In the “Happily Ever After” episode of How I Met Your Mother, Ted Mosby reveals that he has a map of New York City that he has carefully color coordinated to mark the places where he might run into his ex-fiancée Stella. He’s so determined not to see her that when his friends suggest a restaurant for dinner, he nixes it because it’s “too close to [her] mother’s hairdresser.” It’s funny to us as viewers because that near-instinctive desire to avoid your ex - the mere thought of which inspires some fight-or-flight panic in our stupid, prehistoric viscera - is so familiar to many of us.
As the modern sage Carrie Bradshaw once put it: “The odds of bumping into the one who broke your heart are incredibly high. The odds of bumping into [them] when you look like [doo-doo] are even higher.” We don’t spend our lives looking our most handsome, our most successful, or our most accomplished. Most of our time, we work towards projecting that image of effortless cool. When an ex catches you in the act, it’s especially embarrassing.
That is why we’ve compiled a list of the 15 worst places to run into your ex. These are places that don’t offer a quick escape or a built-in shield. They are places, in other words, where you can’t control all (or most of) the variables, which is the true reason running into your ex sucks. If you’re curious, read on, and next time you go to these places, for God’s sake, put on a clean shirt.
15 On A First Date With Someone New
“The best way to get over someone old is to get under someone new,” or so goes the ancient bro adage. There might be some truth to this, seeing as so many addicts pull the ole bait-‘n’-switch on one habit for another. If you’re brokenhearted about someone, entrust your ailing ego to someone new. Running into your ex while you’re in a new relationship is alright. You and your partner have, by that point, established a repartee. But when you’re on a first date acting like some museum-curated version of yourself, your cozy, comfortable ex is the worst possible buzzkill.
14 At The Grocery Store
Another old adage: “You are what you eat.” That doesn’t mean if you eat nuggets you’re a big ol' chicken, but a person’s eating habits do give a big clue into their personality. So if you see your ex right after a breakup and your cart is full of typical post-breakup fare, you’re having an emotional nip-slip. If you see them months later and your cart is full of the same stuff it always is, then you’re just the plain Jane person you always were, ruining months of mystique produced by radio silence. Plus, you have to run into them on every aisle.
13 On Tinder
Ready to get back out there? Great! You don’t even have to get up off the couch to do it anymore. You can sit there in your Hanes undies playing some MMORPG with some random person like you’re out at a fancy dinner with them. But as you’re swiping through the deck, beware of exes lurking right behind some pretty face. They’re always there with a stupid bio that both makes you roll your eyes but also say it in their voice and just totally understand what they were going for. But the true reason it sucks is because you’re never sure which way to swipe.
12 At The Health Clinic
So you got under someone new. And now you’ve got an itch that won’t go away in your bikini/board-short area. No problemo, just go to your local clinic and get that cleared right up. But imagine running into your ex there; like, you wouldn’t even want to run into your family GP there because he’s too familiar. When it comes to STDs, you presumably want to operate in total anonymous stealth. Running into your ex, the person who knows you best aside from your mom, would be the worst.
11 A Wedding
Weddings are so romantic! Or so we hear. They make everyone’s heads fill up with pictures of white picket fences and everlasting affection. So when you have left your jaded cynicism with your umbrella at the door, you don’t want to run into your ex. At that point, you could be like: “What the hell, let’s give it another shot!” Which is such a bad idea because, regardless of how you feel about it now, there is an empirical reason why you two broke up in the first place. Don’t let her charm you into forgetfulness.
10 On Vacation
Sick of running into your ex? Sick of passing landmarks that remind you of them? Flee! Buy the cheapest ticket to the Bahamas, ride coach next to a guy that ate too many onions at lunch, and step out onto the sand to try to turn your sickly pale skin golden brown. Try not to take a vacation to the same spot as your ex. A trip is only therapeutic if your ex isn’t standing behind every tree or under every beach parasol.
9 At A Bacchanal
Another way to get over your ex is to try something new. Some people take a pottery class. You tried something a little less "Safe For Work" and celebrated singlehood with typical Roman excess. But imagine how much it would suck to run into your ex there. The person you treasured, the intense intimacy and complicity between the two of you, being flipped on its head. Although you could take your mind off of it by attending to someone else, their presence and perfume would still be smelled.
8 At A Singles Mixer
Sometimes, a person gets so lonely that they just want to get back into a relationship immediately, hence the concept of a singles mixer. There, there is no pretense that the people there are “just out to have a good time with their friends” and also no one who will flirt with you all night and then be like: “Oh my god! It’s so late my bf/ gf is gonna kill me!” But running into your ex there both announces that you’re brushing up against desperation and that they’re not yet quite desperate enough to date you.
7 On A Plane
Short of releasing the emergency hatch and being slurped into the thinnest edge of the atmosphere, there is no way to get off a plane once you’ve gotten on. Also cabin pressure (and cabin fever) make people do crazy things. So running into your ex inside a jet is a nasty combination. Going to the bathroom would become a torturous exercise because you’d have to subtly peek to see that your ex’s sleeping pills had sunken in before you could dash off and make dookie. You wouldn’t want to open the door to find your ex impatiently waiting to use the bathroom you just contaminated.
6 At Work
As the great Bob Dylan once said: no matter who you may be, “you’re gonna have to serve somebody.” Generally, that means at work. And generally, at work, you have a boss who couldn’t give a rat’s dirty rump about your personal life. So if your ex walks in and wants to be serviced, you might have to nut up. At work you’re tired and hasty, but you can still turn on the corny, rehearsed charm for the sake of the sale. When it’s your ex, you have to be a little more spontaneous or else they’ll think you’re a transparent dope.
5 At The Gym
Unless the gym is your domain and you have a 10/10 body, then it isn’t pleasant to be spotted there. You’re gasping for oxygen and sweating out those fourteen shots you had on Saturday night. The only reason you submit yourself to these uncouth indignities is so that later, when you’re showered and scented, you can attract a mate. Presumably your ex wouldn’t be the picture of self-possession at the gym, but they seem to glow no matter what they do, and you’re the one stuck with butt-crack sweat and strain-face.
4 On The Subway
Ever run into someone you kinda know on the subway and then you’re forced to be like: “Oh, hello… Nice day, isn’t it? What are you up to these days, anways?” for the rest of your trip, even though all you wanted to do was listen to the new Luke Bryan album and think about yourself? Well imagine doing that with your ex. Not only would that spoil the last minutes of freedom you had before work, but also would make the Luke Bryan listening later that day exponentially more melancholy.
3 In Class
You have to focus in class. Again, your professor does not care about the interpersonal dynamics between his students. (S)he is not going to send out recaps because you were too distracted by the back of your ex’s head to listen to what was being said. Your grades depend on your focus, but your mental health depends on learning everything you can learn about your ex without addressing them, and the only way to do that is to examine their behavior. Hope they aren’t there, or fight the psychotic urge to stare for 90 minutes.
2 Out With Your Friends
Sometimes, you want to go out with your friends and get drunk. As the crooner Luke Bryan once put it: “Roll in the bar, me and my crew/ Their little plan: to get me over you/ They’re hookin’ me up, yeah/ Buyin’ me drinks…” A sighting could spoil that whole evening. Not only is being drunk uncool past like sixteen years old, but it also makes you do stupid things like tell your ex you still love them or throw up pizza on the sidewalk. Those things are fine when it’s just you and your friends (although, even then…) but the stakes are much higher when the ex is present.
1 Literally Anywhere
The lesson here is that running into your ex literally anywhere sucks. There is no safe place. This is like the world in the “Party Rock Anthem” video before LMFAO shows up. Even the internet is dodgy because sometimes pictures of your ex just whisper across your screen on tumblr, or you break into a new group of people and find your ex’s footprints already there on their profiles and status updates. The moral is don’t worry too much about running into your ex. Chances are, they’re dreading it, too, and they’re much more concerned with coming across well than reading you for filth.