Jamal is a graduate of Northeastern Seminary and writes on a broad range of topics. His writings are based on other points of view.
Some time ago I was reflecting on a saying in relationships about “the one that got away”. And I was reflecting on that because I have been reminded of a former lover that I had some eleven years ago. It's considered an unfortunate saying because it means that somehow that person was either perfect or the ideal partner. But I found that in my case, it wasn't necessarily either one of those and that in a way it was fortunate that we did not stay together.
"We move on from our unicorns,
the ones that got away,
but they are never fully gone,
they are there roaming in the
grassy fields of our souls"
— -Atticus, https://atticuspoetry.tumblr.com/post/153960932925/the-ones-that-get-away-unicorns-souls-g
Walked in Fields of Gold
The woman's name in question was Kristen. And I met her when I went back to college. There was nothing immediately extraordinary about her except that we talked a bit off and on and I found her to be remarkably smart. About when I graduated in 2010, we kept in touch as I tried to do with several of my friends from college. And honestly I can't describe what happened except to say that something had changed. I said something to her on Facebook to comfort her and that got her attention.
We talked and we went on a date. Now for the record, my dating life is not the greatest. In fact, she was the first person I actually dated in three or four years. Not the first person I had slept with in that period, but as far as serious relationships go she was the first in a while. Initially it was odd for me because I was very nervous. And so was she. She in fact said that while she wanted to date me, she actually prophesied that I was going to rather break up with her for three particular reasons. Her sense of self-esteem was I wouldn't say not there, but it was very conditional.
Kristen had a very strong sense of self, but also kind of a low opinion of herself as well. She considered herself something of a coward and struggled with feeling lazy. Largely this was due to perfectionism that as she explained to me, many people expected of her. All that said, she felt bad a lot of the time. So I'm not quite sure what drew her to me and in fact one of the first things she asked me was how come I don't have a girlfriend yet? I'm sure she knows the answer to that now, but it was something where I was feeling very lonely and I suppose she was feeling lonely because she had just broken up with someone from a long distance relationship. And from what I understood, they weren't exactly on the best of terms. Still, she became very special to me.
There was a playfulness about her that drew me out of my seriousness and introvertedness, even though she was more of an introvert than I was. There was something about her and her appearance that I found beautiful. It wasn't something like a bombshell or big boobs or anything like that, though her body was nice. Rather it's something I can't really explain and it's something I really tried to say to her often because it was something she didn't feel in herself. The relationship was a slow burn and we didn't actually have sex until maybe 3 months, in which was fine.
She had not in fact not been with anyone before, so I didn't really want to force her obviously, but at the same time I was honest with her and said that yeah I would like to. Haven't said that she never spent the night because she always insisted on returning home to her mother's place. She felt a very strong need for the good girl expectation. And I respected that and in fact I got along very well with her mother. It was a minor annoyance. I didn't really think anything of it. Sure enough, the prophecy of the three reasons to leave he did come up, but I never wanted to break up with her. There was something about her that I felt safe in.
Sex with her afterwards felt otherworldly and a strong sense of transcendent peace. This was not afterglow or anything of the like, and it's also something I can't really explain in words that you would actually understand. I've not had that experience before or since with anybody else. And in fact the only thing that somewhat threw me off was that she wanted kids at some point. I was never against kids, yet at the same time I wasn't sure. It was something I never really gave much thought about, much less anything serious in regards to things like marriage and the house and the five kids etc.
Kristen was the first one who really brought that home to me in terms of expectations regarding that. It was something she would mention to me quite often and that she suspected would form a breach between us. And I would always try and ask her if she was okay with the relationship. I did my best to try not to force her or coerce her into anything she didn't want to do. Still, after about a year and a half it seemed that her expectation or whatever it was to have kids, and a normal life took over: or not took over rather, but became more important.
There was a sense that she enjoyed being with me, but that there was no real future in terms of who she was and who I was. In contrast to her and her upbringing, I was something of an adventurer. Though I am an introvert, I am also extroverted and I like to go out. I like to travel. I like to meet people and try new things and stay active. And I don't accept things that are expected of me or are placed upon me by others. This was opposed to what her world valued, yet it seemed maybe she rather enjoyed that as that opposition as well. For that year and a half that we were together, she was free. However, after a time I suppose it became too much and there was a sharp change.
After spending some time with her best friend and his family, she was very hard to get a hold of and I was concerned, but she would always reassure me that everything was fine. I took her word for it, though I was warned by a couple of the people that things were not okay. Turned out that they were right and that she actually called me after a night graduate class to inform me that she wanted to break up. That she hoped that I would just kind of get the hint and just let things unspokenly go, gradually coalescing into a close friendship instead of a romantic one.
And at this point I was an asshole and to this day I regret it. I told her that I needed to know why she wanted to break up with me because I deserved that much at least since this came out of nowhere to me. I deserved to know why she lied to me about how she felt and that to me at least I was denied the opportunity to make things right with her or to improve myself if it was possible.
She did explain that to me and she felt awful. But I said many awful things after that. Nothing like calling her a slut or a bitch or anything like that, but rather just demeaning her. When I look back at this point some years later, I realized that I didn't entirely believe in toxic masculinity until I remembered this incident. And it shook me to the core enough that I swore to myself never to do that again, and at least with this I'm proud to say I haven't.
All that said though, we tried to maintain a friendship but it wasn't possible because I was close with her family and they wanted me to stop by and go to their graduations and whatnot. And Kristen had expressly said that I shouldn't come because it was too soon and she couldn't handle it. What made this harder for me was that I had not seen her in two or three months at this point. So I was devastated. I was very angry and heartbroken and all that stuff. I finally broke off things with her in a very harsh and honest assessment of how I felt about the whole situation.
That I had stayed faithful and loyal to her despite all her predictions that I would not. That I had gone out of my way to support who she was and to encourage her and listen to her. That she knew that I was concerned with her concerns and I didn't want to force her. And that this betrayal was just too much, having not seen her in such a long time already before over this.
"Communication to a relationship is like oxygen is to life. Without it dies."
— - Tony Gaskins Jr
No Guilt, But With Regrets
For ten years, that was that so to speak. There were other flings and one night stands that I had since then, but none that filled that same void like Kristen did. She had in fact predicted one thing that turned out to be true, which was that I needed a woman who was very special, because many women would not be able to handle a wander breaking all social norms, or what I want in life. Every so often since then, the relationship would come back to mind, hence how I realized the toxic masculinity thing at the end. And it hurt, but at some point I realized that she was right.
Kristen did give her all in the relationship. She would not have been involved with me, much less had sex, if it were otherwise. But if she had stayed with me, she would have suffocated and who she was would have died underneath the weight of trying to be what I needed her to be or at least what she felt I needed her to be.
Now none of this was my intention at all. Hence why I kept asking her “are you okay?'' But it was still how she felt and I had to live with that. I never wanted to hurt her or control her or manipulate her or make her into something that she wasn't. I did express and live a life that was open to possibilities. But nothing too crazy, nothing that was trying to make her into something I wanted her to be, at least intentionally.
Two years ago, when I was at a bookstore, I came across her by accident. She was very much caught off guard and looked as if she saw death or a ghost. I asked her how she was doing and everything and seemed fine, even though I really knew that she was obviously uncomfortable with the situation. And then I met someone who, I found out later, was her fiancé.
Now that didn't take me off guard because it had been ten years and I didn't really expect her to be holding the candle for me for that amount of time. However ,what did catch me off guard was that this was her best friend who she had always talked about with me before and whom she had visited before our relationship soured. And he was very territorial.
One of the first things he did was he took her to an isolated spot in the store while her mother talked to me. Initially I thought this was because it seemed like her mother was running rear guard to protect her. Then I realized in the course of talking with her that this was not the case. In fact, she apparently didn't like him that much. Still it was the person Kristen had chosen to marry so there you are, and it was her mother who told me in fact that she was engaged.
But then came the real bombshell, which was that they were due to be married that week. So I can understand the sudden horror I guess and shock of seeing your ex whom she had not seen on good terms in ten years and three months. Even more so that it was practically on the eve of the wedding and that there was apparently still a sense of guilt that she felt about the whole thing even all these years later.
It was something out of a bad romcom and you can't make this shit up.
When they came back, she could not look me in the face and that was hard. Even though her fiancé was clutching her hand letting it be known that for all intents and purposes she was his like a dog marking his turf, that was not as bad as her not being able to look at me and that stuck with me. I ran into her again the next day and it seemed like she was trying to talk to me, but unfortunately I was already talking with my cousin whom I also just ran into. And this is another regret that I did not take the opportunity to speak with her and ask her for forgiveness and apologize for how I acted and let her know that it was okay and as she was right.
Now I did suspect that something may have happened between them ten years ago since Kristen changed after she spent time with his family. Whether or not she had an affair or anything of the sort that happened was mute at this point, and if anything it just meant that she was not entirely happy in our relationship, otherwise she wouldn't have done it, if she had. So it was still on me.
Ghost in the Soul
So I bring this around to the one that got away, that for me Kristen was that woman. She was the one that got away, but at the same time she's the one that needed to get away. She wouldn't have lasted with my life. Hell, most of the time I don't know how long I'm going to last the way I live my life. It's hardly what one would call ‘stable' and I sure as hell wouldn't want to have kids with that lifestyle. I still miss her though. I still miss her genuineness. I still miss the way that she made me smile and laugh and how comfortable and at home I felt when I was with her.
So yeah she needed to get away, she needed to be with someone who could benefit her in all the ways that she needed, not just a couple or half-way. And at the same time, she is still the one that got away, and I still remember that eleven years on and feel no guilt about that. Because as I said, there have been other women, but none of them were like her nor could any of them replace how she made me feel.
© 2021 Jamal Smith