The One That Got Away As Valentine’s Day approaches, two writers muse on the topic of lost loves.

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Timing Is Everything

Five years ago, I met the man I thought I would marry: It had all the makings of a story you tell with relish at the bridal shower and future family functions.

I had decided to sign up for a speed-dating event in Baltimore. When he sat down at my table, nothing immediately alarming or spectacular stood out. A good sign, considering that some of the earlier conversations I had with available bachelors ranged from boring to boorish. Instead, he was intelligent, polite, funny and educated. So, I circled his number as a match I was interested in meeting again.

A few days later, I received an email from the speed-dating coordinator, who said that he had selected me, too! For our first date, he suggested we volunteer to serve food at a homeless shelter. As a former Peace Corps vVolunteer, I was immediately impressed. I had never had a first date at a homeless shelter, nor have I had one since. We went out to lunch at P.F. Chang’s afterwards, and then he took me home.

We started dating and he was wonderful. He was proactive with calling and planned dates that ran the gamut fromlike cozy meals at The Brewer’s Art or Bertha’s with various stops to venues in between . Several months into the relationship, he informed me he was relocating to Kentucky for a career opportunity. We had never talked about the future, but we had established a pattern of spending time together that was working. I knew early on that he was career driven —his ambition was one of the things I admired about him. However, I hadn’t expected him to move so soon. I also knew from prior conversations that neither one of us was a fan of long-distance dating.

The weekend before he moved, we celebrated our last time together. We had drinks at Roy’s Restaurant and then had dinner at The Oceanaire. The next morning we went for brunch and then walked to the National Aaquarium, where he showed me his favorite exhibit, the jellyfish. The chocolate brown ones were his favorites. We even purchased a touristy photograph. Then he left.

We stayed in sporadic communication while he was gone, but nothing substantial. I dated a few men during that time, but none that I ever really liked as much as him. They always seemed to lack something. During this time, I met the man who would eventually be my daughter’s father. When I was two months pregnant, my ex called. “Hey! I have some good news for you.” His two-year assignment in Kentucky was complete. He was relocating to D.C. in a few months’ time. “Please tell me you’re not married yet,” he said.

I paused. “I’m not married … but I am pregnant.” There was silence. Then, “Wow, that’s not the homecoming I was expecting. Congratulations, I wish you the best.”

There was so much more I wanted to say, but so much had changed. I still think about him, and from time to time, we still reach out and say hello. However, our conversations are brief and lack any real substance. Things are complicated. I know they say everything happens for a reason, and motherhood is one of the best jobs I’ve ever been fortunate to have. Yet, sometimes I wonder, and wish this story ended differently.
—Shannon Brown

What If
The name of the game was MASH: Mansion, apartment, shack, house. “Wanna play MASH?” my friends and I used to ask, our eyes bright with excitement. It was a rhetorical question really. The answer was always yes.

In addition to determining where you’d call home, a quick Q&A followed by a series of tallying and eliminating laid your future bare: Your job, number of children, what type of car you’d drive (this was never my forte), and the all-important who you’d spend the rest of your life with, celebrities included.

If you weren’t happy with the results the first time around, you could always play again. And so we did. I don’t remember the names of any of my soulmates-to-be. They were crushes of the moment, as temporary as the paper on which they were scrawled.

Of course, it didn’t feel that way at the time. I blushed at the mere sight of them and a simple exchange could send me into a frenzy, replaying its details in my mind for days.
Inevitably, they all got away. Mansion dreams were put aside in favor of more modest dwellings, and acting aspirations were quickly eliminated to make room for SATs and advanced degrees. It’s hard to imagine having settled down with anyone I deemed desirable all those years ago, let alone where I’d be now as a result. If we all married our middle school crushes, would we miss out on a rosier future that we had never planned?

The idea of the one that got away can conjure up feelings of regret and longing, hypotheticals and histories, a sense that maybe we got it all wrong. Reportedly, after the release of Adele’s hit single “Hello,” a whopping 64 percent of women were inspired to call their exes to reconcile. Only 17 percent of men were inspired to do the same.

Maybe the problem isn’t the unshakable thought of what might have been, but the tendency for our minds to go there in the first place. It’s easy to put our past loves on a pedestal, remembering them as knights in shining armor, minimizing their shortcomings. Whether you’re single, dating or have tied the knot, revisiting the one that almost was, but wasn’t, can be like going into a bookstore and expecting to leave with a new wardrobe; it’s tempting, but you won’t get what you came for.

What if instead of pining for the past, you reimagined your present, and yourself, as the one that escaped something that wasn’t built to last? What if you were the one that got away?

It’s empowering to think of yourself as worthy of the good relationship you’re in , not as less than for the one that ended. Then, when you add up your partner’s annoying habits, occasional forgetfulness, intricacies and exterior, do they still fall short in your eyes?

I think about the dozens of names I wrote down, now blanks in my mind, and the thrill of mapping out a future I knew would never come to fruition. I think of what could have been, a merging of the past and present, not with a question, but an answer: This is the only way it was meant to be.
—Emily Barr

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