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Sex + Relationships

Worried About Running Into Your Ex This Semester? Here’s What To Do

Whether you just ended a relationship or you’re struggling to get over a breakup that happened a while ago, running into your ex during back-to-school season can bring on a slew of emotions. When you see them, the nostalgia may start to kick in, or the hurt may return and cause a new wave of sadness or anxiety — especially after being away from campus and barely seeing anyone for the past year and a half.

There’s no way to predict how you’ll feel at the moment, but to help you prepare, I consulted relationship experts and college students who have experienced it firsthand. Here are five tips to help you navigate seeing your ex in college after you’ve broken up.

1.  DON’T SAY ANYTHING IF YOU DON’T WANT TO

Whether you run into your ex at a party or in the dining hall this semester, you aren’t obligated to speak if you don’t feel comfortable! Not speaking to your ex doesn’t make you rude or indicate that you can’t face your past — besides, after over a year of “distancing,” there’s no pressure to cozy up and connect with anyone if you don’t feel comfortable. If you see your ex somewhere and can’t find the appropriate words to say, or simply aren’t comfortable talking to them yet, don’t feel like you have to say anything at all.

Michelle Davies, a certified professional coach who helps college students navigate relationships, says that it’s perfectly acceptable to not engage with your ex after running into them. “If you don’t feel comfortable, don’t make eye contact, and walk past them,” she tells Her Campus. “I recommend this method to people who have broken up with an abusive or toxic partner. It may seem cold, but it’s a method of self-protection and self-preservation.”

If your previous relationship was healthy overall, but just feels a bit awkward now, it’s up to you whether or not you want to engage with your ex on campus. Vanessa Reyes, a sophomore at Georgia Southern University, says that sometimes, not saying something when you’ve both seen each other can make an already awkward situation even worse — and sometimes, it’s best to keep it brief with a quick hello.

“I ran into my ex in the grocery store, and because we made direct eye contact, I smiled and waved,” she tells Her Campus. “Because of the nature of our breakup, I don’t believe I owed him any words, but I wanted him to know I was okay with his existence.”

2. BREAK THE ICE

Breaking the ice may be easier said than done, especially if the relationship ended very painfully. However, speaking up first can help you feel more confident during the situation, even if you’re struggling deep down. If you approach your ex with a “hello” and they seem eager to engage in conversation, keep the conversation simple. Small talk is welcome, but you may want to avoid prying for too much information — it can occasionally open up more feelings than you may be ready to handle in the moment.

“The most important thing to remember if you bump into your ex is not to panic,” says Tatyana Dyachenko, M.Sc., a London-based sex and relationships therapist. “Try to remain cool and calm. Acknowledge them with a simple wave or hello, and keep the subjects light and polite.” Dyachenko also says to avoid topics that may be particularly uncomfortable or triggering. “Avoid any topics that might cause an argument,” she tells Her Campus. “Imagine they are someone you see regularly, but don’t know very well. Just keep it casual.”

Aurora*, a junior at Kennesaw State University, says that breaking the ice — even when you feel uncomfortable — might leave you with a feeling of relief. “Even if you’re still grieving, I think it’s important that they see that you’re handling the situation as maturely as possible,” she tells Her Campus. “I bumped into my ex a few times, and honestly, my goal was for him to realize he messed up and can’t go back.”

Whatever your motivation, breaking the ice and having a quick conversation can help you feel more confident when you run into your ex on campus. Sometimes, it can help to embrace the awkwardness head on — and remember, after a year of social distancing, everyone is remembering how to socialize and hold conversations again!

3. AVOID LINGERING

When you return to campus, maybe you’ll run into your ex at the library and strike up a casual conversation. For a minute, things might seem to be going well — but then, you may encounter a long pause. Neither of you are sure what to say, and it can feel like you’re stuck in awkward silence. This is completely natural. Chances are, there’s still a lot of confusion — and maybe even animosity or hard feelings — between you two, and you might even feel pressure to find closure or get answers in the moment. However, a random run-in on campus may not be the best time.

Elizabeth*, a freshman at the University of Alabama, remembers how seeing your ex post-breakup can cause complex feelings to come up. “I think the longer you stay around, the quicker feelings of regret or longing will arise again,” she tells Her Campus. “Despite all the progress you’ve made moving on, it may feel like you’re back at square one.”

So if you two come to a drawn-out, awkward part in the conversation where nobody knows what to say, wrap up the conversation. “Don’t prolong the conversation any longer than is necessary,” Dyachenko recommends. “Make your excuses to leave, like ‘I’ve got to go and meet a friend!’ or ‘I’m late for class.’ End the conversation by saying it was nice to see them, then walk away.”

If you feel like there’s more to say after ending the conversation, or that closure from the relationship is needed, you can always reach out in the future and set aside some time to talk. After all, you have a whole school year (and beyond) to do so — and you’ll have a better chance of getting the attention and focus you deserve.

4. BOOST YOUR CONFIDENCE

One of the most important things to remember when running into your ex in college: channel your inner Beyoncé and exude confidence! No matter how the relationship ended, and no matter how nervous you’re feeling in the moment, stand tall and with poise. Even if you just got caught off guard unexpectedly and you feel your stomach doing backflips, keep your head up and try your best. You can always release your emotions after the conversation or call your bestie and process what happened.

For some students, exuding confidence during a random run-in with an ex-partner is a strong motivator. “Even if you’re crumbling on the inside, you don’t want them to think they had so much control over your life,” says Ashley*, a sophomore at Kennesaw State University. Whether you’re motivated to show your ex you’re doing great (as you should be!) or you simply want to avoid tearing up during the conversation, finding little ways to boost your confidence can help. Take a deep breath, roll your shoulders back, and take your time with your words. You got this!

5. REKINDLE THE FRIENDSHIP

If you just ran into your ex on campus, you may find yourself thinking about the encounter hours after you walk away. Maybe it brought up feelings from the past, and you realized you’re not ready to be friends again (or the opposite — that you’d prefer to never speak to them again). Maybe things went fairly well, and you’re considering rekindling the friendship. It can be difficult to know the “right” thing to do, but remember, it’s all about navigating the situation how you want to — whatever feels most comfortable and safe.

To know if rekindling the friendship is the best course of action for you, it’s important to consider your ex’s reactions during your run-in. Was your ex receptive to you? Did they actively engage in conversation with you? Did their body language indicate openness and ease, or were they closed off and uncomfortable? Above all, were they respectful, and did you feel safe in the interaction?

If you’re positive that the conversation went well on both ends, and you feel like you’re in a place where you can be friends again, try reaching out and arranging a meeting in a public place like Starbucks. Don’t feel pressured to rush this process, though — the truth is, breakups can take a long time to get over, and if you’re not ready for friendship, that’s okay, too.

Rebecca*, a sophomore at Kennesaw State University, made amends with her ex after seeing him and arranging a meet up over lunch. “We had been broken up for about five months, and that gave me plenty of time to heal,” she tells Her Campus. “We have a lot of mutual friends, so I wanted to make sure there wouldn’t be any tension in a group setting. We aren’t the best of friends now, but we can joke around without feeling awkward now.”

“I’m definitely not encouraging anyone to actively start hitting up their ex,” says Christina*, a junior at University of Tampa. “But if you know that friendship is something both of you could benefit from, I don’t see why you shouldn’t try to arrange a sit-down.”

Whether you choose to strike up a friendship with your ex after seeing them, or you’re not quite ready to take that step yet, Davies says that focusing on other friendships can help you feel more confident in facing back-to-school season. “It can be tempting to sit in your dorm and reminisce about you and your ex’s relationship,” she tells Her Campus. “Instead, make plans with friends, attend meetups, and try to get involved in different clubs around campus. It’ll make you feel more confident once you have a robust life of your own again.”

Breakups are rarely pleasant, and can bring up some pretty uncomfortable feelings. Especially after a year of not seeing friends and classmates, it can be a downer when you’re on the way to class and you suddenly run into your ex in the courtyard, or you show up to a party and they walk in unexpectedly.

Despite the tension or awkwardness that may arise this semester, know that your ex doesn’t need to have control over your life. You deserve to have an enjoyable college experience without constantly fearing seeing your ex at every turn. You’ve been through a lot this year, and now it’s time to enjoy your fall semester. If and when you do run into your ex, allow them to see the best version of you — confident and self-assured — even though you may not feel that way right away.

Experts
Tatyana Dyachenko, M.Sc., Sex & Relationships Therapist
Michelle Davies, Certified Professional Coach, Co-Founder & Editor-in-Chief of The Best Ever Guide to Life

Sources
Vanessa Reyes, Georgia Southern University
Aurora*, Kennesaw State University
Elizabeth*, University of Alabama
Ashley*, Kennesaw State University
Christina*, University of Tampa

Kayla is a senior at Georgia State University, pursuing a degree in Multimedia Journalism and Spanish & Latin American Studies. She is a devoted mother to her Yorkie and Lifetime fanatic. Her other ventures include writing poetry, advocating for a plant-powered lifestyle, and interning at Seacrest Studios. Oh, and Willy's makes her world go 'round. ☼
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