“The One Who Got Away” is a Myth

The summer of 2014, I was lucky to be studying abroad for a semester in Munich, Germany. One week into my trip, my long-time boyfriend had broken up with me, and I mended my broken heart with a likely more-than-healthy dose of chocolate, beer, pretzels, and parties. For those few months, I also started seeing a German guy who helped fill my days with laughter, sunrises, and adventures. While it had started as a casual fling, by the end of my stay, we were noticing feelings cropping up (as feelings tend to do). We were real friends by then, and we genuinely liked each other. To date, his company during that beautiful summer is one of my most treasured memories.

When I got back to America, I had a rough time. For the first few weeks, we talked often. We said how much we missed each other. We realized how much we really had enjoyed each other’s company.

I miss you. I was sitting here all day looking at this chat box.

This went on for maybe three or four months, then the messages became fewer and fewer. We talked maybe every other week. Saying over and over how we should Skype soon, we really should Skype soon. Our conversations mostly became hearing about each others’ stressors, how lonely and strange we felt, how things were different. He told me how much he wished he’d taken me to his place and played guitar for me and gave me one of his shirts.

Sometimes I wish I could run to your place and see you there. Life is so fast.

But soon, we both entered new relationships, and the messages became fewer and further between — of course this wasn’t unexpected. Our messages extended into longer blocks of text, giving weeks’ worth of brief catch-up details preceded by “I’m sorry I haven’t written in awhile” and followed by “miss you, talk soon.” They became less intimate and began sounding more and more like the sort of semi-rehearsed pitches you give to extended family members at holiday gatherings — “how’s work? How’s school? What have you been up to?” Months passed until only a handful of paragraphs were exchanged in a year. But he was always in the back of my mind. To my girl friends, he was jokingly referred to as my “one who got away” whenever we talked at night about various men who drifted in and out of our lives. I secretly missed our messages, I hoped we’d talk often again, I wondered if I’d see him if he visited America. I talked glowingly of our time together, and I wondered — who had he been to me? Was he the idea of a beautiful summer in a beautiful city? Was he the idea of adventure? Did I value him non-selfishly? Did I value him for who he really was, or did I value him for what he brought to my life at that time?

I returned to Munich last month for the first time in two years. I was nervous to see him again, but when I saw him coming through the crowd of people, my stomach immediately remembered how to feel queasy upon seeing his smile. He showed me his place. He played guitar for me. It was cold, so he gave me a sweater to keep. The last night I was there, we lay next to each other, just talking, wishing I could stay, wishing I didn’t have to leave. I memorized every part of it — the way the moon was reflecting through the window, the way his arm was so close to mine yet not touching it, the way I could tell he was smiling just by looking at his eyes. I was so thankful to have that moment with him.

During my stay this summer, I was talking with a new friend along the Isar about relationships, travel, and “flings.” He told me something he’d recently learned, and it really stuck with me —

Don’t value a person for their potential interactions with you.

The last night I spent with my dear friend was perfect just as it was. Really, I feel lucky and special to have spent those moments with him. It was simple, without the promise or expectation of anything more than what was happening in that moment. In its simplicity, it was intimate — not in a romantic way, but in a way that satisfied the lonely part of my soul. “The one who got away” is not a great expression. It’s possessive and creepy, really. And he never “got away,” because I never “had” him. We were two people borrowing each other’s time, making it better before giving it back. We’re only ever borrowing each other’s time, and sometimes we get greedy. While it’s exciting to hope for more, the value of a relationship lies in the time a person is currently lending you — no matter how simple the moment might be.