Almost anyone with an extensive dating history has a story about "the one" that got away. Sometimes there's more than one, but we're sticking to cliche here.

Usually this statement is applied to a romantic interest that seemed 100% compatible but a stupid decision or some controllable aspect of the individual's lifestyle (most often something career related) halted the blossoming relationship.

For me it was a young Co-ed at the Frankfurt International University. We met at a dance club and hit it off really well. We talked on the phone and had some great conversations, we unsuccessfully tried to see each other again. I was in the military at the time and at the beck and call of my superiors. It was pretty obvious that we wanted to be with each other but circumstances forbid it. I had to fly to England for a couple months, her ex-boyfriend was coming into town, we tried, we checked our schedule and for four months neither of us had the time to see each other (I realized this when the statement "How's your February look?" came up.). We decided it was better for both of us just not to start.

I still wonder what my life would have been like if the situation had been slightly different. I still remember our conversations on the phone with her, we spoke of literature and life, and we laughed a lot. Now I'm near-engaged, happy with a good job, a nice place to live and a remarkable woman who loves me and whom I love in return, but there will always be "the one that got away".

It was about 9:30 and I had just finished pulling in the last of my tools, when the phone rang. Too late for a telemarketer, I reasoned, so I decided to answer. It was a woman's voice, a bit quavering.

"Excuse me for calling so late, but I'm looking for a David. W."

"That would be me."

"Were you at Wright State University?"

"Sure was."

"You didn't happen to know an S--------?"

'"Rather well, actually.'" Biblically to be precise.

The pieces came together. It was S. My first love. My first steady lover. We'd met at the beginning of spring term our senior year. I'd just won a graduate fellowship for next year at Ohio State. She was a graduate student in history. I met her at an important time for me. I'd had an unrequited crush on Model United Nations teammate, who in turn had spent the conference in the arms of another teammate. I had stayed quiet and out of their way during the victory celebration, but now I was home and didn't want to see my friends.

Until I met S. She knew history and enjoyed Dr. Who. She laughed with me, and enjoyed giving me looks down her shirt. And I looked. Who wouldn't?

But I was nervous about a formal date so asked her out for a drink after class. Drinks led to a supper of apples, bread and cheese. She wanted to hear King Crimson, an act that displayed musical taste so cool as to defy description. Three hours after the I slipped the record from its jacket we lay together our mingled sweat drying from our intertwined bodies. For the first time in years, perhaps ever, I felt handsome. Desirable.

" I cant believe I found you on the first try. And its really you."

"Who else would it be?"

We met every Friday after that, back to my apartment for wine, dinner and TV. Star Trek: TNG was in its premiere season. She loved Beauty and the Beast. And I loved it too once I realized the show made her ravenous. She'd drag me to the bedroom. And when we rested we'd talk of books and shows, before starting all over again.

"David, what are you doing these days?"

"I'm an electrician. Not what I trained for, but I found that I enjoy working with my hands. And at the end of the day, you're done."

"You don't know what I'd give for a job like that. Academia is driving me nuts. These people are so dishonest, manipulative."

"Surely they all aren't like that."

"Not all, but enough. I come home and find myself smoking and drinking. I wish I could chuck it all and go train horses."

"I have a friend who does that. She really enjoys horse training."

"Oh, I hate her!"

Whenever I drove between towns, I always found myself imagining of how much fun it would be if she were here beside me. So I resolved to find out. I invited her to Cincinnati for a weekend, planned it out, made reservations at the motel room, dinner on a river boat. We laughed and joked the whole way there. And we danced close at night. She had studied dance for years, and was perhaps a bit frustrated, but not so much not to sneak me a kiss, or grab my behind.

"David, you don't know how much it means that I can call you and you're just happy to hear me."

"Why wouldn't I? You were pretty important to me."

"Yes, and I treated you horribly."

"Look, I don't . . ."

"No hear me out. After all the years, I think back and realize I was really shitty to you. Really shitty. And you remained loyal, and tried to be the best of friends to me. While I treated you like dirt." Her voice broke up and in almost a whisper she continued. "Like dirt, and you were so sweet."

The truth is she was right. She had treated me horribly. I remember the night she told me she loved me, then refused to see me for months. She'd promise to visit, but almost never came. Then out of the blue there would be a phone call. I rode a romantic roller coaster of promised love to crash down and broken promises. I didn't understand back then. I hadn't the experience. But I was her first steady after two marriages. The first had lasted eight years until she discovered that he "cheated on me with everyone." The second was to an obsessive/compulsive who spent all their money and brought home a pornographic movie every single night. Love had brought her ulcers, debt and betrayal.

As a man who had never known love I couldn't imagine why anyone would flee it. It wasn't until years later when I myself tasted betrayal that I understood. When she met me I was intended to be a fuck buddy, a good time to pass the time. I think if I hadn't been headed off to graduate school she might not have made that first date. Trying to turn me away, she told me how she slept with lots of people, that it was all in fun. But I was the only one she kept coming back to.

The relationship went on, and mostly off, for a couple years before I grew too fed up with my hot and cold running girlfriend, and dropped the relationship back to Christmas cards and the odd phone chat. All of whom I sent. Eventually I even quit that off as well. She would regret this, one day. One day I would be the One that Got Away.

"Look, why don"t you come visit me. I have plenty of room. And it's really beautiful down here. Lots of great museums and Civil War sites to explore. I live only an hour from the beach. I could cook for you. You know I love to cook."

After thirteen years. I won my victory. She confirmed my hopes, that I had remained on her mind for fourteen years, that deep down I had touched her. I am the One That Got Away.

Yet the victory seemed pyrrhic. Her voice quavered with loneliness and need. Such a risk calling me. I could rightfully have responded coldly from the first sentence. She really deserved no better and knew it. After all those years, only pain could have led her to reach out like that.

Years ago, she didn't dare risk her feelings. Loneliness was her reward.

I know what that's like. I almost married once. That woman betrayed and manipulated me. By the end of the relationship I felt only a bitter anger. For a year I refused to date. Then it was keep your distance, keep myself safe, waiting for the axe to fall. I date to fail.

I don't want to be the One That Got Away any more.

A hideous prospect when the one that you're dating could be The One That Got Away.

You're so happy being a couple. You have your problems with each other, but when you're together, they seem to evaporate. Holding her in your arms after a fit of passion, the chafing of issues reluctantly spoken of disappears. Walking around in the chill autumn air, hand in hand, blissful for moment, loving each other. Quietly sitting and not doing much of anything.

One more medicated peaceful moment
Orestes, A Perfect Circle

But then, a catalyst appears. Whatever it may be: school, work, money. Somehow, those peaceful moments seem stolen; a distorted glass through which one was peering. A glass that was shattered. The cracks and fissures allow the harsh light of reality through, hurting your eyes and your heart as you see the things that must be addressed.

Things that commonly cause sadness and unpleasant emotions.

And everything seems that much worse because of the apparent peacefulness. It feels like everything is falling down around you, and there is nothing to be done about it. Suddenly things disintegrate, and you're confused and lonely. The one person who could easily make this feeling go away is the cause of the feeling. You're both confused and scared, with the deadline for decisions to be made about your problems fast approaching. It hurts, because no matter what happens, one of you gets fucked. The decision will not go away without a sacrifice. Either outcome causes a problem. And you are not sure about anything. Uncertainty becomes a constant companion. Until, tired of the fighting and frustration...

You find yourself saying to them: I don't want you to be The One That Got Away.
is exaggeration considered fiction?

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