Keep Bumping Into Your Ex?

Constantly encountering an old flame at your favorite café, bar, or other haunts? Try these tactics to avoid awkward run-ins.

By Catie Lazarus

till groggy from just waking up, I opened the door to my neighborhood coffee shop eager for my morning shot of caffeine. In a daze, I tripped over a backpack lying on the floor. Embarrassed over my fall, I quipped, “You’d think ballet lessons would pay off and I wouldn’t be so klutzy…” but stopped when I realized who owned the backpack: my ex-boyfriend, Josiah.

What was he doing here? I wondered, before cutting into him with a scathing comment that characterized most of our conversations near the end of the relationship six months ago: “Why do you
When ex-couples can't stand the possibility of running into each other, there is a way they can guarantee that won’t happen: by dividing up the neighborhood.
always leave your stuff on the ground for someone to step on?”

“Sorry, you know how messy I am. We did live together,” was Josiah’s reply. “What are you doing here?”

“This is where I go every morning,” I responded—and it’s true; I was a regular at the coffee shop and loved the place. Even so, the sight of my ex there prompted me to order my coffee and bolt before he could see me cry. I wasn’t “ready” to see Josiah. But since he and I lived so close to each other, I knew that a few post-breakup bump-ins were inevitable. So the question was: How should I deal with this—without lots of tears?

Luckily many ex-couples who’d faced the same problem have developed strategies to reduce the probability of a run-in—or, at least, the pain and embarrassment they bring. If you fear someday finding yourself face-to-face with an old flame, try one of these tactics for getting over it—and getting on with your life.

Strategy 1: Divvy up the territory
When ex-couples can't stand the possibility of running into each other, there is a way they can guarantee that won’t happen: by dividing up the neighborhood—a two-state solution, so to speak. That may sound extreme, but it worked wonders for Sam, a 37-year-old magazine publisher, and Sarah, a 31-year-old technology consultant. After three years of living together, they endured three months of uncomfortable run-ins at the deli, movies and gym in their hometown of Palo Alto. Finally Sarah, fed up, suggested they draw a map. "We listed our top five favorite spots where we wanted to go—and the other person couldn’t,” she recalled. Suddenly, the awkward encounters disappeared. “In seven months, she's never spotted me,” says Sam. But isn’t it hard to avoid certain places purely because your ex requested it? "I sneak into Mike's Cafe, but only if it's during the day because I know Sarah's at work.”

Strategy 2: Look your best when you go somewhere your ex might be
When Ashley, a 29-year-old publicist in Washington, DC, broke up with Christian after seven months together, bump-ins were largely unavoidable since there was only one grocery store in a 30-block radius. Since she didn’t want Christian to see how much the breakup had rattled her, she came up with a plan: For the first two months, she simply refused to leave the house without looking amazing. "I may have been hurting inside, but
Can’t avoid running into an old flame? Make sure you never leave the house without looking amazing.
there was no way I was going to let Christian see that,” she explained. If wearing a sexy sliver of a top to get your milk and eggs makes you feel better, just remember to bring a shawl because it can get cold in the frozen food section.

Strategy 3: Surround yourself with moral support
Jim, a 27-year-old newspaper editor, was in an especially tough bind, since his ex, Stacy, ran in the same social circles and often showed up at the same parties and restaurants. To stave off feelings of inadequacy, Jim made sure he always showed up with close friends at places he might run into her. He even made brunch dates on the weekends when he’d usually just go alone with the newspaper, as, Jim worried, “she might be there with another guy or something weird.” His tactic helped him, he says, “since nothing’s worse than facing the ‘enemy’ alone.” This way, you not only look like you have a healthy social life, but are reminded of the fact that you’re not only capable of being in relationships, but have many meaningful ones already.

Strategy 4: Find new stomping grounds
Meghan, a 33-year-old Ph.D. student, loved hanging out at the bar where her 30-year-old beau waited tables. But when their relationship came to an end, she refused to, in her words, “set herself up for an uncomfortable situation.” So she bid adieu to the margaritas she and her friends had grown to love. Sure it’s a bummer, but by cutting out the possibility of seeing your ex, it’s easier to invest more in the present and future without feeling stuck in the past. Plus, it also opens you up to discovering new experiences that can be a healthy distraction during times when you’re tempted to sit on your couch and wallow. After her breakup, Alison, a 28-year-old law student, took up yoga, a book club, and threw herself into her work, knowing that the quickest way to move on is to invest herself in “new things that were about growing up and moving on.” And who knows? The new haunts you find may expose you to a whole array of new people too—maybe even a new relationship.

Catie Lazarus is a comedian. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Time Out New York, The Forward, and Nerve. She can be reached at her website,
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