belated birthday” type email and didn’t speak much. All good, until he emailed me a long dramatic email about how he wanted to let me know that he’d proposed to his girlfriend (the woman he started dating about a month after we broke up, whom I already knew about). This wouldn’t have been a big deal except for the fact that one of the reasons we broke up was that he didn’t want to get married and I did. Still, by the time he and New Lady were engaged, we’d been broken up for about two years and I’d had my own significant life events going on, so while I was a bit annoyed he was treating me like I’d explode about the news, it wasn’t really a big deal to me.

    Fast forward another year or two, he and New Lady had married by now, and we were all invited to the wedding of some mutual friends. Not only were he and his wife invited, but his parents were invited as well since these were family friends getting married. WELL. My anxiety brain spun the situation completely out of proportion, worrying what his family would say to me, think, etc. I discussed the situation with some supportive female friends who were also attending the wedding, they all pointed out it had been ages since we’d even spoken, I resolved to look absolutely drop dead gorgeous, be firmly polite to him and his family, and have a good time. LW, I needn’t have worried. He and his ENTIRE FAMILY completely ignored me at the wedding, pretending as if they’d never met me before. This wasn’t a small wedding but it was certainly small and informal enough that you ended up making small talk with just about everyone, so this was clearly a deliberate gesture. And, how silly! I spent the first couple of hours of the reception working up the nerve to go say hi to them and by the time I’d worked up the nerve, I realized they all left the wedding really early. Freed from the shackles of the social requirement to make small talk with people from my past, I partied the night away and had a fantastic time. And just like the good Captain said, it definitely did change my perspective of my ex from “damn, too bad that one never worked out” to “damn, glad I didn’t end up becoming a part of THAT snooty family!” The Captain’s advice here is spot on, and I think whenever you do see your ex again, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how little you care any more.

  73. Ex (he/him) and I (she/her) were together for eleven years (I dumped him – relationship sounds very similar to the LW), including most of college, and we have a bunch of mutual friends. We both are now with people from our mutual friend circle. I was actually really close to his now-partner, and she managed to “accidentally” tell me that they were together now in a pretty painful way, so for a while the thought of interacting with *her* gave me more betrayal/anxious feels than interacting with Ex. Maybe the worst was both being in the bachelorette party for a friend, and hearing Ex-friend complain about Ex doing things I had warned her about. It was super not great for me, but I wanted to be supportive of the Bride to Be.

    In group settings, I’ve mostly dealt with this by putting on my Happy Extrovert disguise and being really engaging with others and being politely friendly if Ex and Ex-friend were in the conversation. It’s kind of a drain, but I do value time with our other friends enough to suck it up. But it’s usually fine! During quarantine, a friend set up online viewing parties for movies…twice a week. I don’t make every one, but the ones I do, seeing them in the chat box has been a level of remove that felt easier to deal with.

    Lately, maybe due to COVID isolation brain + both of them having deaths in their families, I did reach out and express sincere condolences and have friendly chats with each of them. I think I’m getting to a point where I can put them in the friendly acquaintances category, even if they’ve both shown me the kind of people they are and that they aren’t good for me as close friends.

  74. There was a guy I had the huuuuugest crush on back in high school, but we never dated or anything b/c I never had the guts to say anything. In college I basically lost contact with him, partially so I could get over the crush and move on to my new life. In grad school we got back in touch, at a time when I’d been dating my now-partner-of-18-years for only a few months, and we planned to meet up.

    I was soooo nervous going into it, b/c I knew I wanted to tell him about my crush and clear the air, and I also knew he wasn’t seeing anyone else at the time, and part of me was worried I’d realized I still had a crush on him and still wanted to date him and I’d dump my current boyfriend for him. In retrospect, I do think I just shouldn’t have told him at all. But I did, and his response was “huh, I never thought of you that way, but you should’ve just asked me out and I probably would’ve said yes.” And my response INTERNALLY to that was “huh, well good thing I’ve gotten more bold b/c I’m the one who asked out my current bf, and you know what, I have absolutely zero interest in this dude now,” while aloud I was more like “huh, well that was a missed connection, and TOPIC CHANGE.”

    So, it was a relief in the end and clearing the air really did help me overall. I’d grown and changed and moved on, and by the end of that conversation I realized he still had many of the traits I’d originally found attractive, but I was no longer as interested in those traits as I was when a teen. Years later I also met my partner’s high school crush, and I could see exactly the same thing: she had many traits that I’d had when younger, but I’d grown with my partner since then, and she hadn’t, and while she was what he wanted then, my traits *now* were what my partner wanted now.

  75. The story of someone close to me:

    They had this incredibly intense and turbulent relationship that thoroughly fucked them up, like they were willing to make all sorts of bad decisions just to keep this person around, even though the relationship was bringing more pain than joy. After they broke up, they dreaded seeing this person because of all the unresolved lust and incredible angst.

    About a year after the breakup, they were at an event popular in our community, and sure enough, the person was in attendance. As they were standing in line for something, the person walked by, definitely saw them, and kept going. Their reaction turned out to be: “Huh. Glad that’s over.”

  76. I dated a guy for about 2 years, I was quite serious about it. We broke up, it was a major upset for me. I asked for no contact for the next approximately year. Next time I saw him, he was moving into the floor below me in our graduate dorm. And it was awkward for a while, but nowhere near as bad as I’d worried it might be- and then I was able to calm down, we made friends again, and he was a witness at my wedding, and generally falls into that category of “good friends I don’t see very often” (this is now something like 14 years after that break up.)

  77. My first serious relationship was also my ex’s first, and we were together for about two years. We had an awkward break-up and meet a few months later at a gathering of our (fairly small) friend group, so we really couldn’t avoid spending lengths of time together. And he was just… there? We had a very brief “well, this is weird” conversation and then both proceeded to treat each other as Just Another Group Member, which was surprisingly easy.

  78. I’m estranged from my parents, and I knew we were both going to be at my niece’s (their granddaughter’s) wedding this winter.

    I remember counting down the days, really dreading having to see them again, because I knew it was going to be a whole thing.

    In the interest of keeping the piece and asserting some control over the inevitable awkward, I sent an email a few weeks in advance essentially saying ‘yep, I know you’re going to the wedding, and I’m going to the wedding too. Let’s meet up at this neutral-location-coffee shop the day before to get our big emotional reactions out of the way, so we can all be present for the brides and not make a scene.’

    So we did that. And it sucked … and it was fine.

    I mean, it wasn’t fun, but we all survived it and nothing exploded. Our mutual loved ones still love us. The wedding was lovely. I put on a brand-new thrifted button-down and rainbow knee-high socks and danced all night.

    And when I see them again, at the next wedding or funeral, it’ll be a bit less awkward and still a little sucky and mostly, on the whole, completely okay.

  79. Had to see my ex at a friend’s wedding after 6 years and (me) having gotten married and had a baby. I had some scary feelings because he was abusive (but not violent) – had my imagination going a bit wild. He communicated through friends that he didn’t want to speak to me, which was fine by me. It was hard not to stare at him like, “was i really married to that guy?”

    I felt a lot of feelings after – like some residual grief, and relief that nothing weird happened. I cried a bit and felt better. Had to see him two years later at another wedding, also a bit weird, but better. I’m glad I didn’t miss the weddings!

    OP, it will be weird, but with some healing and build up of resiliency over the next year you can do this. Bring in your other friends to think about how they can support you and limit contact, even in a small group. lots of love!

  80. So I had an LDR that was very, VERY similar to this in terms of dynamics. Our breakup was a bit more dramatic & contentious though – we had One Big Fight while on the phone and that was basically that. I lived in a city a few hours away and had keys to his house, which was stressing me out FOREVER, and yet for some reason I didn’t feel I could just mail them to him because then it was Really Over and my jerkbrain didn’t want to let go. Fast forward eight months later, I happened to be driving through his city on the way to somewhere else. I decided on the spur of the moment that I should just return the keys and free myself of the horrible anticipation of an unsolicited text from him (a rarity in our relationship). I texted him thirty minutes out, stress-chewed a bunch of gum, got a reply and met him at the front door of his office. He said “Hi, hope you’re doing well, thanks for returning my keys, enjoy your road trip.” I said “Nice haircut, gotta get going now, bye.” and it was over! I have very rarely thought about him since, although we do very occasionally see each other and wave from a distance at gatherings for our mutual sport. It was only 10% as weird as I was worried about the first time and now when I see him its a little awkward because he avoids me slightly, but I feel fine.

  81. I had an ex who announced, a year after I moved 2,000 miles away from him, that he was ALSO moving to my new city and couldn’t wait to hang out!! We’d had a fling that was really low-key for him but SUPER emotionally involved for me, so he considered everything between us to be cool when that was VERY MUCH NOT the case, but I’d never bothered to set him straight since, you know, 2,000 miles. I spent the 6 months between when he told me he was moving and when he arrived PANICKING about how I was going to break it to him that he owed me like seven apologies before I would even consider regularly hanging out with him, did I really want to hash it all out or did I just want to tell him to fork off and leave me alone, what if he wanted to hook up again, etc. etc. But then when the day came and he texted me that he was in town and wanted to get coffee, all the stress was just… kind of gone! I had hyped myself up so much that I guess in the process I worked through all the feelings I needed to work through. We had coffee and caught up and it actually was no big deal, he helped me move apartments a couple weeks later, a few of our mutual friends also moved to our new city and we had monthly-ish dinners for a while. He’s never going to be my best or favorite friend or someone I actively seek out time with, but it’s turned out to feel kind of good and empowering that I can know he’s gonna be at a group hang and not feel anything deeper than like, oh, you’re here. Many hugs to you, LW, and my hope that you find whatever’s at the end of your current anxiety tunnel ❤

  82. My first dating experience was something I entered in order to have the experience of dating someone. No sparks from my side, and after a short time I ended things. We agreed to the whole “stay friends” clause.

    He had been much more into me, and he tried to pull out a couple of romcom solutions in order to win me back. It was faintly creepy.

    We were in university together, I had ended things over the summer, and I knew in fall I’d be seeing him again. Largely because of the “winning back” stuff I was fairly nervous about the first meeting. I wasn’t sure if he was going to try some sort of grand gesture or put me on the spot or something. Either way, I knew it was likely to be awkward, and I accepted that.

    We ran into each other very early on, going opposite directions on a staircase. He was surrounded by a group of his friends, I was on my own. It was awkward. We had a short, stilted “how are you” conversation. I did the shifty “don’t make deep eye contact” thing. We Continued in our respective directions.

    I took a deep breath and had a reaction something along the lines of “awkward first meeting achievement unlocked.” Shortly thereafter I got an email from him going “you were super awkward and I guess we shouldn’t be friends.”

    I suspect, looking back, that he was expecting me to do some kind of work to make things not-awkward for him. That he was looking to guilt trip my lady-niceness socialization. What happened was I shrugged, went along with it, and we never spoke again.

    1. Did something very similar with a dude who 1) I never dated, just had a standing anime night with 2) knew I’m aroace and assumed that came with a “change my mind” clause. We went no contact about two weeks before fall finals because of that second thing, he turned up the day before spring semester with no coat in a snowstorm because “I missed you so much!”

      Fortunately my roommate and I were locked in mortal battle with our respective thesises so we chucked him a bag of our least favorite tea and dumped him in our floor’s lounge with a paper cup of his bad ideas.

  83. Heh, heh. I live in the same city as my ex but hadn’t seen him in the eleven years since we were divorced. I was walking into the Starbucks by my work from the side door, and in my peripheral vision caught a glimpse of someone and thought “Who’s that creepy old guy staring at me?”

    Moments later I realized that it was my ex, looking like pure crap – like he hadn’t eaten anything with vitamins since we separated, drooping under his jacket; I’d honestly thought he was 20-30 years older at first glance. I was looking fine that day, being dressed in “office-nice” clothes with makeup, and without dropping a beat I kept walking, straight past him and out the front door of the Starbucks with my head held high.

    It felt fucking fantastic! A few minutes later I had a delayed reacttion of anxiety, shock, “ewww!” and “I hope he’s not going to be in MY Starbucks again!” but then it was fine!

  84. This happened with my first ever HUGE girl crush, the one who made me realize I was bisexual and also wanted to open my pre-existing relationship for her, and then when it didn’t work out, it was a mess, and did I mention she had also been friends with my boyfriend, and she was the ex gf of a common friend…? So yeah, big drama, and I kept expecting to run into her for months after we broke it off, and it would give me a lot of anxiety.

    Then I got out of the chemical toilets at a convention to find her standing there, chatting with my boyfriend. I managed to get some awkward-as-hell polite noises before finding an excuse to disappear and, like, catch my breath because I swear I hadn’t been breathing right. And yet? That was it. Half an hour later I was reabsorbed into [convention thing], that night I was out with friends, and for the next few days I sent some “so guess who I just saw” texts around and got some e-simpathy.

    You 100% got this, LW, even if your brain is trying to convince you otherwise.

  85. This has happened both to me and someone else I know, both from exes that were the lazy emotional kind.

    You’re at a party with mutual friends plus your partner. You and ex mostly act like strangers (in my case, yes, this is what I want) until partner happens to leave for the bathroom/other conversation/etc. As soon as you are alone ex comes up and offers to “talk things out” in a way that makes it seem like he’s the bigger person, but also you feel somehow like it’s all a big secret that you are both hiding from new partner?

    My response, “no, I do not want that.” Exit left.

    I agree with the Captain that there’s nothing to do to emotionally prepare (other than weigh your options about whether you even want to attend). I just followed my gut without even thinking, and it worked out. The implications of Big Secret Emotions had the (maybe intended) effect of making me feel a little unsettled like…. is something bad going down…? I felt a little tense/anxious/looking over my shoulder, and after my adrenaline was running a bit for a few minutes but that was the worst of it.

    I guess if I had been cooler about it in the moment I could have pointed out how weird it is that he cornered me alone, like how easily it would have been less awkward if we were all to exchange pleasantries like a group? OTOH, who cares though?

    So yea my strongest feels were “what the…? oh nothing I guess,” “please go away,” and “why are you being so awkward,” but none were very strong tbh. You got this.

  86. I nearly made myself sick worrying about seeing my most-recent ex on a group zoom call (over a year after the breakup). Particularly since it was a musical event so I was performing in front of him, too.

    And for the first couple of minutes of the call it was definitely weird, esp. since his new GF was also on the call (which I hadn’t known was going to be the case). And then the weirdness dissipated and I never had to speak to either of them directly, and now it’s done and “awkward first encounter among mutual friends” has been checked off my to-do list forever.

    Phew!

  87. My first real boyfriend (at college) was extremely intense, extremely controlling, and our relationship became extremely fucked up. We finally split after graduation and didn’t see each other again for about three years, while I processed all of the damage and learned to be kinder to myself and all that good, healthy stuff. We met each other again at a mutual friend’s housewarming party. I knew he was going to be there and was so anxious. Turned out, the second I walked in the door, another friend yelled my name from across the room, I ran over to say hi, and on my way threw a “Hi, Ex, nice to see you here, glad you’re doing well” over my shoulder. We didn’t exchange more than two further polite-neutral sentences the rest of the evening (“can you grab me a glass from where you’re standing?” “Yep”), and it was perfectly perfect.

  88. I casually dated a guy who turned out to live on my street (I didn’t know until we wanted to go home together from the pub). He ghosted me.

    We (totally inevitably) ran into each other one morning as we went to work, did the whole “hay, how are you, how was your summer” thing and it was fine, despite me being angry about sleeping with someone dumb enough to ghost a neighbour.

  89. About six months after my (she/her) divorce I met up with my ex husband to sign paperwork removing him from the title to my home. It was weird. He tried very hard to be the nicer person and project an air of “everything is totally fine and even improved in my life,” which I was skeptical of, but was happy to roll with. Just before we got in our respective cars to leave he asked if I wanted to be friends. I did not. Our relationship was awful, and I do not want to see him ever again. I told him I didn’t think I was able to, and that was that. I felt weird afterward for a couple days, but now it’s just funny to me.

  90. I unexpectedly saw an ex of mine when a housemate invited him to a party at my house. She didn’t know we knew each other. I had a brief eyebrow raise, and “…hey” and retreated to my room, where I reflected how glad I was I’d put on an awesome shirt that morning. End of story. No weirdness and we never saw each other again after that.

  91. I attended a birthday dinner that also included an ex that I hadn’t seen since we’d broken up (years previously). I won’t lie, it was super awkward when I walked in, but once I’d made sure I got a seat at the other end of the table, I actually had a great time! I chatted with my friend and a friend of my ex’s for the most part, and no one grilled me on my ex and why weren’t still together or anything at all to do with that relationship.

    I’m not someone who stays friends with exes, and while part of me sometimes thinks a little wistfully about catching up (guess who broke up with who lol), the biggest thing I was afraid of was being forced to talk to my ex or about him to the other people, and it turns out you don’t have to do that. I think you do have to be prepared to make that happen for yourself, if necessary, though.

  92. About six years ago, I dated a friend from my theatre community for about six months, then broke it off. We hung out a few times afterwards, but things got awkward when I started dating someone new so we stopped.

    Then we got cast in the same show as a married couple whose relationship was in the process of failing for the same reason our relationship had failed. It was super awkward, it definitely activated a lot of his sad feelings and insecurities (which he talked about in rehearsals without ever mentioning my name or that we had dated, which was very weird to sit through but at least less weird than if he’d mentioned my name), there was one time when he and my new girlfriend ended up alone in a hallway at the theater together and he turned around and stared at a wall for 5 minutes until other people arrived! But while it was a generally awkward two months, we both survived! Our castmates found us both reasonable and professional people!

    We have crossed paths about once a year since then. It’s always a little awkward. Now that it’s been so long, it’s often also hilarious! (Last year, I ended up sitting in front of him at a movie we were seeing to celebrate a mutual friend’s birthday, and when the movie was over, we discovered that he’d quietly gotten up and left in the middle without letting anyone know he was leaving.)

    Basically, what I’m trying to say is: it might be awkward to run into your ex, but no matter what happens it will be survivable! Best case scenario, it’s an awkward 30 seconds, and it’s over. Worst case scenario, you have a funny awkward ex story for the future.

    You got this. ❤

  93. For years, every time I walked by my ex’s new street in my city, I braced for a weird encounter — and then I never ran into him, not once. A dozen years later, we were both at the same wedding. By then, he was married, with kids, living in suburbia. I never wanted any part of that lifestyle, and had no idea he would be into it! He was so unrecognizable (& happy too) that we got along fine, like distant cousins. (As @Mo said above — asking about his family members was a good safe topic.)

    Ok but Tallulah Bankhead (allegedly) was at a party when her ex-boyfriend from a decade earlier walked in, & she said “I thought I told you to wait in the car.” 🙂

  94. Caveat: the only time I went out with someone was when we were in high school. We were 15, dumb, and definitely not in love but after going out for precisely two weeks and breaking up awkwardly I ended up moved to a different area at our summer job and I ended up not having to see him until september, when he decided to join drama club, which I was already a member of.

    He walked into the first set build meeting, my stomach did a little *Yikes!* and then one of the seniors, who had also worked with us that summer, told me I could have the next newbie for props and that she was stealing him to haul two by fours.

    Fast forward a month and a half to the night of the haunted house and it was like we’d never met in the first place before having to escort lost haunted house patrons out the fire exit.

  95. Heck, I had an ex who was criminally abusive to me. After several years during which they were on probation and forbidden by the courts from going within two blocks of me, they were finally free to go where I was, and I was terrified. If I ever had to be someplace alone with them I might still be terrified… but I learned a really useful thing about them that first time I saw them again, which was that they were FAR more concerned with making sure they didn’t look bad in front of the hordes of other people at the event we were both at than they were concerned with giving me a hard time after multiple years out of each other’s lives. One polite, pasted-on smile from each of us in the hallway; one polite nod, and then we were past each other and it was done and dusted. I’ve been free to ignore them at all following events with a clear conscience, knowing they’re just as happy to have “ignore each other” be the plan for ongoing interactions.

    You’d be really surprised just how *much* past drama can still be channeled into “thirty seconds of polite weirdness and then go about your individual business with minimal interaction!” I sure was. Good luck, OP! I truly hope and believe it’s gonna be much, much easier than you fear it will be.

  96. Dear LW,

    A while back, I dated someone for two years. We lived together, and it was awful (think “poor division of household labour and finances, mixed with honesty issues that made me horribly insecure”), so I broke up with him. The break-up was hard work, because Ex was apparently blindsided by my decision and thought everything was fine. He smothered me in messages asking where he went wrong, turned up at my friend’s house when I was there “just to chat” (read: guilt trip me further about how terrible he was feeling and “could there be a chance for us in the future?” (no.), “what can I change to make this right?” (nothing.), “woe is me, life is meaningless without you” (oh.)), kept bringing up our breakup at every opportunity, and making opportunities to bring it up if there weren’t any.

    Ex was, by the time we split, part of my extended friend group. When I finally stopped letting myself respond to his messages “to be polite”, he latched on to my best friend to complain, who was AMAZING. She told him to leave me alone and stop referring to our relationship, because it was over and continuing to harass me about it was not cool. They were words I couldn’t find it in me to say, at the time. The next time Ex and I crossed paths was at a board game group with the extended friend group. I’d been dreading it for weeks, because I didn’t want the cycle of “how could you do this to me” to start up again. Best Friend, however, only had to give him one pointed look and he behaved himself. He treated me like a friendly acquaintance in every interaction thereafter and it was a breath of fresh air.

    I know your situation isn’t exactly the same, but the idea of having a designated Blocker Friend who knows the score and is willing to step in if a diversion or reprimand is needed might be helpful. It was a huge relief to me to abdicate responsibility for how things were going to be, given that I was so emotionally invested in the relationship and wasn’t willing to shut him down properly. I like to think I’d be firmer today, but if you’re in the same situation of being unable/unwilling to speak your mind for whatever reason, a Blocker Friend could be your way out of Anxiety Town.

  97. I have two of these stories! First one, my college boyfriend (who I broke up with because we got too serious too fast and I wasn’t ready). Lots of drama ensued, including him spreading rumors about me. He facebook stalked me for a while, I blocked him, and eventually just forgot about it. Years later, he showed up at a social dance event I was attending after having just moved back to the city. We danced once, chatted politely, and never spoke again.

    Second, a guy I was FWB with very briefly ended up leaving the area. We’d met through a mutual hobby with a tiny local scene, so we ended up continuing to talk for a few weeks after he moved away. Within those weeks, I realized the relationship wasn’t healthy for either of us and formally said, “Hey, we want totally different things in life, probably better if we go our separate ways, but no hard feelings.” He agreed. A year later, we bumped into each other at a meet-up for our hobby. Brief hug, how are you, fine thanks, see you around, okay bye. I had been building it up in my head for so long that I expected a much more dramatic scene, but shockingly, we were both adults about it.

  98. I got divorced in 2019 (thank god) and celebrated a milestone birthday in January 2020. He moved out early November and except for a quick exchange of accidentally retained belongings I hadn’t seen him since move-out. He decided (!) to come to my big birthday party and I knew he was coming and it was all “ugh why is he COMING I don’t want him there” irritation pre-party. Side added drama of someone implying I had a new boyfriend (I didn’t) who would be there (no one was my date) to said ex-hubby and I was like UGH WHY DO I STILL HAVE TO MANAGE HIS FEELINGS ON MY BIRTHDAY. So the day comes and he shows up and says literally nothing to me, just visits with all our mutual friends and then says happy birthday when he was leaving. Not hostile, but definitely WHY ARE YOU HERE. (Answer: he thought he would never see the friends again, which, ok Covid proved that true, but also he doesn’t initiate social…ugh anyway) BUT I just didn’t approach groups he was visiting with and he certainly didn’t come to me and it was all quite survivable. Just annoying. And this is 2 months after move out from an 8 year relationship, so, pretty good.

  99. My ex and I shared a major hobby, and I was in dread of seeing him at the next event. It was a little weird and awkward, but mostly fine, even when we DID get stuck alone together for a short time (because I was helping to run the event and he was a volunteer). I made sure to keep the conversation focused on what we were actually working on. Also, at the end of the event he came over to my car to hand back some of my stuff that had been missed in the official handing-off of belongings, and said “Hey, I think we need to talk about how to tell people we’re broken up.” I had a little bit of a panic moment (because I knew the dude well enough to know that this was an attempt to keep interacting with me) and blurted out “WE don’t need to do anything, I’ve told everyone I care about knowing,” which both shocked him into backing off and made me realize it was true–WE never needed to do anything ever again, because WE weren’t a “we” anymore. (Additional happy ending–we both kind of drifted away from the hobby a few months later. I took a year off and then came back to it, but i have never seen ex again, and none of his former friends at the hobby seem to know or care where he went.)

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