What To Do When You See An Ex For The First Time Post-Breakup

Photo: Allocca/Starpix/REX/Shutterstock.
The aftershock of the Jenny Slate and Chris Evans breakup is still reverberating, and last night the exes were reunited at the premiere of Gifted, the movie that brought them together in the first place. Up until this point, we thought that if you could bottle the feeling of seeing an ex for the first time post-breakup, it would be the perfect poison to use on your enemies. But Slate and Evans looked totally fine and happy.
When Slate first opened up about their breakup in March, she told Vulture that they hadn't really seen or talked much since their split. "I think it’s probably best. I’d love to be his friend one day, but we threw down pretty hard. No regrets, though. Ever," she said. And to twist the knife a little more, Evans recently sang her praises in quite possibly the most genuine way, saying she was his "favorite human."
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When you come face-to-face with your ex, it can feel like you have two options: Pretend you are doing fabulously without them or attempt to become invisible. Some might call this primal urge fight or flight. "It's like the ultimate awkward situation, and people get tripped up by not knowing how to handle it and being caught off-guard," says Lena Aburdene Derhally, MS, LPC, a licensed psychotherapist who specializes in relationships and anxiety. A 2010 study actually confirmed that just seeing a photo of your ex can trigger the part of your brain that registers physical pain. "If there is unfinished business or there wasn't closure, then these feelings may be right below the surface, and just a sight of your ex could make them overflow," says Kristin Zeising, PsyD, a relationship psychologist. But there are ways to do this painlessly.
First, Derhally says you should remind yourself that whatever weird and painful feelings come from the interaction will be short and fleeting, and then you'll get over it. And your conversation should be short and sweet if you want to emerge unscathed, she says. "Knowing how to end a conversation and move along is a good practice," she says. Dr. Zeising says you should remind yourself that the relationship ended for a reason; whether it was your choice or theirs, it was unsustainable. "It's important not to look in the rearview mirror and focus on the past, but to look ahead at your future," she says.
Derhally suggests saying a quick, "Great seeing you; I have to be somewhere," and staying "cool and cordial" throughout the interaction. Resist the temptation to say something snarky or blame-y, because it's just unproductive, says Dr. Zeising. "Digging up the past and saying who did what wrong only makes you feel like you're reliving the situation, and brings negative energy to the interaction," she says. "If you don't have anything nice to say, maybe it's best to say nothing at all — or a smile and 'I hope you're well,' will do."
In the Vulture article, Slate says that if she ran into Evans with a "spray tan and a blowout," it would be confusing for him, because it's not what she's really like. "But if I was able to say, 'Aw, man, I have diarrhea,' he’d be like, 'It’s you. I remember you,'" Slate says. Talking about diarrhea isn't a requisite in a run-in with your ex, but Derhally says being yourself is always the way to go — and if that means having a spray tan and a blowout, go for it. "If there's an interest in having any kind of relationship going forward, then be authentic and don't play games," she says. And if you want to wear your absolute best outfit to do that? "Sometimes, it makes someone feel better to have an ex see that you're doing well," she says.

Got the best got the very CHILLEST got the very most strong @mistergarf

A post shared by Jenny Slate (@jennyslate) on

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If you know you're walking into a lion's den where your ex will be, bring a friend, Derhally says. "Bringing a friend as a support system, and someone who you know makes you feel better, is a great idea," she says. "If you know it makes you nervous, bring somebody that you trust and that can support you and be there, so it's not awkward." Slate, for example, posted an Instagram from the premiere with her friend fellow actress Mae Whitman, who she says is "the very most strong."
And remember: It's not necessarily a bad thing if seeing your ex hits you right in the gut, Derhally says. "It doesn't mean you're not over them, and if you interpret things like that, you'll get yourself in trouble." No matter how the first run-in goes down, it's okay to feel upset or unsettled — we're only human, after all. So even though you might not be blessed with the Jenny Slate charisma and charm that pulses through her veins, you can still run into an ex and live to tell the tale.
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