Here's the Thing: The One Who Got Away

A SWEETIE LITTLE HONEY BUN:

So I have this ex from a few years back. We knew each other all through highschool and immediately had feelings for each other but were both in and out of other relationships so the timing didn’t work out until around when I was graduating. I’m not a particularly romantic person but this was a rom-com level true love story—four years of build up, first kiss during fireworks, the whole shebang. 

The problem was, I had already made plans to move to a different city 22 hours away by car for university. Despite the intensity of the relationship, there was no feasible way for us to make it work, so we broke up after just 6 months. 

Since then I’ve dated other people, had relationships longer than that one, and even fallen in love, but nothing compares to the depth of connection I had with that person. It almost makes dating difficult because I compare everyone to him. We’re both musicians, and when we were together we would write songs for one another. Our breakup inspired half a dozen new songs that he hasn’t even heard. 

He has a new girlfriend now and I’m single but dating around, which is fine, but lately I’ve noticed he’s been watching my Instagram stories. He doesn’t follow me anymore, so for some reason he’s been specifically seeking out my page to keep tabs on me. The irrational part of my brain that believes we’re still somehow meant to be has attached to the idea that he still has feelings, too, even though we dated for such a short time so long ago, and realistically he’s probably just idly creeping. I know there’s nothing I could do to get him back—we still live thousands of miles apart, he has a girlfriend, and the version of him I was in love with probably doesn’t exist anymore. But after all this time I’ve never been able to shake these feelings. The rational part of my brain wants to move on but the flighty romantic in me has been reinvigorated by this new knowledge that in some capacity he still cares what I’m up to, and now I’m worried that the next time I’m drunk or emotional I’m going to do something stupid like send him every single song I’ve written about him in the last three years. 

This is not an original story; how do other people get over this shit? Is there a way to get closure without reaching out to someone I haven’t spoken to in years and making everything worse?

SOPHIA:

I cry during a lot of movies, I would even venture to say that I cry during most movies. I cry every time I watch 13 Going on 30. But perhaps the movie I cry the hardest during? My Best Friend’s Wedding. Why? Because it is one of the most appealing and agonizing story lines of all time. In film school, I constantly pitched movies that ended with people not ending up together and every single time my film professors were like, “Yeah no we get what you’re going for, but audiences (aka people) require a happy ending. They feel cheated if two people don’t get together.” Now, there’s a time and a place for a sad ending. But people LOVE a good will they/won’t they…as long as the couple “wills” at the end.

So of course you’re left ruminating over this dude!! This is a narrative for the ages. There’s more than one classic rom com narrative here in fact! Fated love / one who got away / he gets me/ we’ve always been best friends / the timing was never right. And narratives are incredibly powerful, mostly because life is not particularly narrative or linear and then humans scramble to make it so. Humans love a story. Humans love a story so much that when they see a big version and a small version of an inanimate object they often think, “the mama and the baby.” We fucking go apeshit over stories.

And that’s what you have here: a story. You have a nice, horny, romantic ass story. You don’t have a relationship with this guy (he lives 22 hours away). He doesn’t even follow you on Instagram, which is a standard marker of even the feeblest love. You both have this back burner platonic ideal of romance in one another, fireworks kiss included, which is convenient as hell (as most emotional security blankets are), especially when things in Real Life aren’t great. Additionally, because things ended due to external circumstances neither of you has ever gotten the chance to figure out what truly sucks about being with one another.

It’s remarkably comforting to be able to point to the past and go, “It was good once, with him. It was easy and I didn’t have to do any work.” Of course you didn’t! You were in your early twenties and horny for each other and it lasted six months! Plus you guys make the same type of art, which always adds an extra layer of rose-colored tint on love glasses. I’d bet dollars to donuts that music has artificially enhanced this relationship like a good bra. Music is designed to heighten emotion and aid in storytelling; there’s a reason horror movies aren’t nearly so scary on mute.

Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s fine to hold on to this longing and to stoke the fires of the narrative (I promise I’ll stop saying narrative very soon) you’ve got going here that he gets you—bouts of sentimentalism are worthwhile and enjoyable—but don’t go upending your life for this man. Comparing people to him is not the worst fate in the world; what you two had was sexy and spicy and fun and intimate and you deserve all of those things with the next partner. If you text him, you text him. If you send him love songs, you send him love songs. We all deserve a chance to be our messiest selves in the name of horniness. Just don’t conflate this idealized longing with your fate.

Many, many people walk around this world convinced that one person from their past—usually in their early-to-mid-twenties—gets them and connected on a another level, and any disappointments with other current or future lovers can be chalked up to the simple fact that this new partner cannot possibly stack up to The One Who Got Away.

It’s a cop out, a falsehood. There is no way that you guys could possibly live up to what you’ve built here. Long-term love—the day in, day out shit—has nothing on the heightened emotional state of longing for someone you can’t have. There’s a reason the majority of love songs are written about beginnings and endings and far fewer are written about watching Season 2 of The Crown on the couch while farting next to your partner because you’re lactose intolerant but won’t change your diet. It’s just not that dazzling to actually live with someone. And what you and this dude have is pretty dazzling right now, which is great for songwriting; it’s great for looking out the window of an Uber at 3:17am while it rains; it’s great for when your partner in real life is mediocre because you have this magic relationship to look back on where neither person did anything wrong other than live too far away.

So, here’s my secret, and it’s a shitty secret that no one wants to hear: there’s no such thing as closure. That’s a kindness society invented for those among us who are lingering over things that have ended. It’s a generosity for the grieving to pretend like there is some event that will happen, some words that will be said that will make an ending ok. That will not happen because IT FUCKING SUUUUUCKS WHEN THINGS END and no “closure” can undo the sucking.

“Closure” comes in the form of time and time alone. Do I think that if you see this dude walk into a room in 10 years your heart’s metaphorical ears will perk up? YES. I think that will kind of always be the case. Do I think that if for some reason you two live in the same city you guys should go get a drink together and see what happens? Also yes. However, I don’t think this is your star-fated lover who gets you more than anyone else can. I think he’s a hottie and you both play music and get along well and that is undeniably lovely. And I promise it will happen again with someone who lives in your city, who follows you on Instagram.

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