If you've watched any number of romantic comedies while growing up, you've probably heard of the concept of "the one who got away." It's a common phrase that packs a lot of meaning into a small number of words. Believe it or not, describing a past love in this way conveys a lot about what happened during the relationship, what kind of partner you are, and what your dating life is like now. While the phrase might seem harmless, it's actually not a respectful way to describe your ex, according to Trina Leckie breakup coach and host of the podcast breakup BOOST. She unpacked why the phrase is flawed because language is powerful, and it's important to consider how you wield it.
"If [an ex] 'got away' it is usually because the other person was not putting effort into the relationship, or they were taking them for granted," Leckie says. "They wouldn’t have gotten away if you had been treating them well and valuing the relationship." When someone describes their ex as "the one who got away" it says a lot about what happened in the relationship and the responsibility that the speaker is taking. "It shows that the person isn’t taking ownership or accountability for why the relationship didn’t work," says Leckie.
Because words hold a lot of power, it's important take a closer look at what the phrase really means. According to Leckie, 'got away' has a possessive edge to it. This simple language can strip a former partner of their agency in leaving or ending the relationship, which people don't usually do without a reason. When it comes down to it, Leckie explains that it may feel more comfortable to see someone as "the one who got away" instead of unpacking the painful feelings that surround why the breakup happened in the first place.
There's another surprising AF reason that the term doesn't really help anyone other than the main characters in your fave romantic comedy. The truth is, according to Leckie, it can seriously hold someone back from happy partnerships in the future. This is simply because it can instill a sense of living in the past.
For instance, Leckie explains that some signs that a person sees their ex as "the one who got away" is constant contact, negotiating the circumstances of a breakup, and feeling like you want to get back together with them when you see them living their best life. This can hold you back from happiness in a new partnership because you're experiencing the age-old phenomenon of "the grass is greener on the other side."
Instead of seeing a former partner as the one who got away, remind yourself of the context of your breakup. You deserve someone who wants to be with you regardless of any stage of life or challenge. It's OK to miss a partner, but the life you live now, without them, has incredible value too.
If you've used this phrase before, I can tell you for a fact that you're not alone. And that's because I've used it too! I had one person that I regularly thought of as "the one who got away," and sometimes I still miss our relationship. After speaking with Leckie, I've realized that the concept was holding me back from finding an even better partnership now.
And, hey, I'm still totally going to keep watching those wistful rom-coms on rainy Saturdays. I'll just make sure to leave the idealism and romanticism to the fictional characters, rather than bringing them into real life.