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I'm Afraid to Face My Ex


Published July 27, 2016 at 10:00 a.m.
Updated July 27, 2016 at 10:51 a.m.

Dear Athena,

I recently ran into an old girlfriend with whom I haven't spoken in about nine years. When we broke up, it caught me by surprise, and I suffered for quite some time. I'm pretty sure part of me actually died. I couldn't handle the separation aspect of it, and we stayed friends for a while: I would go places with her and play it cool, even though I was actually in pain. Then I didn't hear from her for about 18 months and began to feel a lot better. So I ignored her text messages and never contacted her again.

I always felt guilty about this, but I couldn't handle being her buddy, and, rather than state this, I just vaporized. I've seen her three times in the last week, and she has driven by beeping and waving at me. The first time, she called my name from her car. I pretended to have earbuds in and kept walking.

If she stops to talk to me, what do I say to her? Do I owe her an explanation? I'm conflicted as to how to handle this potential encounter. I don't want to be mean to her, but I definitely don't want to be fake nice. The truth is, I'd love to correct a past failure and be with her again, but I would never expose my vulnerability to her and get crushed again. Please help!


Scared to Face Myself and My Ex

Dear Scared,

Whoa! This isn't just a little baggage you're lugging around; it's more like a moving van full of furniture and boxes. You can't and don't want to deal with her, but you want to be with her? That's a doozy.

Listen, if you "would never expose your vulnerability," you will have a hard time correcting this "past failure" and establishing a new, trusting relationship. Without more information, I can't comment on this, but I will say that failure often takes two. Regardless, the only way to move forward is to let go of the past — meaning your relationship with this person and whatever it is you're carrying around that inhibits you.

You can't fully do this unless you're willing to dig deep. With that comes the possibility of feeling hurt, but that's the risk you take when you resolve your issues. Chances are, doing so will not only help you face your ex with confidence if you see her again, but will serve you in your next relationship.

You said you felt much better when you let her go and that her presence upsets you. That should tell you something. Don't feel guilty for avoiding her and for taking care of yourself. I advise you to stay away and get back to the life you had before she showed up again. This woman is not even your friend anymore.

You definitely don't owe her an explanation. You don't owe her anything. The person you are truly beholden to is you. If you run into each other again and she flat-out asks you why you haven't responded, try this:

Her: Hey! How are you? I saw you recently. Did you not see me? Are you avoiding me? What's up?

You: Hey! Yeah, I was avoiding you, because, honestly, I don't want to reconnect. It's been a long time, and the way we ended our relationship caused me a lot of pain. I'm in a good space now, and I hope you are, too. So ... take care!

Here's the part where you walk away.