Do you, like me, suspect that an impromptu meeting with your ex could easily end with one or both of you curled into the fetal position, sputtering, “7:52! 7:52! 7:52!”? Well, suckily, the holiday season increases the odds of that happening by 3,000 percent (not a scientific figure, but at least approximately correct between holiday parties, hometown bars, eggnog-y drunk texts, and Zeus’s generally dickish sense of humor). But it’s going to be fine. You know why it’s going to be fine? Because you’re going to Sharpie the link to this article on your forearm, that’s why. Here are the best tips for surviving dreaded ex run-ins of all stripes, for the holidays and beyond.
1. Don’t push it.
If it ended realllly badly — ex-fiance, someone cheated, etc — and you think it will be genuinely traumatic to say hello, walk away. (Also, this is in a league of its own and should go without saying, but if they were abusive, get the hell out of there immediately and get your support network on the phone.) Alternately, if you’ve been chatting for half an hour and then suddenly feel bowled over by the situation, make your excuses and extricate yourself. It’s really and truly OK — in fact, it’s the smart thing to do.
2. Try to keep your cool.
This is important: keeping your cool is not the same thing as being the Cool Ex. You’re not trying to prove anything, so there’s no need for long conversations, cheek-kissing new girlfriends, or scheduling a really unnecessary coffee catch-up date that you’ll probably bail on, anyway. For your sake and theirs, stay poised and do whatever is in your power to keep the encounter as low-drama as possible — whatever that means for the two of you.
3. Read the room.
Are they walking towards you or keeping a safe distance? With a group or alone? You don’t want to insert yourself into a situation from which you can’t extricate yourself, and you definitely don’t want to fling your arms wide for a hug while your ex reaches out for a handshake. If you’ve made eye contact but they look really uncomfortable, wave from where you are, but hang back. If you’re not sure you want to hug them, clink glasses or purposefully keep your arms at your sides.
4. Be ready for the cold shoulder.
If you dumped them, don’t expect a warm welcome. There will probably be monosyllables and silence; consider anything else a pleasant surprise. This out-of-the-blue rendezvous might seem like an opportunity for you to make things slightly more right, but if your ex looks like he wants to stab you with a kabob skewer, it most definitely is not the window you were looking for. Just know when to let it go and walk away.
5. Take control if you can.
Steering the conversation can make all the difference between absolute composure and a spit-take. You'll have the upper hand if you say hello first, but you can still make a comeback if they approach you. This is no time to babble, so think before you open your mouth. When you do, make an effort to point the conversation in the direction you want it to go (probably quick and painless, yes?). And, on that note...
6. Keep your conversation specific…
Asking precise questions and sharing particular details about your life sets a friendly tone while narrowing the scope of your talk. It’s easier to pull off if you chat occasionally, but even if you don’t, give it a go — new apartments, hobbies, work projects, whatever. This way, you're less likely to chat about new partners, family members, or anything that will make you sad. Plus, a rapid-fire back and forth leaves little room for awkward pauses, lingering glances, wistful sighs, and word vomit. None of this from you, missy:
7. …but prepare a vague exit excuse.
If one of you is with a group, it’s pretty easy to duck out. Try this line: “Well, I should let you get back to your night/ get back to my friends, but it was nice to see you.” It’s even easier to bounce if you text occasionally; you can gracefully wrap up with, “and keep me posted on that thing we talked about!” Knowing when to extricate yourself is a little trickier if you’re alone and, like, buying Monistat from CVS, but the basic idea is, you have enough time to say hi, but not enough time to hang around and chit-chat. Now, get going, girl.
8. After the encounter, take care of yourself.
Eat boxed mac and cheese, marathon all of the shows, rant to a friend, cry — actually, do all of those things simultaneously. Accept that your feelings, as inexplicable or unjust as they may be, are OK. You are OK, and you're going to continue to be OK. Breakups suck, and running into an ex can be jarring, but remember that you did end things for a reason. So tend to your needs, whatever that means for your, take a few deep breaths, and keep it moving. 'Cause guess what?
Main image: Ray Mickshaw/FOX