Q So I am sitting at a stoplight the other day with this guy I have been seeing and my ex pulls up next to us. We were together 10 years and just broke up. He's very angry I've moved on (he cheated), so I dive into my boyfriend's lap to hide and wait for the light to turn green. It seems like it's taking years and I come up just a little to see if my ex is still there and he spots me. He speeds off and I don't know how to handle this. He was very abusive and his expression scared me. Should I call him? What's good ex-etiquette?
A No you shouldn't call him! Good ex-etiquette is proper behavior after a break-up -- and unless you are contemplating reconciliation with an abusive ex, proper behavior is, "Do not call!" He's your ex. You don't have to explain anything, even if it's as ridiculous as you describe!
Have to say, though, it's not surprising that you ask whether you should explain yourself. That response is quite common when a couple breaks up after being together for a long time -- especially if there was abuse of some kind. You find yourself in a particular situation that generates a feeling you felt when you were together -- and you react the way you used to even though you are no longer in that situation. In this case, you were frightened. Understandable -- even though this situation is pretty silly, it still generates feelings that make you feel as if you must clarify what's really going on -- or else.
Break-ups are rarely clean. After 10 years, there are lots of loose ends -- and feelings -- to tie up before you can move on completely. When there has been abuse or infidelity, those hurts can keep you tied to an ex and need to be addressed before you can successfully move on. So, although your initial question describes a pretty silly situation, the feelings that it generated could be a signal that you need some extra help. Don't be afraid to talk to a therapist.
Finally, if you stand back and see that all this red-flag talk is a far more serious reaction than the situation requires, time to laugh about it. Enlist your good friends to help with damage control and move on. As serious as it feels to you right now, you'll probably see it in an adult comedy next year.
Dr. Jann Blackstone is the author of "Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation," and the founder of Bonus Families, bonusfamilies.com. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.