The One That Got Away

I won’t say I haven’t wondered about the “one that got away” on occasion, and there are two men I might put in that category as I look back over the years.

And I believe I know who my ex would place in that slot, though I imagine he would never admit it.

Are we haunted by the one we didn’t choose – or who didn’t choose us?

Is the one that got away merely a safe place to put our day dreams if we’re lonely or discontent?

Is it easier to justify divorce if we leave for the one that got away before we ever married?

The “Before” Trilogy: Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, Before Midnight

This weekend I watched a film I’ve always enjoyed, “Before Sunrise.” Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy are young lovers Jesse and Cline. They meet on a train in Europe, talk up a storm, and we fall in love with these quirky personalities and their 23-year old view of the world as they fall for each other.

Before Sunset” picks up the story nine years later in 2004, as they meet again in Paris. They’re older, more cynical, and Jesse is in a troubled marriage. It was happenstance that kept them from making a rendez-vous in 1995, and apparently neither has forgotten the other.

You might say they are, for each other, the one that got away.

In the 2013 release of “Before Midnight,” which I have yet to see, we will encounter them some years their marriage – now fortyish. Jesse divorced his wife and left his children behind in the States to be with her, and they now have a family of their own – complete with the usual struggles and frictions of any married couple with children, not to mention – a blended family across an ocean.

Lying to Ourselves? Convincing Ourselves?

I haven’t seen the latest film in the series, so if you have, don’t spoil it for me! But it did get me to thinking about “the one that got away,” and how many of us have someone we look back on – wistfully.

Now just because we do so doesn’t mean we want to toss away our lives as they are and run off with the person who provides a fantasy safe haven. However, if we harbor strong and persistent feelings for the one that got away, isn’t that a different matter?

This leads me to the notion of living a lie, though that may seem too harsh a word for it and too simplistic an interpretation. Perhaps we should express this sort of ambiguity as growing to a place where we’re not entirely truthful with the one who shares our beds, our children, or to whom we commit a few years (or decades) of our lives.

Is the concept of “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth” an impossibility in relationships? What about a more pragmatic and discreet method of picking and choosing what we say, what we don’t, and how much of ourselves we bring to our relationship table?

Are Half-Truths Lies?

Naturally, we hold back certain words and actions to respect our partners and also, not to hurt them.

We honor them, we love them, though we may not love them in the way we once felt emotional intimacy with another.

Does it follow then that partial love is a sort of lie? Is going through the motions of caring but not feeling it another sort of lie?

Is a lie solely a statement that is intentionally false and intended to deceive?

  • If your intentions are honorable, if you’re never caught, if no one’s the wiser, if you’re responsible in whatever role you’ve taken on, is there something admirable in “staying” – or is it a waste of a life?
  • Is a marriage a lie if you’ve “settled” for one you know is second best, and another person lives in your heart for years? Is the answer “it depends?”
  • What must it feel like to be the spouse who is left when a husband or wife meets up with that earlier loved one, and decides to leave? How must that feel?

The One That Got Away – You? Someone Else?

I’m not making judgments. I’m posing the questions. Can’t good relationships be built on the reality of loving solidly and responsibly? Since when can any one person be our “everything” anyway? Don’t we likely romanticize the “one that got away?”

Yet wouldn’t we be somewhat more forgiving if our errant partners accidentally encountered their one that got away – and the inevitable happened?

What about the spouse who is left in his or her wake? How must that feel – to find out that your husband re-encountered his true (or truer) love, and left to pursue her? Would you question everything? Would you note the moments that offered signs you should have paid attention to?

Some of us live with lies in marriage — a spouse’s lies of commission, ommission, or our own, including those we tell ourselves to get through a rough patch. But what if the entire basis of the marriage is a lie?

Second Best in the Love Game

As I walk my way through the fictitious scenario of Jesse marrying someone he loved “enough,” but always recalling Cline, the notion of his leaving a troubled marriage (and children) seems less hurtful than if he met a stranger, fell for her, and took off.

Then again, maybe I’m kidding myself. No one wants to be second best for the one they love.

I occasionally ask myself if I was second best to my ex. I ask myself if I was the one that got away to someone else. I will never know the answer to either of those questions. And I wonder if the man I loved before I married knew that he was in the corner of my mind – especially after divorce, though I was delighted to learn that he had remarried his first wife and they were happy, truly happy, until he passed away.

That knowledge confirmed what I sensed so many years before – that they belonged together, and that I was right to insist we move on.

How many of us carry a “one who got away” in our past – real or romanticized? If given the chance at a second chance, how many would leave everything behind to take it? And once there, how well do you deal with the fallout and the reality?

Image of Julie Delpy, 1991, Creative Commons 3.0, Wiki, attribution photographer Fabrice Lveque.