It’s going to happen to all us twenty-somethings at some point our lives. That horrible, gut-churning, cheek-burning moment when you have to see your ex again for the first time since splitting up. The best case scenario – it was an amicable parting, and this will just be a little awkward. The worst case scenario – this is the first time you’ll actually have spoken to each other since you burnt all the presents he’d ever given you and toilet papered his car.
But you can do this. I believe in you. That guy was in the past, and you’ve moved on to bigger and better things, which can include devoting time to yourself and your career, not just another relationship. Here are some top tips to keep you going through that awkward first (re)encounter:
1. Silence is golden
So, you’re probably trying to think of anything and everything that you want to say to him, maybe Googling some bad jokes or anecdotes to fill the silence. Well, stop. The truth is, you don’t have to say anything at all apart from ‘Hi’ ‘Bye’ and possibly ‘How are you?’ if you’re feeling super polite. This guy is in your past, and if you haven’t needed to talk to him for however many months since you’ve been split up, then you don’t need to talk to him just because he’s in front of you. Be polite, but make it clear that you have your own agenda and plans for the day, and having a lengthy with him isn’t on your to-do list. Saying less will make you look more confident and calm, and will also give your brain a break. So what if he thinks you’re being aloof? Let him come to you to start the conversation.
2. Don’t avoid the past
If conversation does happen then let it flow naturally e.g. don’t try and plan every sentence before you say it, because it will come across as though you’re panicked and thinking about him too much. Most importantly, don’t obviously skirt around talking about the past. If things you did together come up, then let it. In the end, you have memories together, and you shouldn’t have to erase them completely in order to move on. Just make sure it’s comfortable for both of you. For example:
GOOD – “Would you like an olive? Hey, remember when we went to France and saw all those olive groves? That was cool.”
BAD – “You’re eating an olive? You told me you hate olives. On our second date. Were you lying to me for our ENTIRE relationship? Tell me the truth about the olives!”
3. Do avoid talking about current partners
This particularly applies if there was any kind of cheating involved in the break up of said past relationship, because it will just bring up bad memories and cause an argument. You don’t want or need to know about his new girlfriend. There’s no need to put yourself through the torture of comparison or seeing if he’s happier with her. Equally, he doesn’t need to know about your new guy, no matter how great he is. Don’t show off to each other because it’s disrespectful. Keep things on a strictly need-to-know basis and you’ll avoid any extra information that you might end up dwelling on.
4. Get other people involved
The first meeting between you and your ex doesn’t have to be a silent, dodgy, face-to-face affair. If you’re meeting him at a party or work or a school reunion, embrace the fact that there are people around you who know and care about both of you, and have been there through the break up. A group situation is going to make you more confident, and also makes the chances of being shoved together minimal. It also cuts the amount of conversation time down and means you can distract yourself with other people’s conversations and stories.
5. Flirting isn’t always bad
You and your ex might both be naturally flirty people, and that’s okay. You don’t have to change just because you’re seeing each other again and now you’re broken up. In fact, changing who you are can make things more awkward. If he still wants to call you by his nickname for you, or you want to joke together, that’s fine, and don’t let anyone judge you for it. If it gets uncomfortable, just smile and stop participating – he’ll soon get the message. But cutting someone down with comments like ‘you’re not my boyfriend anymore,’ can just look petty. In the end, a bit of laughter is much better than complete silence and tension.
6. Don’t be afraid to say goodbye
This is not a test or some ordeal you have to conquer in order to be able to fully move on from your ex. This is just life, and people run into each other again, even if it’s years after the fact. There’s an art to calling it quits before it goes too far, so don’t be afraid to make a polite excuse and leave, busy yourself with something else or move away to some other friends in the room. Not only are you establishing distance between you and your ex, but you’re in control of the split, which may not have been the case during the actual break up.
Breaking up is never easy, and seeing people again can be even harder, as those feelings have had time to sit and mellow for a while. Ultimately, every relationship shapes who you are a little, and will lead you on to bigger and better things. My advice would be to never ignore your ex, and keep things quick and simple.