Relationships

In Which I Ran Into My Ex-Boyfriend

In Which I Ran Into My Ex-Boyfriend

Soooooo, last week, I was walking out of a restaurant, minding my own business…

In Which I Ran Into My Ex-Boyfriend

It was a beautiful Brooklyn evening, with birds chirping and cars rumbling down the street. Alex and I had just eaten dinner at a little Italian restaurant, Frankies Spuntino, where we’d shared a tuna sandwich and two tomato salads that tasted like summer on a plate.

Now walking home, we were chatting about this and that, when I heard a voice behind me say: “Joanna Goddard.” Even as I was turning the two-minute-long, slow-motion turn from front to back, I knew who it would be: my ex-boyfriend, whom I had dated, on and off, for five years in my twenties. Our final breakup had actually been the impetus for starting Cup of Jo, as a way to distract myself in the evenings from all the complicated feelings. It had been a decade, a marriage and two children since I’d seen him. Riding his bike, he pulled up to the sidewalk to say hello.

(Side note: If you saw your ex but they didn’t see you, would you stop and say hello? Personally, I would keep biking like my life depended on it. Or duck behind a car? Maybe it depends on your personality. I’m curious to hear what you would do…)

So, on with the story: My face turned bright red and I gave him the most awkward one-armed hug in hug history. Alex shook his hand. I couldn’t figure out what to say or exactly how to move or position my mouth. A catalog of thoughts ran through my brain: How do I look? What is Alex thinking? Is my smile remotely normal? My ex said he was heading to Frankies. I managed to pronounce some words about how we had just been. There was an awkward silence while we all stood around and I imagined sinking slowly into the ground. Then he said goodbye and headed off.

What is it about ex run-ins that turns you from a normal, reasonably articulate adult into a bumbling, sweaty non-person? Even when you’re happily married, there’s something about how well this other person knows you, how much time you’ve spent together, how deeply important they once were to you, how the ghost ship is sailing by with them drinking a beer on the deck, that makes you slightly stunned and paralyzed in that moment.

In the end, the weirdness lasted only 30 seconds, and we all went back to our lives. Alex and I headed home, hand in hand, to have salted caramel ice cream and read in bed and debate whether he should stop moving his toes. And that, my friends, was that.

So! Now, you share: When’s the last time you ran into your ex? How was it? Where were you? I want to hear everything!

P.S. My sister’s awesome dating tip, and 10 great reader comments on breakups.

  1. Christina says...

    This made me laugh — so much empathy flowing out of me!!! Also, would LOVE to know what Alex was thinking the whole time.

  2. Alex says...

    I’ve seen him a few times over the years. We’ve spoken briefly once or twice. If other people are around, he’s cordial. If not, he gives me a silent look of hatred, which I find odd as he broke up with me in a truly humiliating way.
    Whenever I do see him, I feel so grateful. Everything I love about my life now would not have happened if that relationship had continued – my world would be smaller, my career less intrepid, my mind less curious, my hunger less sated, my heart less full.

  3. Jen says...

    I wanted a seat near the front of the plane on a Southwest flight, so grabbed a middle seat since it’s all that was left. I put my things in the above compartment and the person on the aisle—on the phone at the time—stood up to let me in. We both sat down at the same time and then looked up, almost generically, to say hello to each other. It was wild. The irony is that timing was always off for us. A year apart at college, we studied abroad at opposite times, he was graduating when I came back, and then spent the summer nearby and I was elsewhere. When we finally got together I got a job offer out of state. Ah, the universe.

  4. colleen k says...

    I got stuck with my ex on a turbulent 6 hour plane ride – my first love, first many things ex. And boy did I do what I could to hide! No words were exchanged but we made eye contact. I keep seeing it play out as a terrible romantic comedy with the plane going down hah….Thank goodness my flying moto is to dress comfy-but-well, because I sure looked good :).

  5. Kelly says...

    I often think about running into my ex, but he passed away in the Ghost Ship fire, which makes this quote especially interesting.

    • Jessica says...

      That fire is the first thing I thought of when I saw the link.
      I’m sorry you lost someone in that tragedy – even if it wasn’t your someone, anymore.

    • Shehaam says...

      I think once you find closure, run-ins aren’t all that awkward (for me anyway). I’ve tried remaining friends with exes (some), but I’ve found it’s not as easy for them as it is for me.

  6. Hilde says...

    The last time I met my on and off ex felt like closure. I had gotten married, was pregnant with my first baby and was going to move to a different city a few months later. He was still single. Of course it made me feel good.

    But the thing is that we had been close friends before I met my husband. I still sometimes missed the ex. Sometimes still do, if I’m being honest. So when I met him randomly in a coffee shop, I felt grateful that I could have one last chat with him.

  7. Once upon a gas pump... says...

    I ran into mine at a random gas station of all places. I was filling up; my oldest-then-only child was in the backseat. I look over and see a bright red BMW convertible at the pump across the way and think “LOL, who is over-compensating with that car?” AND… it was my ex. The Ex.

    I tried to avoid facing that direction and thought I had been discrete, but no. After I dove out of the station, he followed me for about a mile, honking and waving. Eventually he realized that I wasn’t interested in pulling over to talk to him and drove away.

    It was jarring. I wasn’t embarrassed to see him. I was happily married with a cute kid, had a great job, was no more or less made up than usual, and had even lost the baby weight. But I was not the least bit interesting having the fake conversation (with toddler in tow!): “oh, wow! Can you believe it? How are you! You look great! That’s great! Good for you! Oops, I guess I never did reply to any of those emails you send me every six months. Yeah, let’s exchange phone numbers as if I’d ever want to do this again!”

    While the obvious rejection had to sting, and he was disappointed to miss the chance to brag and name-drop, I assume he is glad to know that at least I saw him in the car. ::eye roll::

  8. My ex-husband and his new wife watch mine and my husband’s house for us when we are out of town. We are in the same circle of friends, and just spent the last week camping all as one big group, with everyone’s kids there too. It’s not weird at all to me. When I see him now, I just think of him as a friend, and it’s almost like I can’t remember my life before when he was more than that.

  9. Saskia says...

    Well it depends which ex I/we (my husband and I) would meet. With one or the other it would be no problem to sit, have a drink and chat about our lives. With others well, if we meet them anywhere we say hello just to be polite and quickly go our ways – how is it possible, that you meet people you don’t want so see all over again?
    ;-)

  10. Allie S. says...

    I ran into my high-school boyfriend, his colleagues, and his soon to be fiancee at a coffee shop after having breakfast with my parents, sister, and husband before a close friend’s funeral back in my hometown in California.

    It was honestly shocking; I thought I might faint. We’d stayed friendly since breaking up a decade before, but I only ever saw him on purpose, and our visits had gotten rarer as we both got more serious with other people. I went over to say hi and was playing it pretty cool until he asked why I was in town. I managed to get the word “funeral” out before I burst into tears and cried on him in the middle of a busy patio. I thought he would follow up with me after (just a text asking if I was ok, and maybe finding out who had died?) but we haven’t spoken since.

    It’s been over a year. I am still grieving the loss of my friend and, thanks to this chance encounter, her death will always entwined with the seeming end of this decades-long, many-formatted relationship. It will mark the day I finally grew up.

  11. Nina Nattiv says...

    The trick is, date guys that plan on moving to another country. I have three important ex’s. One moved to Israel. One moved back to London. The other got back together with me and married me and had babies with me.

  12. I live in fear of this. My most significant ex-boyfriend, we were on again, off again from age 18-25, the last on-again lasting 3 years, so he was basically my entire young love life until we broke up and he ended up engaged and with a baby on the way 6 months after our breakup, which devastated me at the time (moving on so fast can really hurt!) I’m happily married to the guy I met at age 28 and we have a beautiful baby, but I’d probably still be a mess if I ran into that guy. Worse is that we grew up in the same town, our parents live a few blocks away from each other, so it’s bound to happen at some point. I’m shocked it hasn’t happened already. Instead we keep running into people in each other’s lives: my brother-in-law ran into his sister, our moms ran into each other, he ran into my cousin, etc. so I hear about him secondhand. It’s only a matter of time especially now that I have a kid to take to the local park when we’re home at our parents’!

  13. BeeBee says...

    I ran into an ex a couple years ago. It was the day after Christmas, and I was walking my dog in lazy clothes and no makeup. My dog was having some intestinal distress and I looked down and realized he was actually sh-tting blood. I started freaking out internally, and wasn’t sure what to do or how to help him. I looked up, and my last ex from a decade ago, just before I met my husband, came riding out of an empty bank parking lot on his bike. I saw him, I know he saw me, but I was so flustered I just looked down at my dog and hoped he didn’t recognize me. I’m sure he thought I was ignoring him. I guess I was, but I was occupied. It took me willfully ignoring him in an empty parking lot for me to realize I was over him.

    My dog’s okay. I took him to the vet the next day. He had gotten into some things he shouldn’t have on Christmas, but he was fine.

  14. Emily says...

    Well besides actually physically running into my ex, he responded to a craigslist ad when I was looking for a roommate (it was a different place than when we were together). What’s even crazier is that HE DID IT AGAIN when a different roommate was looking for a subletter! He was literally about to come over when she told me his name (very unusual first name) and I stopped dead in my tracks. I did live in a pretty small town at the time, but it still baffled me that it happened twice!

  15. Robin S. says...

    My ex-husband had an affair with a co-worker from the hospital where he worked. Now, they’re married. I’ve thought a lot about what I would do if I ever ran into them… The idea of seeing the two of them together still makes my skin crawl. Even though I’m now happily remarried with an incredible baby, I don’t feel like I owe them any polite social obligation if our paths crossed. If someone betrays you, do you owe them a side hug? I’m pretty sure I’d keep walking. Briskly.

  16. Christine says...

    If I saw an ex on the street I would 300% keep walking, ESPECIALLY if they were with their significant other 😂 If my husband and I were to get a divorce I would try and stay friends with him because we have a child together but in all other instances, I see no point to keeping an ex in my life. I think this probably speaks more to the quality of my exes and not so much some grand opinion that exes serve no purpose after a breakup.

  17. Jess says...

    My ex and I dated for two years, and out of the blue, he dumped me. It took all of 15 minutes, after two years together. I was devastated. I deleted his number and blocked him on every social media platform. Best decision ever! We had zero contact for 4 months until I bumped into him at a bar. I was en route to the bathroom, and bumped into a group of friends of his, before seeing him. I had to be polite and said hello to his friends, even engaging in conversation with them while we was standing nearby, listening to the entire conversation. My whole body felt like it stopped working, and all I wanted to do was get away. I eventually excused myself and headed to the bathroom. My ex stopped me, put his hand on my shoulder and said “Hey, let’s chat. How ARE you?”. I was so repulsed that he tried to show an ounce of care, after dumping me so callously. I squared my shoulders, looked straight at him and said to him “I’m not interested in talking to you” and walked away. His friends would have heard/seen me walk away, and at the time, I felt good for making him look bad in front of his friends. He moved to London a few months later, thank GOD. Haven’t seen him since.

  18. Sarah says...

    Last time I bumped into an ex was a few years ago getting off the same commuter train. We’d been broken up for a few years at this point – it had been a shortish but intense relationship when I was a student. He was a few years older, and he had turned weird, controlling and possessive towards the end. Anyway, we made polite small talk as we exited the station, during which time he told me he’d got married and had two kids (with the woman he’d dated straight after me) – there was a definite ‘look what you missed out on’ vibe. Just as I was making my excuses and heading home he asked if I wanted to see some pictures of his family. I took myself by complete surprise by saying ‘Not really. See you’. It was so liberating. Next time we got off the same train we pretended we hadn’t seen each other.

  19. SG says...

    See I avoid Frankie’s now because it’s a regular spot for my ex. :/

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      What is it about Frankies???