How to deal with passing / visting places connected to your ex?
January 08, 2021
How do you deal with passing or visiting places that are connected to your ex? I always get that feeling in my gut when I pass her home. I have to inadvertently drive by her place when I visit friends in a different part of town. Her place of work is also right around the corner from where I live, but I’m better at dealing with that. I can’t keep myself from looking at her apartment though, imagining if she is there, maybe with someone else.
Depending on your circumstance, your appetite for pushing yourself and some other factors, what's best for you will differ. Here are some unconnected thoughts you can consider.
Avoid places that make you feel bad
After a breakup it's beneficial to take good care of yourself. Many breakups happen, in part, because in some capacity we were failing to honour ourselves and our needs in the relationship. The post-breakup period is a good a time as any to make up for this. One way to treat yourself well is by avoiding stuff that doesn't make you feel good. If visiting certain places makes you feel bad because they remind you of your ex, then there's an obvious thing you can try: Don't visit those places.
It might be easier to justify to yourself that instead of avoiding those places out of weakness or fear, you are instead looking out for yourself and you're not going to deliberately make yourself feel like crap. You can choose to explore new things and choose a new route or new location you're not familiar with as an alternative.
The other side of the argument is that if you're avoiding places because they make you think of your ex, you're letting them define your life, while you should be focusing on yourself. Also, if you have a fear of seeing them, by avoiding those places, you're showing up as someone that avoids the things they're afraid of.
One way you could square these two perspectives is by avoiding the places at the beginning of your recovery, when you feel particularly weak and vulnerable. Even the toughest soldiers need periods of taking it easy and protecting a limb that has been damaged in war. Once you feel stronger you consciously decide to not let your ex define your life, or your fear to guide you, and you visit those places. Perhaps with a rehearsed response in case you run into your ex.
Learn to live with it
Another philosophy is simply learning to live with the feelings coming up 1. The feelings are there because you cared, because this person was important and because it was a part of your life. They can be sad feelings, but you might still be able to find gratitude for having them, because they're part of the whole having-been-in-love package.
The associations will become weaker with time. If you choose not to avoid these places, you'll gradually dilute the emotional association you have with the places. If you avoid the places, the associations will also grow weaker with time, just slower.
Make new memories
A pro-active approach is to deliberately go to these places and creating new, positive associations.
You could visit a place that triggers such difficult memories with friends and do something memorable, and fun there. A commenter on reddit describes going to such places drunk with friends and having fun. The next day, going to those places made them think of the fun they had, rather than the person that broke their hearts.
I have a hard time walking by the place where this guy and I had our first kiss because it reminds me of him. The area in fact reminds me of him because we spent our first date at a few different places. So last week my friend and I got drunk and went to those places. We had a lot of fun. Today I walked by those places again and I thought about the fun I had with my friend instead of the guy who broke my heart. Make new memories, don’t let you ex control where you go.
Explore new things
If you choose to avoid those locations, you can give a positive spin to it by choosing to explore new things. Perhaps it's a scenic detour you start taking to work, or it's a new coffee shop as the alternative to the one you and your ex used to frequent.
Doing novel things engages your mind, makes you feel good and engaged with the world, keeps your ex of your mind and allows you integrate new things into your life.
Have a rehearsed response
Sometimes simply the thought of running into your ex, their new partner, or both, can be debilitating. One way to deal with this situation is figuring out, in your imagination, how you would like to respond, and using that response as a fallback option should you actually run into them 2.
It can be helpful here to imagine how you would respond if you were the calmest, most civil, most forgiving, most wise (i.e. best) version of yourself. Focus on not doing anything you'll regret. It might not be easy, but if you end up acting in spite or out of fear, you'll be adding layers of feeling bad about yourself later.
Imagine the worst case scenario, and accept it
When we dread something, it can be helpful to identify the scenario we're apprehensive or afraid about, extrapolate it to the worst possible scenario, and accepting that in our minds. Our brains don't draw a distinction between imagined events and real ones, so once you've deal with the imagined worst case scenario, any fear of a real world scenario will lose its edge.