Terrified to Run Into Your Ex? Here’s How to Deal…

‘Cause I know I am! [Laughs a joyless laugh that eventually peters out into sad awkwardness]

One of the ways my anxiety manifested, in the months after my last break-up, was a near-constant fear that I would run into my ex – on the street, in a store, in a coffee shop. This was exacerbated by the unfortunate fact that I moved into an apartment coincidentally near his, mere weeks after the break-up. Worst.

In working through this anxiety with my therapist, talking to friends about it, and journaling about it, I came up with a bit of wisdom on this. Here are a few questions to ask yourself if the thought of running into your ex terrifies you. It’s not much, but hopefully it’ll help you if you’re going through something similar.

What’s the worst that could happen? One of my best friends is a social worker, so she knows all the smart questions to ask me when I’m spiralling into anxiety – and she asked me this every time I mentioned this fear to her.

Here’s my personal “worst that could happen,” with regards to running into my ex: I could run into him while he’s with a partner of his, and while I’m rumpled/makeupless/depressed-looking, and they could both look at me pityingly and/or attempt to talk to me. This could result in me bursting into tears, which would, of course, make the whole situation even more embarrassing and pathetic.

Stating my “worst-case scenario” makes it clear to me that even if the worst happened, it wouldn’t actually be that bad. I’d get through it. It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve cried in front of someone it’s embarrassing to cry in front of, nor would it be the first time I’ve seen a former flame with their achingly gorgeous new paramour. I got through those other times. I didn’t fall into a chasm in the earth from pure and total humiliation. I’m still here. And the same will be true if I run into this ex, too.

Do you really have anything to feel bad about? This is another question my social-worker friend posed to me, and she’s so right. She picked up on my feeling that it would be shameful for me to run into my ex – like I should hide from him, because the end of our relationship was somehow a failing on my part. But the thing is, it wasn’t! He ended the relationship, for reasons personal to him, and it wasn’t my doing or my fault. I have nothing to feel ashamed of. I can reasonably hold my head high if I do encounter him.

Even if you did do something wrong in your relationship, it’s likely by now that you’ve either owned up to it and apologized for it or that enough time has elapsed that both of you have moved on with your lives for the most part. If you feel you still owe your ex an apology, maybe you can reach out and issue that apology. But otherwise – why feel bad if you run into your ex? Why hide your face like you’re a pariah to them? There’s no reason for it!

Could you get away if you needed to? A friend reminded me that even if I did run into my ex and he did try to talk to me, I would always have the recourse of simply ignoring him and walking away. I would not be obligated to enter into that interaction if I didn’t want to.

If escaping your ex is an actual safety concern for you – i.e. if they had/have abusive tendencies and/or you think they’re upset enough with you that they might try something violent if they saw you – you could try using a safety app like bSafe whenever you’re in a neighborhood where your ex might be, and maybe consider some self-defense options if that’s your style. (Pepper spray isn’t legal where I live, and sometimes, when random men follow me down the street late at night, I wish it was…)

What would make you feel stronger? A lot of the cognitive-behavioral therapy I’ve done has focused on the practice of accepting the things I cannot change and changing the things I do have control over. In this case, that means figuring out what would help me feel less freaked out about running into my ex, and putting those measures into place.

I used to wear dark sunglasses and headphones when I had to walk in the direction of my ex’s place, so I could plausibly ignore him if I did see him. I’d put on clothes and makeup that made me feel strong. I’d often text a friend about my situation so I felt emotionally supported in what felt like a brave act. I’d listen to music that made me feel happy and badass. And for the most part, it worked!

Have you ever been afraid to run into an ex? How did you deal with it?

Claustrophobic Closet Kisses

Over a year prior to my current boyfriend, there was another boy who I dated for a paltry three and a half weeks. Let’s call him R.

R was, like most of the people I’ve ever been attracted to, tall, skinny, and awkward. He made me laugh and smile with his earnest sweetness. He wore ridiculous running shoes with trailing laces and had a huge toothy grin which he flashed when he wasn’t sure what to say.

R was on the student council at my high school, so he had his own “office,” which was really just a repurposed storage closet. It was large enough to fit a desk, a chair, several posters, and his backpack. He basically used it as an oversized locker or a surrogate bedroom; it was always a mess.

Sometimes I would drop by when I knew he’d be there, during his spare period. I’d duck out of art class and creep down the hall to the door with his name on it, and knock, my stomach doing excited gymnastics.

A few of the times that I came to visit him, R and I got up to no good in his office. I’d sit on his desk, trying to be seductive, while he signed important administrative forms or drafted an essay… and eventually he’d notice me, put down his work, and start kissing me.

His desk was in the corner. I remember being pressed up against the wall, so I physically couldn’t move away from the kiss if I wanted to. R was an aggressive kisser, all sloppy-tongued and gropey-handed, which I tried unsuccessfully to convince myself I enjoyed.

I remember thinking, I don’t understand what all the fuss is about. My friends raved about kissing, how it was romantic and intimate and life-affirming, but I never felt that. There were no fireworks or orchestral swells. There was only a giant prodding tongue and nagging feelings of doubt and claustrophia.

Naturally, R and I broke up pretty quickly – we were not a good match. I barely missed him, but some effects of my time with him have lingered.

To this day, it still bothers me to be kissed when I’m trapped against a wall, or any other confining surface. My favorite kissing position is straddling my boyfriend while he’s sitting down, because that way, I feel in control, like I can retract consent at any time without making a huge deal of it.

Of course, it helps that my current boyfriend is an excellent kisser, knows that tongue should only ever be an accent, and doesn’t try to asphyxiate me with his mouth.