The average sexually active adult can name at least two previous partners that came before their current one. That means that each and every day, we are out functioning in the world alongside someone who knows what we look like in the throes of passion (or at least they should know what that looks like). They can be in the same grocery store, working in the next cubicle over, or even playing ball at the gym with your new tender.

Deep, right?

I’m being silly, of course. But learning to share space with someone you used to get down with can be a bit awkward, but it doesn’t have to be! At least not forever. You see, while there are those who you used to have relationships with and now hate immensely, there are also those folks who may have simply been a bad fit for you. Or the person that you casually hooked up with between relationships. The friend you chased away a drought with. The dude you dated and just sort of naturally fell off from dealing with. They are still out here, in these streets, knowing what you look like naked.

How do you handle that? If that’s ever been a concern of yours, you’ll be glad to know that there isn’t always a lot of ceremony required after the lights have been turned on for good. You have not signed a contract that says this person owns a piece of you for as long as he or she shall live. And despite the potential for awkwardness early on, the post-sexual era of your relationship (be it a “hi” and “bye” one or even a great friendship) doesn’t need to be dramatic or hard.

I got to thinking about this when a friend of mine told me about seeing her former lover with his fiancée at a shopping mall this past weekend.

“He seemed to expect for there to be some weirdness, but I really didn’t care,” she told me. “The relationship was never serious to me and I’m really happy for him. I’ve moved on and I’m glad he did, too!”

That’s great, because the post-sexual relationship really needn’t be much different from the ones you have with people you’ve never twisted the sheets with.

If you and a former boudoir buddy were always casual and decided to cease the sexual part of your arrangement, treat them with the same warmth and kindness you always did. If you’ve moved into a true friendship, then put the past aside and don’t worry over what you used to do. Don’t let cynics tell you that men and women can’t be friends, or that you can’t be friends after you’ve hooked up. It simply isn’t true.

Now, be mindful: it’s one thing to be past your sexual connection with someone and another for there to be some residual lust on the part of one or both parties. If you are both single and find that you can pick up where you left off with no problems, rock on. But if either of you have since entered a relationship or have determined that the sex thing is not in your best interest, then it is important that you keep the boundaries clear and avoid situations that can cloud your judgment (i.e. hanging out without other folks around, drinking, etc).

If you have a new person in your life and find that they are linked somehow to a past lover, proceed with great caution. Some folks can deal with hearing, “I just wanted you to know that I used to kick it with Steve from your boxing class,” while others (who may even be okay with hearing stories about previous situations) can’t cope with putting names to faces. However, if you think there’s a remote possibility that the former may say something about you to the current, then you need to have a conversation with one or both of them. Just know, if the person you used to deal with is inclined to point you out to anyone and say “Yo, I used to hit that”…you need to improve upon your lover vetting procedures.

Also, not everyone has the same post-coital grace and manners. If a former partner treats or speaks of you with ill-regard just after sex or after ceasing to deal with them on a physical or romantic level, then that’s their failing. In the future, look for signs of this sort of character deficiency prior to getting intimate; if there are any signs of disrespect, then you shouldn’t let this person take any space in your life, physically or otherwise. At the end of the day, some people are just jerks and you can’t let it assault your self-esteem.

Sex is grown-up business, so if you are going go there, you got to be grown-up about it all the way through. Unless someone ran your emotions and/or your name through the mud, you should be able to smile and say “What’s up” when you see them in the streets. Acting funny or running the other way is completely unnecessary. Unless you marry the first person you sleep with and stay with them so long as you live, you’ll likely encounter past lovers. It’s a part of life. Relax and keep it moving.

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  • Chacha1

    My ex avoids me and acts all nervous when he sees me, especially if his wife is in the vicinity. I have to say ‘hi’ first or else he acts like he didn’t see me, or changes direction in order to avoid me and that makes it even weirder. It just makes me feel really weird and uncomfortable…and slightly offended. It makes no sense to be like that when it is inevitable that we will see each other from time to time since we share a family member (no we aren’t at all related by blood or law). We dealt with each other in high school and then again a couple years after high school, but very briefly. It has been ten years. Ten. And we’re both married.

    • mEE

      yea I never understood that. I have an ex who is now mutual friends with another close friend. he is sooo weird whenever we have group gatherings. firstly, there’s always at least 20 ppl there. we’ve never hung out in a small group. second, he’s always with his significant other (I think fiance at this point) and I’m with mine. both s/o’s know we were together and are fine with it. but he does the nervous hi and averts his gaze and sends off all kinds of weird body language everytime he sees me. it’s so awkward. I don’t get it.

    • I have had ex’s confide to me (briefly and while their s/o isn’t around) that they keep distance to avoid the appearance that something could rekindle. They have love and respect for their partner (some have fear) and they want to make sure that given the history there, no one has to wonder where they want to be. I have had a couple other ex’s tell me they actually are concerned that they could slip into a too-comfortable pattern again and be actually wrong in their desires, so they hold off. Let’s hope if you have an awkward ex that you take it as a compliment. You are still fly and they don’t want to catch themselves slippin’!

  • E.M.S.

    I support the mentality of this article. I think people CHOOSE to get into ugly situations with their exes & think that’s normal because “everyone” thinks so. Take the time to sort things out with that person & be mature about the situation, then things don’t have to get dicey or awkward when you run into them later in life.

    One of my exes, I have no hard feelings toward, granted we never had a sexual relationship, breakups can be hard & give birth to negative opinions towards someone after you end it. I wish him all the best in the world & hope if we do cross paths later in life he’ll feel the same way.

  • Thanks for this article.
    Dealing with exes can be tricky and awkward. But i always attempt to remain friends, or at least civil with my exes. I always tend to have mutual friends with all my ex boyfriends. As long as people are acting like adults, there are no problems. The issues (for me) have always appeared when there is some form of unrequited residual affection towards one person, whilst the other has moved on. At this point, it always requires a step away from the situation – you don’t want to do anything which you’ll regret later.

  • Amira

    I’ve decided that I will never forgive my ex and if I ever see him again there will be no words exchanged. He does not deserve my time. I’m actually ok with that instead of going the “turn the other cheek” route.