The next worst thing to the actual break up of a relationship is that first awkward social encounter, when you are forced to spend an evening in close quarters with an ex trying to pretend that you are having a good time. It doesn’t really matter who dumped who, that first time you run into each other socially, you are going to feel insecure and uncomfortable. What’s more, anyone you are with or she is with is going to feel just as trapped and unsure.
Lessening The Blow
If you are able to anticipate your first encounter, all the better for your mental and physical preparation. This is not to say that you should orchestrate the encounter. If she has broken up with you, don’t frequent her usual haunts and then pretend that you didn’t know she’d be there. You’ll end up looking kind of pathetic at best, and restraining order material at worst. If you dumped her, then showing up at her watering holes, or even the ones you frequented together, is kind of cruel. Give her some space so her heart doesn’t have to break when she is just trying to leave you behind her, as well as to avoid sending her mixed signals.
If you live in a big city, then it is likely that your first encounter will be at an event with mutual friends. This can be dicey because you know damn well that several people are going to be sitting back and waiting for the potential fireworks to go off between you. Some people can’t get enough of other people’s pain. If you live in a smaller city or town, then the encounter is probably going to happen at one of the limited number of public places in your community where people go to enjoy themselves. And in this scenario, everyone in the room is going to be watching the potential drama unfold, and perhaps even egg it on like a good reality show train wreck.
When you find yourself in the middle of your first encounter, the two words that you want to remember, and that will serve as your protectors, are dignity and respect. They are not—I repeat NOT—vengeance and fisticuffs.
The first rule of the First Encounter is obvious: look good. This is obligatory. And if this means looking good every time you go out until that moment when you finally see her, then that’s what it means. Nothing is more satisfying than seeing your ex for the first time, and they look like hell. It is an added bonus, of course, if the person they are with (or at least pretending to be with for your sake) is also a skeeze. As a surprising side effect, your consistently dapper good looks might just land you a new squeeze.
This brings us to the next important rule. Never go into a First Encounter without back up. In the best of all possible scenarios, you go in with a hot looking date, even if she is just a friend. If the First Encounter is anticipated (for example, the wedding of a mutual friend), definitely take a date if you can. If it is a surprise attack, make sure that you have friends around you. If you don’t want to speak to the ex in question, having your friends around you at all times is a must. There is a safety in numbers because the bigger the group around you (especially if some of them are girls), the more intimidating an approach by said ex will be. Try not to leave the safety of your group for any preventable reason.
While you are going to be tempted to get sloshed in order to lubricate the awkwardness of the social situation, the better idea is to drink little, if at all, so you can maintain control of the situation. Do you really want to be all drunk and obnoxious so her friends can turn to her and say, “Thank god you got rid of that ass!” and she can agree?
As soon as you have a few drinks (or any other type of mood altering goodness), any veneers you are trying to maintain are going to become exaggerated and transparent. Instead of looking like you are having a good time, and not missing her at all, you are just going to start laughing louder, talking louder, and glancing over more often to see if she’s noticing. It’s inevitable, so don’t even argue. Keep one inward eye focused on your level of inebriation and the intensity with which you are paranoid about her presence. As soon as you start feeling too drunk, or too insecure, leave the situation. The last thing you should do is go and talk to her if you are too drunk. Unfortunately, this is when the idea will seem the most appealing.
If you have decided that you need to approach the ex, to prove you are over her, or whatever the reason, know this: if you just smile and wave from across the room, and that is the extent of your contact before you make an exit, she will be left wondering. If girls are good at anything, it is wondering. And if girls hate anything, it is wondering. But the beauty of leaving her wondering is that you can’t screw up and say the wrong thing. No matter what you do, don’t do, say, don’t say, she is going to dissect the entire evening with at least 3 of her closest girlfriends. If you learn anything in your relations with women, it should be this: sometimes just not talking is better than anything you can say.
If you absolutely must approach her, then there are two approaches for two situations. If she dumped you, then you want to leave her with the impression that you are over her, whether you are or not. This is where dignity comes in. If you are still stinging from the break up, then economy is your best friend. This is class: walk up to her, whether she is with her friends or not, put your hand on her shoulder, and when she turns, just smile and say “hey” and keep on walking. Don’t stick around for the painful conversation that will inevitably ensue. There is no way it will go well. By doing just the walk by, you are saying “I am over you, and I am classy enough to be a good guy.”
If she tries to engage you in conversation, and tries to lay those big “I’m so sorry I hurt you, but how are you?” eyes on you, don’t fall for it. You don’t need her pity. Shut down the conversation with a “I’m well, thanks” and move away. Don’t ask her how she is. Unless she’s miserable, do you really care? Well, she won’t tell you if she’s miserable, so don’t ask.
If you are the one who hurt her, there’s a good chance she won’t respond to an olive branch now. Avoid her. If you can, leave. If she starts getting drunk, definitely leave, or at least stay on the opposite side of the room as her. And never, ever let her catch you without back up. This is when you have to respect her, and respect the fact that, even if you didn’t mean to, you hurt her. Don’t cramp her space for too long. Shakespeare, as usual, said it best: “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” First, protect yourself; second: flee.
The First Encounter is never going to be enjoyable. Break ups suck, no matter how you slice it. If you manage to keep your dignity intact, and respect each other’s boundaries, the First Encounter doesn’t have to be a bloodbath. As a last word of advice, once you get home from the First Encounter, disable your phones. You’re not out of the woods until both of you manage to avoid the post-First Encounter late night drinking-and-dialling. You thought the First Encounter was bad…