Breakups: (usually) the least lovely part of a relationship. They invite all of the bad things — one of the biggies being anxiety about the nitty-gritty, very specific details of what lies ahead. What if you see them when you’re not expecting it? What if you accidentally like their post while stalking them on IG? And what’s the rule for liking their friends’ posts? The questions are frequent, the loops are endless, and the thoughts are messy.
“Overall, breakups are very emotionally disorganizing,” says Natalia Juarez, breakup coach and dating strategist. “As soon as we don’t feel like we know our place or there’s no order to things, it can be incredibly anxiety-inducing. That’s why people get so overwhelmed about the short-term and long-term impacts — living situations, family, social circles, financial wellbeing. All of this comes into question and you’re unprepared.”
It makes sense then that the best way to curb those anxieties and minimize your apprehension is to prepare as much as possible, especially for these five situations.
1. Running into an ex
Obviously, there are a ton of variables here: How fresh is the breakup? Are they with someone else? Do you not know anything about their life but have lots of theories? Whatever it may be, developing a plan for when and if you see them is the emotional path of least resistance.
Let’s say you’re headed to a party that you think your ex might be attending. First, for self-preservation, avoid it if it’s not important to you, suggests Juarez. In the case you want or are obligated to attend, work to minimize bad feelings.
“Take a friend with you,” says Jaurez. “Don’t drink. Make sure you’re in a good emotional and physical state, like you’ve slept [enough]. Those things can have an impact on our emotions.” It’s also helpful to have some breathing techniques (four counts in, four counts out) in place — it’s likely your blood pressure will spike when you see your ex and deep-breathing can help to calm the nervous system, she says.
When you get to the party alongside your supportive friend, the question becomes whether or not to talk to your ex. You don’t have to go out of your way to make it happen, says Jaurez. Phew. But if there’s a natural, organic moment to say, ‘Hey, good to see you,’ you can take it. “The words [you say] aren’t even as important as the energy,” she says. “It’s awkward — they know that. You don’t have to engage in chit-chat. You can always cut it off with something like, ‘OK, you know, I’m going to head over there, have a good night.’” Knowing that you’re not obligated to have an hour-long heart-to-heart makes things feel a little less heavy.
In the case that you’re worried about running into them outside of an event, like on the street (it happens!), have that conversation pre-planned in your head. Of course, how things unfold depends on the circumstances, but if, for example, you know in advance that you can’t handle talking to them, say hello and that you’re running to see a friend. It’s a very plausible excuse, says Jaurez. On the other hand, “if you think you need to stop for a second to just feel [the situation] out, maybe [talking] provides an opportunity to end things on a different note,” she says. Juarez suggests asking about a work thing, a pet, or family member that you really cared about. Then say goodbye. And remember, there’s always the option of not stopping. “People are worried about being nice and [are afraid] it will be weird,” says Jaurez. “But, it is weird, and you owe this person nothing.”
2. Seeing them on social media
When you’re going through a breakup, it can feel like social media was created to make you feel bad about your ex. Everywhere you scroll, there’s a possibility that they might pop up (whether that’s from their own account or in a friends’ post). Obviously, it’d be best to stay off completely. Alas, we are humans who are addicted to our phones and mindlessly catching up on IG is part of that. So, if an ex does happen to appear on your screen, do not worry and try not spiral!
“Don’t let this single incident tempt you into digging deeper into your ex’s life,” says Jaurez. “Before you know it, you’ll be so deep into investigating, you may discover information that will only complicate your own healing.”
This exact thing happened to Lauren S., 28. “One time my ex posted something so I clicked into the comments. I saw a girl I disliked who was a ‘friend’ had written something that made it obvious he had hit her up to hang out as soon as we broke up. Looking back, I wish I didn’t do it. It made me feel like he moved on so quickly and did it to spite me.”
Not going down that hole is way easier said than done, but interrupt the moment, step away from your device to collect yourself, and don’t allow yourself to seize the opportunity. Take a short walk, call a friend to talk it out, take some deep breaths, whatever — just make sure you are leaving the scene of the crime so you don’t act recklessly and on emotion. And if you do, it’s not the end of the world. We all mess up, AND you’ll know better for next time because you’re not going to want that stomach-in-your-throat feeling again.
3. Telling other people about the breakup
In my opinion, this is one of the hardest parts. It feels like a chore and another emotional hoop to jump through in your healing journey. But you can’t control how other people react to your breakup, only how you react to them.
“Some people are going to be emotionally intelligent about it,” says Juarez. “Then there are people who are going to be more clueless.”
With the latter (annoying) group, it can be awkward. The best thing to do here is to be a little vulnerable, set boundaries, and redirect the conversation. Jaurez suggests saying something like, “Yeah it’s been really hard, but let’s not talk about it so I don’t get emotional. Are you watching ‘The Bachelor?’” Hopefully, they’ll get the hint. If they don’t, you can always excuse yourself like you’d do if you saw your ex at a party. You don’t owe anyone any explanations.
4. Running into their friends
This is similar to running into your ex, but your ex probably has more than one friend, so the chances of it actually happening are higher (torturous, I know).
When those friends are mutual, it can be a little awkward. “I find that [mutual friends] gravitate toward one person or the other,” Juarez says. “You may make a little bit more of an effort with those people. Again, it’s not about the words but the energy [behind saying], ‘Things are weird right now, but we’re still cool.’ It will be awkward for a second, but you’ll breathe — we all go through it.”
Other times, the friends are not mutual, which is also — you guessed it — awkward. With them, you’re going to want to be even more guarded, says Juarez. You don’t have to let your ex’s roommate know how much you’re struggling, because that’s not the nature of your relationship. Keep it as acquaintance-like as possible.
When I run into an ex’s friend, I immediately hope that this person is going to relay to my ex how good I look or nice I was. I usually end up word-vomiting and asking how the ex is doing or blurting out, “Tell them I say hi!”
Lauriel M., 27, does the same. “I have gotten way too excited to see an ex’s friends and hugged them with an overly enthusiastic ‘Hiiii!!!!!’ I definitely freaked them out, but I just didn’t know how to react.”
Jaurez suggests thinking before you speak (or hug) in these cases. “Is it authentic?” she says. “Are you actually in a good place where you genuinely care? Because that will come through in the energy. If you really didn’t want the breakup and took it really hard, then the friend probably knows that.” Hm, something for you (me) to chew on.
5. Dating again
I’ve walked in to many dates with an internal dialogue that goes something like, Are they going to ask me about my last relationship? And am I going to have to tell them? Not knowing if the topic will come up is scary, but less so if you’re prepared. There’s no need to clam up or get awkward. Be honest and project confidence.
Jaurez suggests saying something like, “Yeah, we dated for about a year. The breakup was hard, but it was coming for a while. I took a lot of time for myself, and I’m good now.” As a general rule, try to hold back on giving too many details about the relationship and keep what you do say positive. You can always disclose a little more later. And (we hope) this goes without saying, but make sure to not talk shit about your ex — that really shows that you’re not OK.
When you’re thrown into something that has to do with your ex, your brain tends to go into fight-or-flight mode, says Juarez. “You’re not able to tap into deeper emotional resources to handle things — you’re just reacting. Preparing as much as possible for a general situation removes the unknown to a degree. Do a few run-throughs, and then you won’t totally get thrown off. And even if you do, that’s life. You will course correct. You did the best that you could at the time, and then it’s all about moving forward.”