“In another life, I would be your girl / We keep all our promises, be us against the world / In another life, I would make you stay / So I don't have to say you were the one that got away” — Katy Perry’s 2011 hit pretty much says it all. When a romance shakes you to your core yet still feels unfinished, it can prove difficult to move on. Which begs the question: How long does it take to get over the one who got away?
After all, this is the one you think about when a certain song comes on Pandora, the one you wonder “what if?” about while lying in bed at night, the one who deep down, you kind of regret parting ways with. As it turns out, this fixation on a person from the past is pretty common. In fact, a survey by Superdrug Online Doctor revealed that a staggering 70 percent of people think about the one who got away, and 60 percent are secretly wishing to reignite their relationship with that person.
It makes sense, too. When you envisioned a future with someone at one point, it’s all too easy to romanticize them — recalling solely the positive memories, and forgetting why it didn’t work out. As a result, it can be difficult to move on.
“Losing a partner whom you felt was ‘the one’ can feel as though you just lost your last chance at happiness,” says Dr. Lesliebeth Wish, a licensed clinical psychotherapist and founder of LoveVictory.com. “The hurt is not just deep, it is also seems to touch every doubt and fear you have.”
According to licensed clinical social worker Melanie Shapiro, the one who got away can prove particularly painful to forget because we may blame ourselves for things not panning out.
“We can hold ourselves for responsible and hold onto feelings of guilt and anger,” she says. “But the reality may have been much different than the way we envision things after the fact.”
Shapiro explains that we tend to fantasize about “what could have been,” but very often, that fantasy isn’t exactly realistic because we neglect to take into account any of the legitimate reasons why the relationship ended.
“It is easier to hold onto a fantasy than see the reality of a relationship or previous partner,” she adds.
How long it takes to get over that person depends on several factors. As a general rule, the longer you were together, the longer it may take for you to bounce back. Additionally, how busy you are, what your current dating experiences have been like, whether you keep tabs on your former flame’s social media accounts — these circumstances can all come into play in terms of how quickly you get over the one who got away.
That said, science has revealed the average timeline for moving on from a split. One study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology found that most people are able to recover from a breakup after three months. Another study published in the Journal of College Student Psychotherapy, however, showed that the majority of people (71 percent) needed 11 weeks to get over a split. Interestingly, researchers also found that the time frame for healing was the same for both the person who ended things and the person who was dumped. Obviously, it’s a complicated matter — there is no set amount of time that it will take to move on.
"Each person's loss is unique," says Wish. “Don't use time as the main tool to measure how long it should take to get over a lost love."
Rather than focus on the amount of time it takes, Wish asserts that it’s more important to consider how you use this healing time.
“You need to set as a goal your ability to understand what happened,” she adds.
Wish advises aiming to answer these questions:
- Why did I choose that person when I did?
- Was this person similar or very different from my other partners?
- Did I "over correct" my partner so that I ended up in a relationship that was the opposite of my other relationships?
- Did I feel "lucky" to be chosen because I had my own insecurities (whether about my physical appearance or something else)?
According to Shapiro, one major sign that you’re on your way to leaving the one who got away in the past is when you’re ready to date someone else.
“It doesn’t mean you are ‘over’ that person — just you are willing to open yourself up to other potentials partners where you can also find happiness,” she explains.
If you feel like you’re struggling to get over the one who got away, Shapiro stresses that it’s important to be patient with yourself, and allow yourself to heal at your own pace.
“Once you give yourself permission if can take the pressure off,” she adds. “Instead of feeling like you ‘should’ have moved on you can give yourself what you need, especially during a time when you are already feeling vulnerable.”
Shapiro also advises taking a step back to evaluate your situation, as there may be bigger reasons why you’re having a difficult time moving on.
“Are you really missing the one who got away, or is it about something else? Perhaps you have a history of loss and the pain you are feeling isn’t about this partner but something else in the past,” she says. “Addressing the loss at the root may help provide you with greater understanding and help the pain you feel today feel less challenging.”
Ultimately, it’s important to identify why you may feel stuck in the past — whether it’s the fact that you’ve noticed yourself falling into similar relationship patterns, are experiencing some loneliness in your current single state, or are feeling like you never got the closure you needed from that relationship.
“It can often be easier to stay in the same wistful stance rather than move forward,” explains Shapiro. “Holding onto the past in many situations, including in relationships, may make us feel bad but it can also be safe and serve as a way to protect us from moving on. Moving on can be hard and scary — it’s not easy. But when you are ready, moving forward can lead you to a happier, more fulfilling place in your life or relationship.”
If you're really having a hard time pushing past the pain, Wish recommends seeking counseling to explore your feelings around the one who got away.
Don't forget to keep this in mind: The one who got away may have gotten away for a very good reason. That doesn’t mean it won’t take you some time to process your emotions and move on. But once you’ve accepted the loss and allowed your wounds to heal, you will ideally have learned from your experience — and not only that, but you will be able to apply what you learned to future relationships. In other words, once you’ve gotten over the one who got away, your heart will be open for the one who stays.