I was sitting at a fancy table at the GLAAD Media Awards this year, piling butter onto cranberry-walnut bread, when I saw Helen* walking toward me. A few months before, we matched on Tinder, talked for a week about our favorite TV shows, met up at a bar, planned a puppy-napping heist at the pet store next door, and then kept texting for another week before our connection finally fizzled out. I hadn't spoken to her since, so when I saw her walk into the room I turned my head away and silently prayed, "Please don't don't sit at my table."
And then, she sat right next to me.
I'd like to say I handled that situation like a boss and confidently told her how nice it was to see her again. But that is not what I did. Instead, I pretended that I didn't know her (which she seemed to also be doing). We re-introduced ourselves like we never had that not-amazing, but-not-bad-either date. And I spent the next three hours kicking myself for being such a damn chicken.
Could I have handled that situation better? Yeah, definitely. And I really should have, says Pricilla Martinez, a life coach with Blush. But this isn't specific to me. Lots of people feel awkward when they bump into someone they've dated before. Some might even run away like I essentially did. Sometimes, that's okay, especially if your date mistreated you, or it didn't work out because they were a total jerk and you want nothing to do with them.
It's also probably okay to avoid an ex-date if you randomly spot them on the street and likely won't see them again. But, if you have mutual friends, work in the same industry, or have some other connection that means you'll be seeing them semi-frequently, then avoidance is not the answer. "Let's say you're both invited to the same wedding, obviously you have mutual friends. And so you never know when something like that might come up again," Martinez says. Why not try to keep the relationship friendly when you're going to have to hang out from time to time? "There's no reason to make an awkward situation more awkward," Martinez says. So, she suggests treating ex-dates like you would any other acquaintance. "If they didn't mistreat you, treat running into them just the same way you would any work colleague whose name you maybe don't even remember. You just say, 'Hey, how are you? Happy to see you.'" You're definitely not obligated to talk to them throughout the whole event. If you have nothing to talk about, just say hi and move on.
Because, really, the longer you pretend that your awkward date never happened, the more stressful and weird running into that person is going to get. "Now you have to not only address that first situation, but also address the situation where you guys pretended not to know each other," Martinez says. "And how do you do something like that?"
If you've already made the same mistake I did and pretended not to know your ex-date, Martinez suggests embracing the awkward next time you see them. If there are no hard feelings between you, then avoiding eye contact from across the room is actually pretty funny, Martinez says. Lean into it like it's a big joke. "Ease up the tension a little bit with just being able to laugh about it, and say 'Listen, I just felt so weird. I didn't know what to say.'" Owning your mistake will help you move past it way better than trying to have a do-over without addressing how weird things have already gotten.
And that's exactly what I did. After the dinner, I felt so terrible about the way I handled seeing Helen that I texted her and apologized for being so weird. I told her that I really enjoyed spending time with her the night that we went out, and that if I were ever to run into her again, I'd like to be able to say hi. Turns out, she wasn't just pretending not to remember me. She really didn't remember our date. But hey, at least I tried.
*Name has been changed.