I cannot count the number of conversations I’ve had with people who have told me about “the one who got away.”
When we love someone we’re living without, we settle into that story. It’s one we tell ourselves throughout the day and when we go to bed at night. It becomes almost rehearsed so it’s easy to sit over cups of coffee and tell the story of the one we fell in love with and couldn’t (wouldn’t, shouldn’t) share our lives with.
It’s an age-old story, and I know exactly what it feels like. I had that story. Maybe twice, if I’m honest.
A long time ago, I had a choice of two paths I could take. I took one instead of another and lost a friend, and for a long time, I wondered if I had made the right decision. I thought of that person a little as “The One Who Got Away.” But only because it felt like a path I could have taken but chose not to. Then, years later, I met someone.
Over hot cups of coffee on a cold day, I met someone who would change my life—or at least my outlook on life. I didn’t want to fall in love. In fact, I stayed pretty firmly in denial for as long as I could, which turned out to be not very long at all. Only a couple of weeks after I let myself privately admit my feelings, he was gone. Vanished. Disappeared from my life by his choice and not mine. And I spent the next year breaking—and then healing.
The breaking came fast. The healing? Not so much.
The healing was slow and filled with many setbacks. You see, I’d begun to think of him as my “One.” The One I should have been with but wasn’t with at all. The One who my heart would stay tied to, even if he didn’t want it at all. It took a long time to heal. What helped? Accepting all of my feelings. All of them—the longing, pain, anger, and the regression when I would get better and then fall back into it all over again. Acceptance helped.
It also helped that I continued to focus on self-care. I gave myself what I needed when I needed it. I took naps and gave myself facials and positive, affirming self-talk. I cried when I needed to, and I talked to my closest friends about the process of having my heart broken and learning to survive it. And I told that age old story of The One Who Got Away (ran away, retreated, ghosted me completely).
It almost became this bedtime story, a near-comforting ritual of sharing this one experience when I fell in love when I least expected it, experienced the highs of that feeling, and then was dropped to a low I did not know existed. While that sort of story makes for great reading, it was less enjoyable to experience. But there’s comfort in sharing our pain since nearly everyone we know has a similar story.
But, here’s the truth. Are you ready for it? Am I?
The One Who Got Away was not “The One.”
He/she wasn’t. Not ever. Because there are major differences between The One Who Got Away and The One. It’s not even subtle, and I can say from personal experience that when you find The One, you’ll know that the other person was just someone you encountered on your way to meet this person. How is The One (if you believe in such a person) different?
The One doesn’t get away. This person doesn’t leave us when they love us. They stay.
The One works through issues that come up in the relationship. They put in real effort.
The One shows love with actions and not just with words. We feel loved by this person. We know for certain that our love is returned.
The One doesn’t try to change us or put us down or make us feel like we’re not enough. They love us as we are, support our dreams, and always show up for us. And if they screw up, they don’t try to gaslight us; they apologize and try to make it right.
The One doesn’t pretend to be something he/she isn’t. They are authentic and honest with us about who they are and what they want.
The One Who Got Away…got away for a reason.
The main reason is that they were never supposed to share our entire journey. Maybe they were just lessons along the way or the push that we needed to make it to the hearts we needed to find. Or maybe they were just an obsession or an idea more than anything else, a concept to latch our hearts to so that we felt less alone.
Trust me when I say that when we’re set on the idea of The One Who Got Away, when we’re still deep in that love, it seems impossible that we will ever feel differently. Sure, there’s a soft place in my heart where that person touched it. Certain things will still remind me of that time, and I don’t know if that will ever change. But I don’t tell that same old story anymore, unless I’m just recounting what happened, and I certainly don’t look at him as The One Who Got Away.
I now know that the ones we’re meant for don’t leave us. They don’t make us feel like we weren’t enough—or that we were too much. They don’t let us, for a single moment, feel unloved or unwanted. They don’t make us want to bend ourselves into some other shape to make them happy.
The One Who Got Away was just someone who followed a different path from ours. Not The One. We haven’t missed out on that one great love; if it wasn’t even good enough to stay, it wasn’t ours to keep. It wasn’t what we needed then or now.
When we find that love we need, whether we find it in ourselves or with someone else, we’ll know the difference.
Until then, we can remember that everything that is meant for us comes to us in the end.