There's no getting around a bad break-up and its side effects. And sometimes there's no getting around being in the same room with your ex before you've managed to really get yourself centered again. And even if you think you're doing alright, that kind of proximity can set off an avalanche of feelings, memories, and rawness. Now imagine thousands of flashbulbs, dozens of televison crews, and millions of viewers. If all the exes at the Oscars can pull it off with grace for one night, so can we!
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I like being prepared in these situations, so whether or not you know you'll be running into an ex, try to have a little game plan ready in advance. Do not, however, ruminate or obsess with your preparation. It's like the difference between running a mile as a warm-up and running a marathon.
There's often a little vanity that creeps into a run-in with the ex, and that's a good thing to keep in mind. You might catch yourself looking for signs of an epiphany, the one where he realizes what a god-awful mistake he made. Shake that off as quickly as possible!
Especially in a formal gathering, keep the greeting simple, casual and warm. Make and maintain eye contact. Be very aware of your breathing; in stressful situations we usually don't breathe enough or regularly, and this can create a cascade of stress responses. Inhale. Exhale.
Smile. Tell him how dapper he looks. No petty comments or innuendo. Try to keep the conversation brief, and it's best not to mention anything from the past, friends you have in common or any other shared experiences. Keep it down to earth and in the present tense. End the conversation warmly, excuse yourself, and tell him how nice it was to see him again. Make it Oscar-worthy.
If he has a new friend on his arm, the waters might be a little choppier. I always love Sex and the City for its realism about these things!
Samantha: Well, let's just say it: you won.
Carrie: Was there a contest?
Samantha: Oh please! There's always a contest with an ex. It's called "who will die miserable."
Carrie: I had often fantasized about running into my ex and his wife. But in those fantasies, I was running over them with a truck.
I know it can be excruciating and unsettling, seeing your ex with another woman, but this exercise is about helping you keep your equilibrium and poise in public. If he doesn't introduce his friend during the greeting, make a point to introduce yourself (name only!) and apologize for not getting her name. Then say 'Hello ______, it's a pleasure to meet you'. Be gracious and warm. Include her in the conversation and make eye contact with them both.
Move on with your evening, stay engaged and available to other people, and please do not spend any time scanning the room for him or positioning yourself in his line of vision.
When you get home and if you need to vent, find your journal or take a few sheets of paper and write -- I like to make the letters very big when I'm seriously worked up -- every last thing you truly feel about the encounter. Then start making plans to reward yourself for all that strength and dignity. Inhale. Exhale.