5 Things That Happen When We Encounter an SO's Ex

Out of all the awkward moments in life, running into your SO’s ex is definitely on the top of the list. While it may be best to play it cool, that doesn’t mean you can avoid feeling extremely uncomfortable. Either you keep your head held high, or sink low in your seat to hide your face. In case that doesn’t work, here’s what tends to happen when you encounter your SO’s former fling! 

1. Say hello...or run and hide

We’ve all learned about our fight or flight response in science class, but this is when it’s really put to the test. It doesn’t matter whether or not you were warned ahead of time, or if you just happen to recognize a familiar face across the party, nothing can truly prepare you for that moment. “When I ran into my boyfriend’s ex girlfriend at the bar once, I made my friends surround me so she wouldn’t see me,” says Rachel Mason, a junior at Albion College. “Now I realize how immature it was, but at the time I was in a panic!” Sure it’s more polite to say hello, but it’s a lot easier to hide behind your friends. Make sure you feel out the situation, then maybe you can stick with just a wave from afar.  

2. Engage in awkward small talk

If you do in fact decide to say hello, now you’re stuck in what feels like never-ending small talk. You can really only say so much about school, the party and the weather before the awkward silence starts to set in. “I saw my SO’s ex in one of my lectures and we made eye contact so I couldn’t escape,” says Katherine Reed, a senior at Michigan State University. “I tried to force small talk but I ended up babbling about random stuff that didn’t matter.” There’s no doubt it’s going to be uncomfortable to hold a conversation with someone who previously dated your current SO, but all you can do is try and power through it. 

3. Force fake laughter

Small talk is one thing, but when there’s a lull in the conversation you might get the urge to lighten the mood a little. Making a joke about your surroundings or something you have in common may seem like a good way to ease the pain of the whole experience, but there’s a good chance it won’t go over as well as you think. “I tried making a joke about how our names started with the same letter and how my SO (aka her ex) had a thing for Js,” says Jessica Gray, a sophomore at Florida State University. “Needless to say, I didn’t get a laugh, but I did get a pretty strange look in return.” Keep the conversation light, but make sure you don't overdo it. Forcing a laugh will just make things even more uncomfortable.

4. Being asked how your SO is doing

To make things even more strange, there’s always the impending question hovering in the awkward air. Your SO’s ex is bound to ask how your SO is doing, or even bolder, how your relationship is going. While it may seem intrusive at first it’s probably even stranger if the topic is avoided all together. After all, the only reason you're in this situation is because of your SO was once theirs. “One time when I ran into my boyfriend’s ex she kept asking me how serious we were,” says Nicole Hays, a senior at Oberlin College. “It was a little too much for me, so I just came up with an excuse to leave!” Don't take it the wrong way when the question comes up, just keep the answer vague and positive, then find a way out. 

5. Being overly friendly

The encounter is usually more pleasant when your SO’s ex is nice, but too nice can also be a red flag. Greeting you with an uncomfortable hug is one thing, but trying to make plans with you is a whole new level of weird. Unless you were friends beforehand there’s a good chance you won’t be friends now. “My SO’s ex asked me to come to her birthday, which at first was a nice gesture,” says Caroline Meyers, a senior at Grand Valley State University. “Then it got even weirder when she asked for my Snapchat name and phone number.” Not texting your SO’s ex is pretty much a no-brainer. In this situation, honesty is probably the best option. Don't feel bad telling him or her that it would be a little weird for you, and probably even weirder for your SO if you two hung out.

Unfortunately there’s no real protocol on how to handle seeing your SO’s ex, but in the meantime take comfort in knowing you’re not the only one who’s had an uncomfortable run-in. Don’t let your guard down, collegiettes!