Last Thursday, I was craving a chicken caesar salad. I had half an hour before my lifeguarding shift started, and Sunset Groceries deli-fresh salad bar was calling my name. I thought, “Hey, I’ll just run in, scoop up one of those pre-made containers with the Parmesan shavings already rationed out, and go to work.” At the time, it didn’t even register that I was rocking my navy blue one-piece, with GUARD embroidered across the chest. Waistband rolled Soffes? Why not, it’s not like I was going to see anyone worth impressing in the deli line. Thursday at 1:30 PM was prime time for soccer moms, not soccer players.
Weaving in and out of the deli displays, my salad search came up empty-handed. Lunchables, guacamole, pineapple chunks, but no grilled chicken-y goodness. I finished a few more unsuccessful laps before surrendering myself to the deli line. Maybe the salads were just so delicious that they hid them behind the counter, I reasoned, a treat for the persistent customers. Besides, I needed to get to work. There were lives to be guarded, flip flop tans to perfect.
I looked up. HOLY CRAP. I blinked. HOLY FREAKING HELLA CRAP. There, behind the deli counter, sporting a white apron and what appeared to be an ill-fitting hairnet, stood my Big Ex. The one I had not seen since our drawn-out, emotionally-draining, mentally-exhausting December break-up.
“Hi. That’s me.”
At this point, all I wanted to do was put the world on pause and take my time to digest the situation. And maybe brush my hair. But I wasn’t Zack Morris so neither of those actions was an option; I didn’t have much choice but to power through. Besides, I had already come this far; I was not leaving without my salad… and a nice side of tips for surviving that first run in with the Big Ex.
1. Do Not Get Chatty
My first instinct in any awkward situation is to talk. Talk about anything. Just so it isn’t silent. Yet, while it took every ounce of strength in my body not to word vomit it up, it was worth it. Blurting “Hey, so this braid thing I started doing with my hair? It’s because my bangs are at this weird length and they don’t quite reach ponytails. But don’t worry, because Jennifer Aniston braids her hair too. Just so you know,” or ‘Wow this is weird, you’ve totally seen me naked. And now I’m not. I’m just standing here, you know, in the deli line, probably starring in some hidden camera made for TV guerilla style romantic comedy,” just doesn’t scream, “Hey doucher, look what you’re missing!”
A simple “Hey, how are you? I didn’t expect to see you at Sunset Food’s deli line/Limited Too/the Medical Library/this Carrie Underwood concert” is enough.
2. Do Not Linger
When you’ve gone a long time without seeing someone who was once a constant fixture in your life, it’s almost instinctive to be curious. Finally, a chance to fill in everything you couldn’t uncover on Facebook! Do not stalk. If you think the temptation to accidentally run into him will be too strong, start purchasing your salads from Super Target (they give you more chicken, anyway). Be polite, be brief, and get out. Do not make excuses to spend an extended period of time with him, i.e. “Hey, so I think I might need pre-made salads for the entire water park staff. Want me to help you with the lettuce?” Not so much.
3. Exit on a Good Note
Bitterness is not pretty. It shows you still care enough about what he thinks to let it affect your happiness. Obviously, if you and your ex managed to split on good terms, then this won’t be an issue. But, since break-ups are rarely smooth and easy, I think it’s safe to assume that most people will have at least a little negativity. Resist the urge to say anything biting. Smile and wish him a good day, because you are confident and happy and better off. If by some chance your iPhone is programmed to play All American Rejects “Gives You Hell,” every time you get a text (my friend has hers set to this, and it makes me ten kinds of nervous) ignore it and glance around for the source, confused.
4. Call for Backup Once You Leave
As I half jogged, half sprinted from the check-out to my pick-up truck (don’t worry, I coolly and calmly left the deli with salad in hand, saving the inevitable WTF moment until I was safely out of sight) my first instinct was to call my best friend. Laura reassured me that I had come out on top, (swimsuit > hairnet) and convinced me not to stress. Text one of your girls just in case you need to vent, or simply wrap our head around what just happened.
5. Do Not Wallow. Sing.
No dwelling; he’s an ex for a reason. Instead, play a really good girl song in the car. I like Taylor Swift’s “A Place in This World,” and India Arie’s “I Choose.” Leona Lewis’ “Better in Time,” is suitable, but if it’s gonna make you sad, skip it. If you wanna go with the classics, hit up “Wannabe” and “No Scrubs.” Sing along happily and enjoy the salads in life.