The one that got away

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Illustration by: Ashley Fairbourne


If there is one thing more romanticized than the idea of love, it is the idea of love lost. Sir Alfred Lord Tennyson once wrote that, “Tis better to have loved than lost than never to have loved at all.” I sort of feel like that’s bullshit, but that is just my personal humble opinion.

The only thing more swoon- worthy than “the one” (meaning your one-and-only-love-of-your-life sweetheart) is “the one that got away,” the idea that you let the person who could have been completely perfect for you slip through your fingers and into someone else’s arms. It’s hauntingly heart-breaking but it’s an idea that helps some of the best romantic movies reach their tear- inducing finales.

For me, the closest thing I have to the one that got away was someone I like to call Mr. Muse. I’d met him when I was starting to see someone else and even though Mr. Muse was charming, handsome and had ideal shoulder width with great chocolate eyes, I was so hung up on the other guy (spoiler: that other guy and I broke up) that Mr. Muse and I never got a shot at a relationship.

Still, Mr. Muse and I continued to see each other as friends but I was always fighting the idea of him being more. Over the years we grew distant until a chance encounter a week ago when I found him sitting on the steps outside my work building.
By some weird, serendipitous, universal power, he had landed a job in the building right next door. The interaction was short and sweet so we texted later and made plans to go out the following week.

I found myself envisioning the totally different life I could have had if I had gone for Mr. Muse all those years ago and skipped the horrible relationships I had in between. Maybe we would have had a beautiful penthouse apartment in San Francisco with great natural light and a breakfast nook. Maybe our genes would mix so well we’d create a child so jaw-droppingly attractive that Brad and Angelina would adopt it for a few million, and we’d be set for life.

The psychology of the idea of the one that got away is fascinating because we all fall prey to it. It’s a matter of idealization—a sort of “want what you can’t have” type thing. You don’t actually know what reality would have been like with that person but you can only picture the best type of fantasy in your head.

Those fantasies are hardly ever accurate.

The day came when I was supposed to meet Mr. Muse outside of work. I texted him, but after a few minutes of no response I decided to head to my car. From the distance I could see him in the parking lot but as I approached I could make out his ex standing with him.

If I could pick a super power I usually always say that I want to be able to fly. In that moment I wanted the power to be invisible or to have shovels for feet so I could dig the biggest hole under me and hide out. The confrontation was unavoidable, even though I tried. “Hey there!”

The two of them acknowledge my existence for a solid thirty seconds or so before they just start talking to each other with me as a sort of prop like a bench covered in pigeon shit. Eventually, his ex asks Mr. Muse if a friend of theirs is going to a party with them later.

Mr. Muse didn’t say anything and didn’t even make eye contact with me. In that moment I realized the harsh reality of the one that got away. They get away for a reason. Whether that was because you were incompatible,
it was poor timing or maybe you just thought you were perfect together in a fantasy world you created in your head—something wasn’t right.

I said goodbye and walked away. In my head, I wondered if maybe he would feel the same about me later on. If one day he will look back on this moment and realize that this was the moment I got away from him. If one day, after he gets over his crazy ex, he will regret this one moment.

Who knows? All I know is I don’t have the time to wonder about the one that got away when there are
so many who I haven’t even tried to snag yet. I still have hope that there is someone out there I don’t have to fantasize about because reality will be good enough, and you can bet that when I find them I’ll never let them get away.

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