It’s been about six months since I dumped the guy I thought I could spend the rest of my life with. It ended before I discovered he cheated on me for the billionth time. I have been sickened by the thought I might run into him around town, but luckily, haven’t. A mutual friend of ours is getting married in March and my ex is attending. I don’t want to have a sudden attack of nostalgia or an anxious breakdown when I see him. It would be uncomfortable if he approached me in conversation or wanted to talk about us or seek the closure I never gave him. How do I keep my cool while having fun at the wedding of one of my best friends?
By reminding yourself that you deserve real love, not a lopsided romance. Serial cheaters are charmers with little concern for the emotional wreckage they create. Their focus is on getting their needs met. Serial victims prefer fantasy to reality. It’s easier for them to believe in the relationship they imagine is possible than to admit to betrayals in the relationship they have. This fantasy includes a belief that being in a romantic relationship means they are of value, and not being in one means they are worthless. Serial victims believe they are blessed to be with someone, and that inspires clinging to even the carcass of a relationship. Instead, they should seek a mutually satisfying union in which each person is grateful to be coupled and behaves accordingly.
Hopefully, what you just read is a buzzkill for any whiff of nostalgia that attempts to seduce you back to the insanity of dating a serial cheater. Handling your other concern—staving off an anxious breakdown—is best managed through inquiry or role-playing. The inquiry process is simple: What is the worst thing that could happen if your ex approaches you for conversation? You might talk. (Well, yikes! That’s scary, huh? Not!) I’m not advocating conversation, but I don’t want to disabuse you of the possibility, either. There really is no reason not to offer a friendly wave from afar or a hello. If you don’t wish to chat and he tries, have a backbone: “I hope you are well. I am. But I am not ready to talk with you yet.” If he persists, repeat: “I am not interested in talking.” Then smile (if you can manage a kind one) and walk away. It’s better to be honest and say you are not ready to talk than to be dishonest, chat and later be furious about the experience. Or, worse still, to tell yourself you must chat and resent it so fiercely that you whip the conversation into a conflagration.
In role-playing, you simply pretend the situation has occurred and play-act (in your mind, a journal or with a trusted friend) your way out of the dilemma. But inquiry and play-acting are helpful only after you have seen why the fear of an encounter has arisen. In your case, you handed your ex so much power (yes, you did that), that you still fear enslavement to him. It’s still the belief system of a victim: He has the power to cast a spell on you and render you weak enough to return to the relationship or to force you into a conversation. Isn’t that silly? I suggest that, between now and the wedding, you engage in a practice like Hatha yoga or meditation that teaches how to be simultaneously conscious of our internal and external worlds. That way, if you do chat with your ex at the wedding, you are less likely to sacrifice yourself to him without first hearing your intuition warn you against it.