Sometimes, the universe gets a kick out of watching you squirm. What other explanation is there for running into your ex at inopportune moments? Ugly moments. Fat moments. Stained tracksuit moments. Moments when you’re not at your shiny, sexy, my-life-is-so-much-happier-now best.
It doesn’t really matter whether you were the dumper or the dumpee. The
desire to look, sound and be utterly fantastic is equallly potent. It’s
the coat of armour you need when face to face with someone who has seen
you naked and knows where your emotional skeletons are buried.
The universal rule for bumping into an ex is generally this: the more you still care about what they think, the worse you will look.
My friend Marnie is proof. When she was dumped last year, she became one of those girls who wore blush and a blow-dry just to get milk. She was determined to win the ex game of My Life Is Better Without You In It.
So of course the one time she leapt out of her double-parked car to drop off a DVD, hung-over, wearing a baggy tee with no bra, shorts with no drawstring that she had to hold with one hand, no makeup, a pimple on her top lip that looked like a cold-sore, and hair that managed to be both greasy and frizzy at the same time, he was standing at the ATM. With a stunning girl. A stunning girl who was about 20. Marnie is 36.
“He wanted to chat and I didn’t want to look like a jealous bitch which meant I couldn’t just brush them and bolt back to the car,” she cringes. “So I stood there and I chatted to him and Miss Flossy Pants and I wanted to die. I must have replayed that scene in my head a million times. It never got any better. Funny how now I’m in love with someone else and I don’t care about him anymore, I’ve run into him several times while looking totally excellent.”
Another friend had a cruel run of ex encounters outside her beautician which was inconveniently located in Oxford / Chapel street. Fertile ground for weekend ex bumping. This wasn’t the kind of beautician where you have a lovely wafty massage and emerge glowing and relaxed. Oh no. This was the kind where you leave limping after a particularly brutal Brazilian with red welts on your face from getting your eyebrows and top lip waxed into submission. The perfect time to blast yourself back to the past you shared with someone who is now a stranger.
Bumping into an ex is like bumping into an old version of yourself. You’re talking to them but you’re remembering the person you were during that relationship. This is often disconcerting. And cringe making. I once had the unexpected karma bonus of seeing an ex on the street immediately after having my hair blow-dried (as per the universal law, I cared so little what he thought of me I could’ve been wearing a Santa suit). As we did the obligatory stilted catch-up, I kept losing my concentration, distracted by the persistent voice in my head saying: “Was he this boring when we were together? Did I simply not notice the dullness? How could I have gone there? What was I thinking?”
The 180-degree shift from intimate lovers to awkward strangers can be so extreme, it’s liable to give you emotional whiplash. And for an extra giggle? Throw in your ex’s new partner! Or yours!
One male friend had a doozy of an experience in this realm. A year later, he still gets a flash of panic in his eyes recounting the trauma.
“Picture this…. it’s a sunny Saturday afternoon, I’m sitting in the front window of my favourite beach cafe with my very new girlfriend, we are having a beer, our plate of salt and pepper squid has just arrived, we’re chatting intimately, sitting close, holding hands… basically being very, very loved up. And then it happens. There is a big knock knock on the window and I turn to see my ex wife waving at me through the glass. I haven’t seen her in about six years so it took me a few seconds to even register who she was.
Tragically, the “hi and goodbye” wave through the glass was not really an option so, as if in a nightmare, I watched myself motion for her to come inside. She did, I introduced her to my girlfriend and we had the world’s most tortured conversation for about two horrible minutes. The funny thing is that my ex barely looked at me the entire time, she just kept trying to look sideways at my girlfriend who was openly staring. As soon as the opportunity to leave arose, my ex bolted and we all exhaled. My girlfriend thought it was funny but only because she saw she was younger and prettier than my ex wife.“
Madonna has expressed a similar sentiment. When asked by a reporter if she ever felt insecure when she saw one of husband Guy Ritchie’s ex girlfriends, she admitted to the odd jealous twinge: “First I go ‘Oh, she’s skinny and pretty.’ Then I think, “Oh, but I’m me.”
If only we all had that level of confidence. A friend who is nursing a broken heart has decided to take a different approach. Her boyfriend left her for another woman he met on a business trip interstate and now this woman is coming to live with him in the house they used to share. “It’s inevitable I’ll bump into them” she said to me through gritted teeth recently. “I’ve already told him that when it happens, I’m going to introduce myself to her as his sex therapist.” Universe, are you listening?
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