Mute. Unfollow. Block. Delete. When it’s necessary, we go to great lengths to ensure we don’t see an ex—whether we’re the heartbreakers or the heartbroken—all in the name of self-preservation. However, there’s no on-off switch in real life, and no matter how hard we try to avoid it, there’s always the possibility that a once-significant other may pop up in our physical presence with little to no warning, offering no time to prepare.
These encounters are actually more of a probability than a possibility, since it’s very likely there are still mutual friends or places of interest at play here. So a random run-in at the grocery store, a friend’s birthday party, or your favorite date spot (yikes) are not as far-fetched as they may seem at first. In fact, they tend to happen with alarming frequency once we’ve rebounded and started falling into our same old routines, only with a new person.
For this reason, it’s best to be equipped with the communication, charm, and emotional maturity to handle introducing your ex to your new significant other as painlessly as possible for all parties.
Now, it’s not necessarily that you need to over-prepare for this kind of encounter, but you should lay some groundwork by considering the way you talk about your ex to your new partner, even before you have a run-in. All to say, do not bad mouth your ex—unless they kicked your dog or something equally as bad. Ultimately, no matter how bad the falling out and subsequent uncoupling was, showing your new partner that you have the self-awareness and ability to take responsibility for your role in a relationship's demise will speak volumes to your new SO about how great a partner you are.
Also, talking about your old relationship means that, if and when you do have an encounter with your ex, your new partner won't feel caught off-guard by that person's existence, thus allowing them to be in a position to say hello in as uncomplicated a way as possible.
Your new partner isn’t the only one whose response to the encounter you’ll need to consider. Think about how your last exchange with your ex went. How will that affect this new meetup? Ask yourself: Do they know you’re seeing someone else? If your ex doesn’t know about your new relationship, how will that make your new partner feel? Is your new partner secure in your relationship? Or will they see every smile as an example of you flirting with the old flame? You’ll want to consider everyone’s feelings before introducing them.
But so: the encounter. What should you do when you see your ex? Do not dodge them. If you saw them, they saw you. Even if they pretend they didn’t, they probably did. The only circumstance where you might want to ignore them when you’re with your new partner is if you’d also avoid speaking to them if you ran into them solo. Otherwise, remember: You know this person, and you do not need to pretend you don’t.
Once your ex is spotted, talk to your new partner first. Lightly inform them that you’ve seen your ex, you want to say hello, and you’d like your partner by your side. Offer them the option to not be introduced, if that makes them more comfortable. Be clear about whether or not your ex knows about your new relationship. Don’t bash your ex, but do let your new partner know if your ex is prone to rudeness, jealousy, or is just bad at handling uncomfortable conversations.
And now for the approach. You do not need to beeline directly to them dragging your partner by the hand to meet them. Also, remember: This is not the time for gloating or shadiness. Find some chill. Once you’ve made eye contact, calmly head their way. Acknowledging you see each other first is helpful. You wouldn’t want to look up from whatever you’re doing to find your ex and their date in your lap, would you?
Perhaps most importantly, have some idea of what you want to say before approaching them; something that goes beyond an awkward, “Heyyyy, what are you doing here?” Consider saying hello, how are you, and maybe something more specific as well. If you’re at a wedding, the go-to question of asking someone how they know the couple does not work, because you know goddamn well how they know the couple. Ask about a project they’re working on, their pet, or a life update, but probably stay away from, “How’s your mom?” It’s always a question that hits a little too close to home.
Now, introductions! For some reason, we have a tendency to include a title in introductions such as, “This is my friend, Tommy,” or “This is my mom, Barbara.” So instead of saying, “This is my ex” or “This is my new partner,” once you’ve gotten through your pleasantries, I implore you to drop the titles and simply use their names. If your ex’s name is Morgan, introduce him or her as Morgan rather than “my ex, Morgan.” Same goes for your new partner.
And now that you’ve done your due diligence, it’s a safe time to make a swift exit. If you’re at a bar, party, wedding, or somewhere where you can get a drink, check your ex’s glass. If it is nowhere close to needing a refill, suggest to your partner that you guys should head to the bar yourselves. Heading to the restroom is always a good exit strategy, too.
The bottom line is, no matter how the former relationship ended, for your growth, mental health, and new relationship, it’s best to enter a new chapter without baggage or negativity between you and your ex if possible. Successfully managing an unexpected run-in will allow you to feel as though you can freely move within your new relationship without potentially hurting your new partner or causing any undue burden on yourself.