Editor’s note: This is a weekly column exploring the many perils and joys of modern dating.
After a breakup, certain places become off-limits. Whether it’s the coffee shop whose lattes you used to swear by, or a secluded study nook on campus, both people involved in a relationship abandon old favorites for fear of the awkward first post-breakup run-in, and with good reason.
The supposedly mature and accommodating way to handle running into your ex is to act delighted to see him or her, swap brief summaries of what each of you have been up to post-breakup (without actually using the word “breakup” of course), act happy for one another and part ways, with at least one or both parties suggesting a future meeting.
The formula works in theory and on the pages of self-help books. In practice, however, it’s not so graceful. All the smiling and nodding in the world isn’t going to cover up the fact that you don’t care if your ex “is in a really good place right now.” But in reality it wouldn’t be appropriate to respond with, “Really? Because I just spent the last month on a red wine diet, avoiding all of the places we went as couple, and throwing darts at a picture of you hanging on my wall,” so instead you settle for a courteous yet empty, “I’m so happy for you.”
The other option, the one the dating world apparently deems immature and irresponsible, would be to ignore your ex. But since pretending someone who is standing right in front of you doesn’t exist is generally frowned upon, there are two crucial elements to surviving the unexpected first post-breakup run-in — brevity and civility.
Whether you play along or not, there’s always going to be a reticent game of seeing who came out of the breakup on top. Since it’s not enough to be over someone, you subtly sprinkle in examples of how you’re doing better off without them in the conversation you were hoping would happen when you weren’t wearing sweatpants. If your ex is in a good place in their lives, you’ve got to be in a better one. If they’ve found someone new, you have to find someone better. No ex is truly happy for another ex without feeling even a slight sense of competition first.
The best way to keep your cool in a situation where the awkwardness could have you rambling uncontrollably is to come up with quick and polite questions and answers. You don’t have to be friends with an ex, but you should be friendly with them. Part ways with a simple and understated “take care” and walk away confidently.
Just because the two of you have seen each other naked does not mean that you are in any way obligated to listen to a play-by-play of everything that’s happened to them since the breakup. Specifics about either of your lives are not worth sharing because if the two of you still wanted to be that involved in one another’s lives, then you wouldn’t have broken up.
All it takes is a run-in at a frozen yogurt shop to realize that even a university as big as UT can feel like a small town when your ex catches you on a particularly pathetic night while you’re wearing your fat pants and holding a yogurt cup overflowing with Snickers candy bars. You can’t control what you look like, or what you’re doing when you run into your ex for the first time after a breakup, but you can control what you say, as long as you keep the conversation short and sweet.