The person that you obsessively stalk on Instagram, who keeps you up at night in a flurry of what ifs, that your friends must physically hold you down to keep from drunk-texting "I still love you" probably doesn't miss you anymore. Sorry, doll, I know it hurts, but it’s true. How do I know this unalienable truth? Because of the concept of the one who got away. You see, it’s a cycle. The one who got away for you probably doesn’t care about you anymore, and there’s someone out there obsessing over you while you’ve almost forgotten they exist.
My “one who got away” is a tattooed brunette with the most perfect ass I’ve ever seen (insert peach emoji). I’m pretty sure she doesn’t even remember my last name, nor gives me a second thought (though I do like to think of my articles occasionally gracing her newsfeed). We met on Tinder and it was perfect, until she got a job in Miami. If she didn't have to move, I think I would've still been snuggling with her and her dog in bed. Our breakup wasn't an explosive fight. Neither of us did something terrible to the other— we just simply stopped seeing each other. I use the term “simply” loosely, as I spent many a night ugly crying into a martini, while I’m sure she was bikini shopping. After she moved, we never spoke again, we unfollowed each other on all social media, and moved on with our lives.
It’s so easy to imagine a life, or what could’ve been, with someone you have no contact with. It’s easy to romanticize someone you really never got the chance to fully know. If you didn’t have a dramatic breakup, and simply just lost touch each other, your ex might seem like the one who got away.
“You know, I ran into Vinny*’s mom the otha day at the supamarket,” my dad said, setting down a paper bag and two large coffees.
“You know, that nice boy from the town ova you dated in high school. She said he has a real great job as a cop now. Gonna make a great pension.”
“Uh huh,” I said, biting into my egg sandwich. Now wasn’t the time to lecture about police brutality.
“Rememba you dated him? Nice guy. He says you were the one that got away.”
I had to purse my lips and scrunch up my eyes — I was thinking really hard, harder than when I try to combine as many discount codes possible on my Fashion Nova shopping cart. Who?!
“You know, Gabby’s cousin,” my dad offered.
Then the lightbulb went off. Vinny was the cousin of one of my friends from choir. She had set us up when we were, like, 17.
I only dated him because he worked at a record store and a pizzeria, the combo of my Italian hipster dreams. He let me torture him listening to Tegan and Sara albums on repeat (how did he not know I was gay?) and regularly brought me the best white slice in town. On our first date, I was too shy to say I needed help cutting my chicken parm (one-handed problems) and left it square in the middle of my plate while I ate the pasta surrounding it. He eventually just took my plate and cut it for me without asking.
When I told him I was being a slutty race-car driver for Halloween, he overnight-ed the boy version from Party City. He came to pick me up from my house, and made sure to come in to shake my dad’s hand first. Though I knew I was gay, I couldn’t help but enjoy the old-school dating dynamics. I felt like I was in a black and white movie and I never turn down the opportunity to perform.
We’d drive around in his black Nissan with tinted windows, feeling way cooler than we were. Once, we drove into Times Square (why God why?) and he carried my heels for me when my feet hurt. As we pushed passed tourists, hand in hand, his friend called him. He was having girl problems. Vinny was the kind of guy that would do anything for a friend, so he took his phone call.
As he walked his buddy through whatever drama it is boys go through, I took an interest in a street vendor. My eyes lingered on a Sex and the City poster. Vinny nodded his head and waved his hand to the street vendor and he handed him a $20 with the phone still pressed to his ear. When the vendor went to return the $10, Vinny put his hand up — the Italian signal for keep the change. He carried the poster for me and finished his conversation. We looked like an episode of Jersey Shore: me with my orange spray tan, hair pouf, and Juicy tracksuit; him with his gelled hair, pristine sneakers, and Ed Hardy shirt.
I completely forgot about any of this until I sat down to write this essay. Vinny was a sweet kid, but meant nothing to me at the time, and means nothing to me now, other than being a nice Italian boy with whom I shared some semi-cute memories. He was really nice and attentive but he also always kind of smelled like Fritos. Plus, I really wanted to kiss girls.
After that Halloween party where we took countless photos in our coordinated costumes, I stopped answering his phone calls. He tried a a few times to ask me what was going on, then gave up. We never talked again — until he messaged me on Facebook years later. Our relationship and breakup was so unceremonious, I had forgotten it even happened.
I was shook to learn that, after 10 whole years, he thought of me enough that even his mom remembered me, and even remembered my dad. (He always was a momma’s boy.) He must still talk about me sometimes, and that is some crazy sh*t. Because I’m out here just remembering him now.
Just last week, I was in an Uber driving past The Bowery Poetry Club and felt my heart shatter. I was instantly transported back to that night we spent together there — the poems, the wine, the hand-holding. I wonder if Vinny has that feeling when he passes the now shut-down Tower Records, or when he eats chicken parm. I’d feel especially bad about the latter, ‘cause I’m sure he eats chicken parm a lot.
Though I’m happy in my current relationship, the pull of what if? will always be strong. What can I say? I’m a writer. I like being tortured. Everyone has someone like this. But unfortunately, the person you're dreaming about probably isn't dreaming about you — otherwise, you'd be together.
So, maybe Vinny waxes poetic on what could have been. If he could see me now eating chocolate-covered pretzels in bed and making up songs about my cat, he’d probably feel like he dodged a bullet. If I cared about him, he’d know it. If Tinder girl cared about me, I’d know it. I don’t. She doesn’t.
The what ifs hurts the most. It's easy to get lost in that "we could still be together!" mindset. It's easy to imagine another life in which the relationship remains intact, happy, and perfect. But you’re in this life, and that relationship is over. So take this as a PSA: stop romanticizing the one who got away. They’re gone.
*Name has been changed.