What if the one who got away came back?
Most of us have a love who got away — someone who our feelings turn to in secret moments — someone we still love, who will forever make us quietly ask, “What if…?”
At first, I thought it was just me. Over the last six or eight weeks, I can’t stop my heart from reviewing the past. I can’t stop some internal mechanism from reviewing every old love and giving me revised conclusions.
It’s as though my heart has a brain of its own. It takes all the inputs from the past and then adds the changes going on in the world and renders an updated conclusion about different loves from the past.
Then I realized it isn’t just me. People I know personally are talking with me about making changes to their relationships — ditching something that doesn’t work or reaching out to someone they wish had turned out differently — in ways they wouldn’t have imagined a few months ago.
For some, it’s a time to fix things which have gone wrong or a time to escape relationships which have died or to reach out in vulnerability to love which was lost.
So it’s not just me, but it’s also not just the people I know. There’s something broader going on. I’ve seen several articles about people wanting to rekindle or heal old relationships, some romantic and some friendships — such as this piece.
I’ve even read articles speculating about why some people are apparently more sexually needy right now, which I attribute to a broader need for real emotional intimacy but our sex-crazed society has trouble interpreting.
Every time a relationship door is closed, there’s a reason. That reason might not be honestly acknowledged by both parties, but there’s always a reason. And there are times when rekindling an old flame just gives you a chance to get burned again. So some relationships are best left in the past. But can you trust your heart to know the difference about which is worth pursuing again and which should be left alone?
In the last week, I’ve had brief emails from two women who I once dated. Both were short and neither message betrayed an indication of any other motive. One of them just said, “I just needed to reach out to you and see if you’re OK. I’ve missed you.” The other one had a similar message in different words.
My heart and my brain were in agreement about both of these. There was nothing to save and nothing worth resurrecting. I would have once been overjoyed to hear from one of them again, but I now saw it only as an emotional risk not worth the trouble. The other is someone who is sweet and who I wish well, but I haven’t really wanted to see since the day I broke up with her.
Why did they reach out to me?
In both cases, things didn’t end especially well between us. Maybe the recent change in society left each of them wanting closure for something that never had a proper ending. Or maybe something in one or both of them still sees me as “the one who got away.”
Oddly, I’m not interested in knowing why, because neither of them is right for me at this stage of my life, so even if a simple contact represented more — which it might or might not — there’s nothing to pursue.
When I’ve talked with others or read these stories about recent experiences of strangers, I find myself feeling as though people are reaching out to do what they wish they had already done — maybe even what they knew before this that they should have done.
In other words, it doesn’t seem as though the recent crisis has changed the way people felt. It seems as though people’s fear about the future — or fear of being so emotionally alone — has given people courage to do what they had wanted to do before.
I haven’t made any secret of the fact that the crisis we’ve been going through has strengthened the longings I’ve already had for companionship and love and understanding. (I’ve written about it here and here.) But as I look at my real feelings, I find that nothing has really changed for me.
I have a love who got away.
Unlike some of the other people I’ve talked with, though, it’s not something I can reach out and attempt to change. I did everything in my power to share a future with someone — a future she claimed she wanted — but she made different choices. There was nothing I could do about it. She never even explained, and that hurt very deeply.
Unless someone else comes along, I suppose I’m doomed to die with strongly mixed feelings for her — love, mistrust and resentment. I don’t trust her at this point, of course, because I was burned once by trusting her love and her words — and that gives me a lot of angry resentment in the short term.
I’ll always know vividly, though, that an emotionally mature version of both of us could have been a once-in-a-lifetime partnership. My vision of that seems to be stubbornly consistent through the resentment and mistrust.
So my heart does its elaborate calculations — the good and the bad — and the little paper tape spits out the revised answer.
More than ever, I know she would have been an excellent partner — with the right amount of difficult emotional work together. I actually suspect she would make an excellent “crisis partner” after she readjusted herself to the new reality we face. It would have taken a lot of emotional work — because she is apparently oblivious to many of her own feelings — but it’s work I would have welcomed.
I am envious of those who know who they wish they could choose to return to, because they have the freedom to change things if they want to. If I had been the one who had said no to a relationship which I now know I must have, I would gladly swallow my pride and reach out to change things — just like the dramatic conclusion to a Hollywood romance. But I’m not in such a position.
I’m just someone who still longs for the love who got away.