Why “The One Who Got Away” is Bullshit

Cat Damon—Slutever’s newest over-sharer—reflects on how we idealize past relationships in the present, the idea that someone can just “get away” from you, and the hand-job she maybe regrets not giving when she was 18. 

I think “The One Who Got Away” is bullshit. Maybe if you meet someone who’s epically great when you’re 16, and you’re too busy smoking weed and jerking off to make it work, there’s a valid moment of “Oh shit, that could have been it,” which might hit you when you’re 30 and buying your 21st house plant. The One Who Got Away implies that relationships can be revisited and are fixed entities, that a person who you treated badly while you were in college would be the perfect fit for you in your new and improved post-bac life.

My mother has always insisted that things work out the way they’re supposed to, and I suppose I’ve internalized that as a way to make peace with my own shortcomings in relationships. It feels more realistic and less Kate Hudson movie-esque to say, “If he didn’t want to see me again after I called him six times when I was blackout at my sister’s rehearsal dinner, then it would never have worked.” It’s hard for me to separate The One Who Got Away from a litany of things that could be— and probably are— wrong with me. If I had been less loud, or worn makeup, or not snored, or been less flirty with the bartender, he wouldn’t have gotten away. If I hadn’t said “I really like you!” or had remembered to take a shower or had a less curated apartment, it would have worked out. Opening up this thread of inquiry makes me likely to eat even more fast food and watch even more porn on Friday nights than I do now, because it gives me anxiety and destroys all hope. I’m not willing to take that risk for the sake of analyzing what went wrong between dates three and four with John Friend.

A man who does think I’m funny while I’m blackout, who also has seen me with braces yet still wants to fuck me in the present day, lives six hundred miles away. Matthew and I met when I was 12 and he was 13, which feels gross and stunted to admit. My neighbors in North Carolina were essentially family, and Matthew was their nephew. I met him for the first time that summer— he was tall and thin, with gold skin and a huge head of hair that made him look like a Q-tip. We liked the same music, and he had Ryan Gosling’s voice and intonation. I was terrified of him and put off by his obvious interest in me.

We would see each other once a year for the next six or so years, graduating from kissing on park benches to awkward fingering on the cold concrete of my family’s garage. We would talk weekly for hours while he was in Florida, where he lived. I would talk to him about all my angry virgin problems, and I would hear about skate parks and joints and girls in cutoffs who gave head at parties. He had a girlfriend who broke up with him because of our friendship, and I would plan being single for the times when we’d see each other (this was not difficult).

We didn’t speak for almost a year after I got mad at him for asking for a hand job, since I thought those should be given freely and not requested (and I was afraid to look a penis directly in the eye). The next time I saw him was at his cousin’s wedding after I just turned 20. Everything was easy— dancing with him was easy, getting him to laugh at my jokes was easy, kissing him was easy. Both of our families were excited, mine marginally less so because Matthew never graduated college and went to rehab at 15. After the wedding, Matthew and I talked about him visiting me at my school to see if we could actually date each other, or what it would be like. It seemed pretty set until it wasn’t, and right after it was clear he wasn’t visiting, I met my long-term boyfriend.

I didn’t call Matthew for four years, partially out of hurt and partially out of fear for my boyfriend’s weird jealousy. A year before Thomas and I broke up, I was expecting to see Matthew at his other cousin’s wedding. Thomas didn’t come with me, and I blacked out on white wine with my mother at around 7 PM. I woke up in a self-loathing panic the next morning when I thought about how much I had wanted to see Matthew, how glad I was that Thomas didn’t come because he would have distracted me with Matthew. I felt like a cheater, even in the incredibly made-up context of my hangover.

I got back in touch with Matthew within months of Thomas breaking up with me last August. I used every media format available— I searched for him on Instagram, texted, emailed. Getting back in touch with him was easy. So was talking for two hours at a time. While I had been dating Thomas, Matthew had started seeing one of his roommates. They’ve been together four years, and she seems cute and fun and nice. He answers questions for me about boys I’m interested in, and tells me books to read. He answers every phone call with a lazy “Hey girl.” He’s quit shaving between his big, straight eyebrows. He still lives in Florida.

When I told him about calling the Long Haired Dude in Brooklyn six times during my sister’s rehearsal dinner, he said, “If he can’t laugh at you when you’re giving speeches at 3 AM, he’s probably not that cool.” The long hair did not Get Away, thankfully. A slow fizzle-out is much less exciting than catastrophe, but I frequently mourn the fact that I don’t even have the luxury of a fizzle-out with Matthew. I don’t get to know how he takes his coffee, which side of the bed he sleeps on, and exactly how much TV he watches per day. I don’t get to hate him, or get on his nerves, or accidentally pull out his chest hair.

Matthew is a Might-Have, not a One Who Got Away. I never had him to begin with, I just had FaceTime and MySpace and text messages and two-day couple’s retreats at family reunions. The Might-Have relationship is a more likely situation, and also more poignant, since it never works out just because it never works out. Not because you fucked up the great love of your life, but because you wanted to move to France while she wanted to be close to her family. Or because you became single within days of him getting engaged. These aren’t relationships that end because of bad choices and/or drug problems, but because things simply didn’t line up. These are errors of timing, crossed wires, communication breakdowns. Not missed opportunities or squandered opportunities, but opportunities that didn’t exist. It’s not that you blew your chance, it’s that you never even had one.

The danger of these Might-Haves, as well as The One Who Got Away, is the potential to project all of your hopes and fantasies onto this person who might have either fathered your children or burned your house down. Matthew recently admitted to me that when he thinks about a future with me, he sees us as old people and my elderly self gets mad at him for leaving his shoes in inappropriate places. This is likely something I would do, and it’s to his credit that he knows it, but how can he imagine going through old age with someone he hasn’t seen in five years? It’s difficult, if not actually impossible, to untangle his substance or my substance from the narrative we’ve created for each other.

The allure of the Might-Have reflects as much about what we want and what we’re afraid of as what the other person actually contains. I have only one Might-Have. Maybe if I was happily dating someone in my own city, Matthew would lose that allure and just become a friend with a big dick and a mutual love of too much party. But I’m not, so I’m probably going to send him this instead.

Main image by Petra Collins.

Read Cat Damon’s previous post for Slutever, about the demise and resurrection of her open-relationship, HERE :)



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