On the list of random happenstances that can ruin a perfectly good day, running into an ex is right up there with getting a catastrophic haircut; locking yourself out of your house; or getting bitten by a werewolf. One minute you’re going about your business, feeling OK about your life and choices, the next — bam. When there’s no option to dissolve your body into a puddle of unobtrusive liquid, how do you handle this rude imposition?
A few years ago I was browsing in the supermarket, innocently comparison-shopping different brands of jelly crystals, when I glimpsed an ex through the gaps in the shelves. I froze like a hunted deer. As soon as he turned around, I dropped my basket and sprinted out of the building. Propelled by a wave of adrenaline, I ran two blocks down the street and stopped inside a convenience store to catch my breath. Only ancient hunter-gatherers escaping capture by roaming apex predators know the high of relief I felt at that moment. Three minutes later, as the fight-or-flight response wore off, I discovered the downside of panicking and fleeing when you see your ex at the supermarket: a bone-deep sense of shame.
PRETEND TO BE MARRIED AND PREGNANT
Obviously this approach works best if you have the biological configuration to support pregnancy, but there are probably some womb-free folks out there with enough natural charisma to pull it off regardless. The objective here is to present a gleaming mask of middle-class normality, so your ex knows you’re capable of achieving the irrational and arbitrary milestones that our culture considers markers of social success. Pat your belly like there’s something in there other than the box of Jatz crackers you ate for lunch at 4.30pm. Mention your involvement in a book club, neighbourhood watch patrol, or children’s sporting team. Do not shout, “It’s all lies!” or “My life is a shambles,” no matter how much you want to.
USE A DOG
Countless medieval wars were won using the human shield strategy, where an individual (or a few hundred) endowed with undeniable personhood sacrifices their life to protect some inbred feudal despot from the violent death they so richly deserve. Taking a dog with you into circumstances where you’re likely to run into an ex is just like that, except it’s even worse, because the innocent dog loves and trusts you. That’s the downside. The upside is that this will almost definitely work to defuse tension – that’s just the power of pups.
BE VERY IMPRESSIVE
If you know beforehand that your ex will be present somewhere you will also be present, you can always give yourself a good preening and strut around like a prize hog to let them know they absolutely do not still live in your mind rent-free. Have you been putting off learning how to apply false eyelashes? Do you own a gaudy, bedazzled outfit that makes you look like a sexual disco ball? Now’s the time. The real trick to this tactic is taming the little voice inside you that says, “Why do you even care what this person thinks when you dumped them a year ago for having awful personal hygiene?” Shut up, little voice. Just let me get on with being devastatingly attractive and extremely pathetic.
Statistically, most people are likely to forget all pretense of holding it together, instead losing it in a spectacular fashion. The options here are many: fall at your ex’s feet, sobbing and begging to be taken back; fly into a rage and kick them in the shins until police are called; run screaming into the toilets and refuse to be tempted out until the venue closes. Sure, you’ll regret it for the rest of your life, and any third parties who witness your awful display will be hardened against you, but sometimes you just have to speak your truth. Try not to do this if your current partner is physically present.