Look at Life: Lost Love

19th April 2019

The One that Got Away

By Claire Moulds

While having lunch with old school friends the other weekend, I couldn’t help but think about the power of unrequited love, as we all reminisced about ‘the one that got away’. It seems to be a trait particular to women that years, even decades, down the line we will still pick over the bones of what went wrong, what we could have done differently and what might have been – despite having long since met the person that we actually want to spend the rest of our lives with.  

When you’re a little girl, and fed a daily diet of fairytale endings, nobody tells you the harsh truth: that love isn’t always reciprocated and that, despite your best efforts, the object of your affection may well tell you that you’re ‘not their type’, or that they’re really only interested in your best friend.

This was the brutal lesson I learned when the first guy I truly lost my heart to wanted nothing more from me than friendship, rendering my deep feelings mute with the phrase ‘you’re just going to have to get over it’.

And I tried to. Repeatedly.

From then on, spending time together was a heady mix of torture and delight, knowing he didn’t feel the same while secretly hoping that, in the future, he just might. My behaviour was, at best, erratic while his mirrored my own confusion: at times caring and gentle, at others hurtful and cruel.

Many hours were spent debating the subject with my friends. After all, against the backdrop of the fairytale princess who always gets her prince, it’s little wonder that women are programmed from a young age to a] assume that the lack of reciprocity is their fault in some way and b] embark on a forensic examination of every encounter to identify where it all went wrong.

Inevitably, over time, our friendship group fractured, as people headed off to university and then pursued careers around the country. Six years after I last saw him, a familiar face caught my eye on a crowded Oxford Street – and my immediate instinct was to take refuge in a nearby shop, as a whole host of old feelings suddenly came bursting to the surface.

It wasn’t love that overwhelmed me that day though. If I had to name the emotion, it was more one of deep regret that, due to what had happened between us in the past, I couldn’t just walk up to him, say ‘hi’ and catch up as I would with other old friends.

There was just too much unfinished business that we’d have to address, too many unanswered questions about why ‘we’ never happened and, on my part, too much embarrassment at not having been able to just switch off my feelings when he clearly didn’t feel the same.

Time moved on and I set up my own business, fell in love and married a wonderful man. And then social media crashed into all our lives and suddenly, by virtue of having mutual friends, it was all too easy to see what was going on in his. Even so, it still took me completely by surprise when he showed up on Facebook as a newly married groom.

I always knew it would feel strange when he finally married the girl of his dreams. Inevitably, I wondered how it would have felt if it had been me that had walked down that aisle towards him, and what our lives could have been like.
Clearly, I’m not alone in wondering ‘what if’. As my oldest friend remarked about her own Achilles’ heel, ‘it’s the not knowing that really eats away at you, as you never got to play it out and to see how it would have ended if the two of you had got together’.

Although I think most of us can safely say that the answer to that is likely to have been ‘not well’.     

Ultimately, it shouldn’t be a surprise that women are walking around carrying these invisible ties to people from the past who never reciprocated their feelings. If you’ve seen a relationship through to the bitter end you’re able, in time, to accept the situation and move on, even if it wasn’t you that instigated the break-up. If you never got the chance to go through the relationship cycle though, having fallen head over heels, that person will always have a direct connection to your heart… representing, as they do, a road less travelled.

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