The fear that an ex is suddenly at the top of their field, making a tremendous amount of money, successfully developing an extremely fit body, or dating someone incredibly attractive, can keep many a broken-hearted person at night. And, too, these fears can prevent the broken-hearted from going out to social events or seeing friends: They may be mortified by the prospect of running into their ex and being confronted by their failure to keep this person in their life.
But consider that you may be overemphasizing your ex’s future successes. Most people who form committed unions grieve when the relationship doesn’t work out. If you worry too much about what your ex is doing, you are more likely to self-isolate, and usually, self-isolation will keep the grief process stuck in first gear.
Keep these 4 points in mind to manage your fear of running into your ex:
1. You Will Move On
One tortured thought that may come in the throes of grieving a lost relationship is the feeling that the future means forever being alone. You may be so heartbroken that you seriously wonder if anyone will ever again see you as lovable. You may convince yourself that your ex was the only person who could see anything good in you. This thinking drives the concern you have that your ex will find a new love before you do. You fear seeing them with someone new on social media or being surprised by stumbling into them canoodling in public. Remember, most everyone meets someone else eventually. Even after a divorce, most people get remarried. However, it is better not to sprint to that next significant other. What counts is believing you will eventually find someone new. Allow yourself the time you need to heal and to learn from your past relationship.
2. You Did Not Make a Mistake
You may worry that you ruined your life by not making it work with this one particular person. You create a fantasy that they will go forward to be amazing, while you get sucked into the abyss. Remember, you let your ex go (or he or she let you go) for a reason. It will be okay if your ex moves on and finds a partner who sees something in them that you did not. It doesn’t mean that you made a mistake, or that you have ruined your life. It means that you had a relationship, learned from it, and are going to take that experience with you to improve your future relationships. People who have healthy, long-term romances typically have a few that don’t work out. The ability to learn from those unsuccessful experiences helps us to make it better the next time around.
3. You Will Be Happy Again
Perhaps you fear you will see your ex on social media or in real life appearing to be quite happy. You fear this because you still grieve what could have been. At this point, you perhaps can’t imagine being happy and maybe you worry you will never be happy again. Imagining your ex not even skipping a beat, or possibly being happier without you, is a cruel and destructive thought. Remember: Life is not always as it appears. If your ex appears happy and unbothered by the end of your relationship, maybe they are still in denial, or having trouble processing their feelings. For you, it’s important to remember that letting yourself grieve will eventually make you free to be happy once again. In fact, the grief process often brings about new energy, meaning, and a renewed love of life.
4. Appearances Are Not Everything
Anyone can appear happy on social media or during a single night out on the town. Don’t take your ex appearing happy or seeming flirtatious with others to mean they don’t care about you, or that they are entirely unfazed by your breakup. Relationship endings take time to process, and most people feel the burn at one point or the other. (I offer specific strategies for managing the real challenges of recovery in my workbook.) So even if you run into your ex and they seem “amazing!” and “terrific!” give yourself a generous portion of credit for doing the right thing by not faking it and by trying to thoughtfully work through your heartache.
Jill Weber, Ph.D., is a psychologist in private practice in Washington, D.C.