How To Survive Meeting The Ex

Meeting your ex's new partner — or, for that matter, your new partner's ex — can be an incredibly stressful experience. But a few simple tips will help you stay cool and keep your dignity.

Dress the part.

If you know ahead of time that you're going to meet your ex's new significant other (and this applies to your current SO's ex too), wear something that makes you feel confident. Our first date clothing guide is actually quite applicable here — you want something that makes you feel hot but comfortable and won't leave you tugging and adjusting while you're trying to seem all chill and enviable. It's also wise not to go too over-the-top — unless you wear your rhinestone tiara and thigh-slit dress all the time, trotting them out now will make you look sort of desperate. I talked with Meredith Broussard, author of The Encyclopedia of Exes and The Dictionary of Failed Relationships, who says, "the better you look and the happier you are [...], the easier the situation will be."

Be nice.

This is a good tip for almost any social situation, but especially when dealing with someone's new flame (or old one), resist the temptation to be snarky, rude, or distant. Here are Broussard's tips for the dreaded situation where you run into your ex and his or her new love unexpectedly:

The best advice is don't run away, no matter how much you may want to. Being polite but cool is going to make you look like a reasonable person even if you don't feel like a reasonable person. So no getting into fights, no hair-pulling, no excessive alcohol consumption as a result of running into the person, and no inappropriately lewd behavior.

Hilary Winston, author of the forthcoming My Boyfriend Wrote a Book About Me, concurs:

Giving attention to the girl is what makes you feel best when you walk away. If you try to ignore her, it seems obvious that you're trying to do that. But if you can make direct eye contact, actually really put the emphasis on her, then it kind of makes you seem more confident.

It can also make you feel more confident — if you can engage directly with someone and be kind to and interested in her, odds are you'll feel less threatened. You'll also feel like a stable grownup who can handle an awkward situation without freaking out — although, as Winston points out, it's perfectly acceptable to freak out to your friends later on.

Remember: they're just as afraid of you as you are of them.

Kids often get this advice about snakes or spiders, but it's true of exes' new partners too. Winston points out that when you're the ex, the new SO is almost certainly going to feel uncomfortable around you. She says, "the greatest position you can ever be in is to be the ex-girlfriend." The reason: "you're the expert" on your ex. Any new significant other is "going to resent the kind of experience that you have with the person they're dating, and you have to remind yourself that you're in the position of authority in that interaction." Also, there's probably a reason you and your ex broke up, and even if you got dumped, at least you don't have to deal with his/her annoying qualities anymore. Lynn Harris, co-creator (with Chris Kalb) of BreakupGirl.net, told me, "Just remember that YOU are the one who is finally freed up to meet the one. And who can now do the museum at your OWN pace."

So what if you're the new partner meeting your beloved's ex? Well, on the minus side, you do have less experience with your SO, and the old flame could trot out a bunch of in-jokes and private stories that make you uncomfortable. But on the other hand, your partner is with you now, and even if the ex is totally glad to be rid of him/her, seeing you is likely still going to feel weird. Bottom line: as uncomfortable as you may be in this situation, remember that the other person is likely equally so. And therefore...

Go easy on yourself.

Says Harris,

Know that he/she will definitely appear either much better or way worse than you, and both will make you feel bad. That, or he/she will be eerily similar to you, which will also make you feel bad. But don't feel bad that you feel bad! This is all utterly normal.

And Broussard adds,

I think that a little bit of jealousy is inevitable, but I think the responsible, adult thing to do is acknowledge it and channel it into something productive. I think that the human thing to do is just to experience it. I would tell people to cut themselves a break — everybody feels really uncomfortable about it.

So if running into your ex's partner — or your partner's ex, for that matter — temporarily makes you feel like shit, don't worry that you're being immature or overdramatic. This is lots of people's least favorite social situation ever, and it's natural to get a little upset about it. That said...

Keep ex-talk light, if possible.

There are times when an ex becomes A Thing, and needs to be discussed as part of your relationship. But often that's not the case — and if a meeting with someone's ex doesn't result in serious questions about your coupledom, it could be wise to be chill about it with your partner. Says Winston,

After the interaction, you should say, "oh, I have nothing to worry about." I always think that's the best thing to say, because the guy's never going to ask followups, and it means a lot of things [...] but it kind of covers it and makes you seem like you've got it under control, and then you can vent to your friends. I have gone down the road so many times of making ex-girlfriends an issue with the guys I'm dating, and it just annoys them. [...] Try to keep everything as light and easy as possible, and then save every little details for friends when you get in private.

Don't close off opportunities if you don't have to.

Plenty of people want nothing to do with their partner's exes or exes' partners, and that's fine. But sometimes someone who might seem like a rival can become a friend. Says Sadie,

Basically, I am someone who is happy to have my bf's see exes, happy to meet exes' new people — whatever. For me, it removes the weirdness and sense of mystery when you can put a face to it. [...] Indeed, several have become friends, good friends. I've never understood unilateral cutting-off, when someone committed no crime but to like the same person you do.

And Broussard points out that exes too have their uses: "they might have nice friends." So while little to no contact with exes or their partners can be best for some, keep in mind that people who were once so close to you could introduce you to new pals — or even romantic interests. And should that rosy scenario not pan out, a modicum of politeness will make any future meetings with the ex or ex's partner a lot more manageable. And it will help you pat yourself on the back afterwards, rather than hiding away in shame.


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Failed Relationships [Official Site]
The Encyclopedia Of Exes
The Dictionary of Failed Relationships
Hilary Winston [Official Site]
My Boyfriend Wrote A Book About Me