ACTUAL LETTER TO DEAR JON:
I hate running into old flames in public, like while I'm out shopping. I'm embarrassed, I don't know what to say and I'd rather avoid them, but I don't want to be caught trying to avoid them either because that would be even more embarrassing! What should I do?
*Note: This letter is the revised version as I promised in last week's column. To read the letter as it was actually submitted, read Sort 363.
First of all, I want to reassure you that you are completely normal. By "normal" I do not mean that you are healthy. Far from it! But your particular neurotic angst is shared by approximately 6.5 billion other people on the planet. There are several million who move beyond neurotic angst to pathological psychoses. There are only 118 healthy well-adjusted people in the world, and two of them are under the age of 6 so there is still plenty of time for them to get illing.
Your angst is universal. Your problem is not. A woman of India who is waiting for her marriage to be arranged, which won't happen until the goats give birth, will not be sharing your particular problem. But she WILL be thinking to herself what YOU would be thinking if you were in HER position, which is: "Please Krishna please don't let the kid be born with two heads or a missing leg or my wedding will be postponed and I REALLY need to get out of this house very soon especially since my younger sister is already married and a mother and I never hear the end of it and unless I hear the end of it I think I shall go as crazy as a rabid monkey please please Krishna amen. P.S. Thank you that neither I nor my fiancee live in Mumbai."*
*Note, the violence in Mumbai last week was cruel and horrible and sick and no laughing matter. However, I have heard similar things said by Americans, in terms of expressing thanks to their higher power of choice, frequently "Jesus Christ," that they do not live in "Detroit" or "certain Chicago neighborhoods which no international tourists possibly present for the 2016 Olympics will ever have to come near."* While nearly 200 were killed in Mumbai in a single night of terrorism, it takes five whole months to reach that total in Chicago, and no one can blame an ongoing civil war over disputed territory either, unless the comparison is to "turf" among street gangs, and there is probably more truth to that parallel than meets the eye.
*Note: Chicago would be a GREAT place to host the Olympics. Chicago street hoods only mean to kill each other, and the collateral damage is only to those unfortunate enough to have to walk to their neighborhood's public school in the midst of the cross-fire. So REALLY, tourists and athletes would NOT be bothered at all. Most foreigners are very welcome. In fact, Chicago is a "sanctuary" city for foreigners, because we can't get Americans to weed our lawns or do our dishes anymore.
The point is, people are the same the world over. We are all sick about love, we are all killing each other for random reasons like religion, politics and cocaine sales, and we are all meeting people we would rather not meet in malls and shops and bazaars everywhere, so we might as well have the Olympics in Chicago because really, the question is not "why not?" but rather "what tourist is going to find better pizza in the whole world?"
So, you need to know what to do when you meet an ex while you are shopping. Strategies differ depending on the type of store. If you are shopping in a department store, and you are in the lingerie aisles looking for something for your new flame and it turns out that your ex-- surprise surprise isn't THIS a small world, is the sales clerk-- that might be awkward. Here it is normal for most billions of people to make embarrassed small talk, and then lie and say, "Is this the right direction to the hardware department?"*
*Note: That is a difficult lie to sustain if you are holding negligees of different color in each hand.
If you really are running into your exes frequently enough to write to Dear Jon, you may be confining your shopping to too small a geographic area. If you live in a huge city, like Chicago, consider hopping a few neighborhoods over to do your grocery shopping, pump your gas, tailor your bullet-proof vests, etc.* In a city like Chicago, chain supermarkets have outlets every few miles so you would be able to use your coupons and keep the same bank, while the extra twenty minutes of travel would give you the peace of mind that you will be completely anonymous to the other shoppers.
*Note: Just be sure to wear neutral earth-tones; at this time of writing no street gangs are identified with beige polo shirts and cardigan sweaters.
Then for your Christmas shopping, avoid commuting to the world-famous places where "everyone" goes to shop, such as Swedish-import furniture stores located next to malls that compete for being the "biggest and/or busiest in North America."*
*Note: I have shopped at West Edmonton Mall, Alberta; Mall of America, Minnesota; Woodfield Mall, Illinois. I cannot honestly tell you which one is the biggest. I can tell you that my "exes" threat at Woodfield Mall has nothing to do with former girl-friends; it is that I might run into former employers with whom our parting did not amount to "sweet" sorrow.
Any city of fewer than one hundred thousand people has too few shopping choices to protect yourself from uncomfortable run-ins. If the city you live in is a suburb in a megapolis, you might want to consider shopping in another suburb--while avoiding the world-class mega malls as already stated. Another alternative is to move to a different suburb.
However, if you have been a "playah" in a small city --by being the campus cad at the university in Laramie, Wyoming for example--so that the city's phone book is filled with your various regrets, there is no escape for you except to move to another state with a lot more people. Or, you can resolve to do all your shopping on-line and never leave your house again except to go to work.*
*Note: People like you who are neurotic and uncomfortable about exes are the reason why human resource directors set policies against dating people at work. Whether your job has that policy or not, you, of all people, probably should not date anyone at work.
Remember though, that our outgoing President reminded us that shopping is our patriotic duty. So NOT shopping is not an option. Get out there and ring it up (or shop from your computer) and do your part to spend us out of this economic crisis. God Bless America!
Note: President Bush spoke to this effect during the Christmas season, 2001, a few weeks after the terror attacks. Look it up. We re-elected him with the first clear popular majority in sixteen years, so he must have been right.