🎵In another life
I would make you stay
So I don’t have to say you were
The one that got away🎶
We all have regrets when it comes to past relationships, things we think we should have done differently, things we wished we’d said while we had the chance. Perhaps there are even some entanglements we wish we’d avoided altogether. But a lot of us also have that one person that we may never fully get over and no one else we meet ever quite compares to so we stay fixated on a past relationship even when that person doesn’t necessarily deserve the emphasis we place on them.
Although not all songs use the actual phrase, there are so many artists who’ve written about ‘the one that got away’. From Neyo’s ‘Do You’ to Mariah’s ‘Don’t Forget About Us’, past lovers we still yearn for is a common subject in many songs about heartbreak. Unsurprisingly there are also many many rom coms that thread this theme throughout their plots (Love and Basketball and Sylvie’s Love are two of my favourites). And often the one that got away is romanticised to the extent that the films conclusion always ends up with the estranged lovers finding their way back to each other.
But as we know life is not a movie and we don’t always reunite with our lost loves and often this is for good reason.
So first of all let’s talk a bit more about what causes those nostalgic feelings.
I’m sure you’ve all heard the term rose-tinted glasses, well it seems that lots of us often look back at the past using something called rosy retrospection which describes our tendency to recall the past more favourably than the present. In addition to this euphoric recall could also be at play, which is when we reminisce and emphasise the positives of a past situation but reduce our memories of the bad. For example women who say they quickly forgot the pain of childbirth but think of all of the happy emotions they felt when their child was born.
Another reason for feeling as though the person who got away was perfect for you could be caused by not actually knowing them as well as you thought you did. The brain is an incredible tool but it can also be very misleading. Studies have found that in the absence of information our brain will fill in gaps so that we perceive things to be complete, this phenomenon is called Apophenia. And it’s true of people too, we’ll often fill in knowledge gaps of what we don’t know about other individuals with idealised characteristics of our own invention. Which is why others can so often surprise us when they act or react in a way that we didn’t expect, because our expectations of them were based on our own assumptions and not on who they actually are.
This can be taken even further through our own fantasies, when we first connect with someone we can be guilty of indulging in “harmless” fantasies about dates we might go on, and how our interactions might develop further. If our love plot is cut short this lack of closure can also cause us to fixate on what might have been and in turn idealise who that person was and play up what they meant to us.
Harbouring feelings for a past love does have the potential to affect our approach to present and future relationships. If we let our obsessions with someone who it clearly isn’t going to work with take over, we could also damage our potential for meeting and connecting with another who is much better suited to us or who is more compatible and able to give us more of what we need.
How to get over the one that got away
It may sound obvious but as we explored above we have a tendency to focus on the positive without meaning to, so actively recalling the negative attributes of that person can help to bring balance to your memories of them (and if you have to, make a list).
Technology has enabled us to do so many things our ancestors probably never even dreamed about but technology can also enable less positive behaviours, including social media stalking. Keeping tabs on an ex can not only prevent you from moving on but could also affect your own self esteem if they appear to be happier without you. So exercising your right to smash that block button is actually a form of self care.
I, better than anyone, know that it’s easier said than done but living in the past never turns out well. When you find yourself lamenting the ‘good times’ and pining for someone try to bring yourself back to the present, focus on all the good you currently have in your life and allow yourself to get excited and plan for the things you want to do in the future.
Someone once said ‘Comparison is the death of joy’ and it’s true that sometimes we can get in the way of our own potential happiness by making unfair comparisons between new love interests with the one you’ve put on a pedestal. Although they may not have exactly the same attributes allow yourself to enjoy the positives they do have and if you’ve made that list of your ex’s negatives, perhaps focusing on what your new love interest brings you that your old love interest didn’t is a good place to start.
Although more of us are open to seeking professional help, I think there’s still some taboo around speaking with a psychologist. However moments that cause us to be a little more mentally fragile are the exact moments when we should be speaking to someone the most as they can help us to re-frame and challenge our own thoughts and assumptions. And trust me understanding yourself better and those revelations, that come along with speaking your truth out loud rather than trying to process everything in your own head, are priceless.
While it’s not ideal to let someone live in your head rent free it doesn’t automatically mean that this behaviour is unhealthy or that your romantic feelings aren’t reciprocated. In the event that this person was perfect for you but they truly did ‘get away’ due to timing or outside opportunities then you could potentially look to
Reconnect with the one that got away
So first things first, it’s SO important to take off the rose tinted glasses and actually assess if this person is worth trying to reintegrate into your life. I’m a fan of pros and cons lists but honestly be really honest with yourself about the good the bad and the absolutely annoying and if you truly believe the good outweighs the bad then go for it.
Next you need to think about mistakes that you may have made and how if you were to face similar situations again you might approach them differently. We all have a tendency to focus on how we’ve been wronged and aren’t necessarily as quick to reflect on how we could have handled certain situations in a healthier way.
This conversation could well change your life so don’t go into it lightly, think about what you want to say, how you want to come across and be prepared to listen to what they have to say no matter how hard it may be to hear. Ultimately this conversation may not go exactly as you hope but if you mentally prepare yourself for the best and worst case scenario you can leave that situation knowing that you were the best you could be.
If they are open to pursuing things again, don’t just pick up where you left off. Depending on how long ago you went your separate ways both of you will have changed and possibly have different wants and needs so it’s important to start fresh and get to know each other as you are now and try to avoid making assumptions whether they be based on what you actually know or what you think you know.
Often as human beings we hold onto the past and although we say we’ve moved on from a situation we still feel the need to bring up past transgressions when emotions are heightened. However if you truly want to move forward you will need to work on true forgiveness and as far as possible stay in the present and address issues as they arise and try not to let resentment fester or to conflate past issues with the present.
In order to build something better you’ll need to approach this new attempt with patience, openness and our favourite c word compromise. Just because you’ve decided to start fresh does not mean those old wounds and resentment will just disappear so allowing yourself and your love the kindness of patience for when things don’t go exactly to plan is important. This time you have a bit of a head start as you understand them and yourself a bit better but it’s also even more important to be willing to be open and vulnerable and honestly communicate your emotions and feelings.
The One that Got Away can cause some really complex emotions, on the one hand, that person wouldn’t have gotten away if they weren’t supposed to, equally timing and distance can disrupt what otherwise could have been something magical. Sometimes things just aren’t supposed to last but I do think that with each person we gain an opportunity to learn something new about ourselves, whether that be more about what we want or better understand what we absolutely don’t want.
Whatever the reason the best thing we can do is focus on finding (or holding onto) The One that Stays.