Saturday nights can mean two things. You could be blissfully having a date night with a loved one, or eating a microwave dinner at home, thinking of the one great love that got away.
That’s okay. We all have one of those.
For me, it was an ex from Spain. She was beautiful, feisty, and we had a rollercoaster relationship. Lots of passion, lots of jealousy, lots of fun, lots of fights. But that many “lots” takes a ton of energy to keep going, and in the end, we broke up.
Over the years, though, I often wondered – what if?
As I get older, I realise this is a dangerous game to play. So I’m going to just come out and say it – there is no such thing as the one that got away. Hear me out.
“The one that got away” is a common term used in fishing. It usually means that a giant monster of a fish fought back so hard, it broke the line, leaving whoever was holding the rod all misty-eyed whenever they recount just how great it would have been if they’d managed to land that fish.
By applying this logic to another human, I ended up mythologising her. I turned her into that majestic fish on the end of the line. When that line snapped, I was left with the feeling that I’d been this close to catching greatness. I convinced myself that everything could’ve been perfect. Obviously – because I didn’t stick with her long enough to learn the ugly truth. Maybe staying together would have left me an empty husk of my former self.
It’s easy to look back on “the one that got away” and remember their smile as just a little bit brighter, their hair a little more salon-quality, their eight pack abs more defined than they really were (I added that last one for the women – none of my exes ever had an eight pack). And that’s because our memories suck. I’m serious. Science has proven it.
Researchers believe that when we remember an incident, we tend to disregard the upsetting moments that are painful and damaging to our self-esteem, and remember only the best parts. So it’s not like reading a file on a computer. Our brains actually rewrite the memory as we relive it. That means the next time we access it, we’re actually accessing a memory of a memory. So really, your memory’s about as reliable as that fake-news article you just read on Facebook.
That was a revelation. But it took me a while to apply this to my own case, and to understand why I could only remember my ex with the sunlight rippling through her brown hair, her big smile, and the sparkle in her eyes.
In the end, it took watching Woody Allen’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona and seeing Penelope Cruz’s performance as Maria Elena – the insane ex from hell – to trigger memories of the horrors my ex put me through. I was reminded of why we were no longer together, and suddenly, I felt liberated.
So, if you’re thinking about an ex, do yourself a favour and try to remember some of his flaws too. Because no matter how much you want it to be true, no one is perfect.
This story first appeared in the February 2017 issue of Her World magazine.