The first time you see your ex in public after a breakup is almost never fun, but with the right prep, it can be a little easier to deal with. When an event is coming up you know they’ll be at, there comes a point where you have to quit avoiding them at all costs, hold your head high and just deal with the awkwardness.
Obviously, a lot of how you conduct yourself depends on what the situation surrounding the break up was. Were you together for four years before finally deciding you just weren’t right for each other? Did you go on dates for a couple of months before he ghosted you? Maybe he cheated on you, then got serious with her right after you ended it.
No matter what the situation is that caused the end of your relationship, there are a series of steps that you can go through to calm yourself down and prepare yourself for seeing the dreaded ex in the flesh.
Step 1: Breathe.
Seems obvious, but sometimes when we start to panic we forget to do this simple thing. As soon as you find out you’re going to see him, take a deep breath. It’s going to be okay. You’ve been in the same room as him before, and it will probably happen again. Since this is the first time you’ve seen him post-breakup, it adds another element to things. But really, what’s the worst that can happen?
Step 2: Consider what’s the worst that can happen
This may seem counterproductive, and I wouldn’t recommend spending a lot of time on this one, but rationally think about what is the worst but also the most plausible thing that is going to happen. He brings another girl? He talks to you? He doesn’t talk to you? Rather than letting your mind run wild, think about what you would be least comfortable with. Having something concrete in mind can help, I promise.
Step 3: Pick a best case scenario
On the opposite end of the spectrum, think about what is the best thing that can happen. Maybe you’re worrying for nothing and he’s actually going to decide not to go. Or maybe you’ll be having such a good time with your friends (and have so much to drink) that you won’t even remember he’s there. Whatever it is for you, picture that now. When you look at the best and the worst side-by-side, hopefully, that will give some perspective and you’ll be a little calmer leading up to the event.
Step 4: Figure out what is actually most likely to happen.
Now that you’ve figured out the worst and best case scenarios, put away your Mind Running Wild hat and put on your Serious Thinking cap. Rationally come up with one or two of the most likely scenarios. Because when you’re thinking clearly, we all know that the most probable outcome is that you’ll actually make awkward small talk for about 90 seconds before ignoring each other or the rest of the night, or he’ll be there with another girl and it will suck but your friends will distract you enough that you’ll still have a good time. And that’s not really so bad.
Step 5: Learn more about the event you’ll be at/scenario you’ll be in
Going to this event (or whatever it’s going to be) is an enormous act of willpower that I commend you for. When I am under stress about something, I like to gather information on it. How long is this event going to be? What exactly is going to happen there? Who will be there? Where are the bathrooms? Knowing all of this helps put me at ease in an unfamiliar and uncomfortable situation, so do your research.
Step 6: Talk to a friend about it
A little outside perspective can’t hurt. When you get done doing through your best, worst and most likely cases, your mind could still keep spinning out. Talking to a friend can help ground you and reassure you, especially one that’s going to be there with you. Letting her know what you’re worried about before you even get there can put her on alert too, and she can help steer you out of or away from bad encounters.
Step 7: Pick out a killer outfit
We all want to look hot when we see our ex. So wear that new crop top you’ve been waiting to break out or try out that new lipstick that’s a little too bold just to wear to the grocery store. You’re going to feel like a spotlight is on you the whole time anyway, so you may as well look your best. If you go shopping for an outfit specifically for this, I’m not going to tell anyone.
Step 8: Rehearse what you’ll say if you have to talk
Having some semblance of a script in your head can be good if you are pretty sure at some point you’ll have to talk to him and he’s going to ask how you’ve been. It’s probably best to keep it cordial and to the point: “Things have been great! Thanks for asking. I hope everything’s going well with you — oh, my friend just walked in, I’ll catch you later!”
Step 9: Think about what you definitely don’t want to say
You probably aren’t looking to make a scene, so make a mental note not to accidentally confess that you were bedridden for two weeks after you broke up, and not to scream at him that he’s a cheating asshole from across the room. You know, little things.
Step 10: Plan for a friend to be around or at least available to text
What are friends for if not to comfort you when you have to be in the same space as your ex-boyfriend? Arranging in advance for someone to kind of be your go-to is a good idea, and I promise it’s not putting them out or annoying. Make it up to her with drinks or brunch or returning the favor when you’re both going to a party next week where her ex will be.
Step 11: If you have a new S.O., consider their point of view
Sometimes we retain feelings of rejection and hurt and anger toward an ex, even when we’re happily with someone else — which is a tricky situation. It’s totally fine! But it shouldn’t be our new love interest’s responsibility to help us process it. If you are with someone new, and especially if they’re coming to the event with you, it may be best to give them a heads-up that you’re going to be in the same place as your ex. Let them process it, reassure them how happy you are with them and go back to venting to your besties.
Step 12: Think about how your ex is going to feel seeing you
While you’re being empathetic and considering others’ feelings, consider that your ex may not be thrilled about seeing you. Depending on who broke it off with who, he could be dreading it even more. So make sure that you have a contingency plan that includes reading his vibes and taking cues from him too — if he’s totally standoffish and doesn’t want to speak, probably just let it happen. If he seems open to a quick conversation, get in and get out. But he’s probably the one other person in that room who will be as uncomfortable as you are.
Step 13: Remember why you broke up
Remember the decision-making process that led to the end of the relationship, especially if you’re worried you’re going to see him and start to miss him more than you already do. Even (possibly) worse — that you’re both going to have one too many and, let’s just say, fall back into old habits.
You either decided to end things in a more rational time, for good reasons, or he did something that caused the relationship to end and you don’t want to be with him anyway. Typically, it’s not wise to go backward in dating. (If you think this doesn’t apply to you, consult with a close friend who knows your situation better, and listen to her advice.)
Step 14: Remind yourself that it’s going to be over quickly
Considering all the time you’ve spent worrying about it leading up to the event, the couple of hours you’re probably going to be in their presence, probably doing something else, is tiny! You will be shocked at how quickly it will fly by, so just keep that in mind going into it.
Step 15: Stay positive leading up to it
I know I just made you think of the worst possible things that could happen, but try to stay positive in the days leading up. I promise it’s going to be okay, and in the grand scheme of things you’re not even going to remember this day. You’ve got your whole life ahead of you, so just get through the event and get on with it.
Step 16: Keep breathing
Like I said, take a deep breath. It’s going to be okay. You’re now the most prepared that anyone has ever been before seeing an ex-boyfriend in public. Soon it will be over and you can get back to your life of pretending he doesn’t exist. Just breathe through it.