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Science Advice Goddess: Doom Raider

Amy Alkon on

)I think the guy I recently started dating might run in the same circles as my ex. (He's said a few things that led me to think that.) This terrifies me because I really do not like my ex and don't want there to be any overlap in our lives. I keep having nightmare scenarios play out in my head where I show up to the bar after my new guy's poker game and my ex is there. What can I do if this happens?

--Distressed

It helps to suddenly become British when you run into someone you dread seeing, because a posh British accent is ideal for conveying a polite greeting like: "What a surprise. I was sure someone would've poisoned you by now, or at least electrocuted you in the bathtub."

What doesn't help is ruminating on how you'll feel if you do see your ex. Unfortunately, our mind is not our BFF, and it has a habit of sending us off in directions that cause us needless suffering. For example, we are our own worst emotional fortunetellers, or in psychologists' terms, we are crap at "affective forecasting." ("Affect" is a fancy-schmancy researcher word for moods and emotions we experience.) Social psychologists Sarit Golub and Daniel Gilbert find that we tend to overestimate how bad some future event will make us feel. This overblown prediction of how miserable we'll be in the future serves to bum us out in the present. Accordingly, the researchers observe that "it may be" as the Stoic philosopher Seneca noted nearly 2 million years ago, "He who suffers before it is necessary suffers more than is necessary."

When the ex pops up in your head, instead of rerunning your usual social horror movies, recognize that you have what it takes to deal with whatever comes your way. After all, what's the worst thing that's likely to happen, an uncomfortable silence preceding an uncomfortable moment greeting each other? (This is rarely fatal.) Keep reminding yourself of this whenever dread arises, and though you might never become a pillar of chill, you should find your overall level of hysteria dialed down considerably.

Eventually, if your paths do cross, you should be able to stand there like it's no big deal, which suggests you are barely cognizant of his continued existence...in a way running outside and hiding between parked cars like it's a hostage crisis just can't.

 

Undercover Smother

I'm a 33-year-old bisexual female manager, and a co-worker seems to have an intense crush on me. She invites me out for drinks and buys me little gifts (a teddy bear, chocolates, flowers, a heart-shaped necklace). I make excuses to get out of drinks and show no enthusiasm for the gifts, but the more I don't show interest, the more obsessed she seems. How do I get her to stop without making it awkward?

--Disturbed

It's really uncomfortable when any conversation she has with you includes the breathy subtext: "I like your outfit. I'd like it even more if it were in a pile on the conference room floor."

...continued

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