The Allure of the One Who Got Away

Alecia Kennedy
6 min readDec 27, 2023

Why we romanticize the love that didn’t last

Photo by Brett Sayles:

If you have lived long enough, you are likely to have had a relationship or three that didn’t make it. I know as I approach middle-age, I certainly have. I’ve been married and divorced twice. I’ve had two other serious relationships that I thought would lead somewhere but didn’t. And then I’ve had a patchwork of people I’ve dated, people who wanted to date but were just friends (to me), and some relationships that are hard to define.

Some of these relationships were good but ran their course. Some just fizzled out after the new wore off. Some were clearly bad ideas from the start fueled by youth, passion, and a desire to experience everything in life. Some were harmful. Some lasted longer than they should have for various reasons. Except for one exceptionally abusive relationship, I don’t regret any of them, even though I may regret how I behaved or reacted at times. I think it’s important to have even foolish relationships, if only for the value of learning about yourself. I eventually recovered from all the endings and found myself stronger and more capable for having had the experience.

But the exquisite mental torture of the one that got away — that is a different animal. It is a force capable of shredding your heart to pieces and destroying your will to live if you let it run free. It causes such havoc because it is all about what could have been but wasn’t. It has infinite power over you because of the infinite possibilities that didn’t manifest. It is a figment of your imagination that is anchored in a real person. A person who seemed perfect for you. A relationship that hit all the right buttons and by any reasonable standard of measurement, should have lasted forever.

That’s what makes it so hard. They say that the heart wants what it wants. I say that the mind wants whatever it can imagine. And I have a great imagination.

I have experienced the “one that got away” phenomenon a couple of times, and it is not for the weak. Here is what I’ve learned:

Factors that Contribute to the One That Got Away Fallacy

  1. A feeling that the relationship is fated. Maybe you met in an unusual and unlikely way. Maybe your life paths have