I had a close friend once who struggled with regret so badly, she couldn’t see beyond her pain. We’d go out drinking at waterfront bars in Connecticut, laughing and having a great time, but as the night wore on she’d eventually lose that sparkle in her eyes. Her smiles would become lopsided and forced. She’d begin intensely texting multiple times in a row, pleading with someone to join us. It was clear she was trying to distract herself from him at all times, but never fully could. This person would agree via text to dock his boat and come drink with us, but he never did.
She was texting him, The Guy Who Got Away and filled her with regret.
One day she shared a little of her pain with me, revealing how she’d jumped from one relationship to another with The Guy Who Got Away. She’d even told him multiple times that she wasn’t ready for a new relationship so quickly, but he insisted and pushed for them to get together regardless.
The Guy Who Got Away was wonderful, she said. As one example, he’d call her every morning as she drove to work, just to chat because he missed her. But she believed and regretted that she had been terrible to him. She acted grumpy and rude towards him, completely unlike herself, because of the remaining, fresh trauma in her heart caused by her previous relationship.
When their relationship ended, the regret was born. They’d continue hooking up, but he made it clear that she had lost him beyond that.
I remember watching this chapter in my friend’s life unfold over the summer, thinking to myself, Why can’t she see that she is a catch and deserves so much better? It didn’t help that he wasn’t at all attractive to me, or my type. But even if he’d been Leonardo DiCaprio, I couldn’t imagine allowing a guy to control or have such power over my emotions and actions. Even Blake Lively moved on from Leo and found her forever in someone (arguably) more appealing, aka Ryan Reynolds.
My friend finally, eventually moved on. She packed everything he’d ever given her in a box, and left it on his doorstep. Sometimes she’d still get that sad look in her eyes for a little while after, but she no longer texted him. She partially blamed herself for letting him get away, and partially blamed it on bad timing in her life. If only she’d waited a few months to heal before being with him, then maybe she’d have been herself and not have taken him for granted.
Little did we both know that only a few months later, I would meet my own Guy Who Got Away.
I was heavily depressed and anxious when I met him. In fact, I told myself it would be a one-time thing and that I’d never see him again. But then we met in person, and I realized he was a really cool guy who clearly had some issues of his own, but was truly working on himself. However, I was in a strange place in my life, having just begun a new life living alone as a single woman for the first time in four years, and not at all ready for a relationship. I wasn’t sure how to begin working on myself yet.
Similar to my friend, I was not my real self around this guy. My mind was in dark places. And when I finally saw the light, it was too late. He had chosen and fallen for someone else, a woman who had no demons and was in the right headspace to be happy – to be herself – in his company.
My therapist told me once, “Give people a second or third or even fourth chance, especially if they have had a bad day on one of your dates. When people are having bad days, they’re not themselves.”
Well, I was having a bad few months. And he did give me chances. But it wouldn’t have mattered at that point in my life. I wasn’t healed yet from my trauma, and it wasn’t until the next year that I felt ready to start over.
Finally he told me that he was done, and it could be casual but that he wouldn’t even be my friend. I was devastated, and regret was born. I continued seeing him casually, and since life isn’t just black and white, I will admit that I had fun, but at the same time I was unconsciously allowing a piece of myself to die.
This year, when I felt like I was in a much better headspace and had learned from my mistakes, I pleaded for him to press the reset button. I begged for him to not just be a cold hookup, but to be my friend – not my boyfriend, but just my friend. He told me he couldn’t.
Lately I’ve been looking back on our time together in the very beginning, and I’ve removed the rose-colored lenses. I’m remembering things I pushed away initially, things that were never my fault or in my control. Like how when we hung out for only the third time, he talked nonstop about the other girl he was casually seeing. He did this many times, talking about her constantly in ways that dampened my mood because this was our time together, not theirs. He would chastise me later on, saying she never asked questions about me like I did her…but that only means he never brought me up around her, because how could I not ask questions about a person he never shut up about?
If I am honest with myself, looking back, he probably had feelings for her before we even met.
Other things I remember are that he never truly tried to get to know me or meet my friends. One time, my friend and I were having dinner in his area. He happened to text me and I instantly replied, asking if he wanted to meet my friend. He ignored my question and never acknowledged it, ever, even after that night. This was before he had given up on friendship with me, too.
Much of our time spent together was focused on his life, his issues, his writing. He never inquired much about my life, issues, or writing. We were both into PC gaming (a hobby I’ve since given up for my move to NYC), and I asked if we could play games. He turned me down. He’d mention he played Among Us with his friends – a game I also played with friends – but never invited me. We had other interests in common, but he never seemed to care.
When his family dog died, he seemed surprised that I remembered the dog’s very unique name. He treated me and set me aside in his life like I was a stranger, when in reality, I treated him like a friend. I tend to remember facts about friends and people I care about, but he made me feel like this was odd. But he was the only guy I was even remotely seeing since we met. I went on dates but could never shake my desire for them to be like him.
Friends told me he wasn’t all that attractive, just as I’d told my close friend before. They told me I was a catch who deserved so much better.
But my friend had things to pack in a box. I didn’t. And I think that’s what made my regret so much harder to let go of; the fact that we had never really been a couple, just an almost-something. I felt like he never truly gave me a chance, and I mourned what could have been.
But the fact is, he never truly gave me a chance because he never truly wanted me beyond my body.
He did not want me.
He does not want me.
It helps to write these words out.
And it helps to know that I’m at the end of the grieving process, which started when my regret was born. At first, I was in denial that he was giving up on our friendship. Then, I became angry for a long time that he didn’t consider me a friend, but still saw and hooked up with him because I cared so much about him. And as my therapist put it, “He was your one constant since you met, because other people moved in and out of your life, but you still saw him.” Not only that, but I met him during COVID and in the aftermath of living on my own for the first time in four years, a difficult time on my mental health.
Then recently, I went through bargaining when I pleaded for him to give me a chance to start anew as real, actual friends.
Most recently, I’ve been going through depression because he denied me the chance to start over.
And now, I must accept that whether it was bad timing, or whether he was just never truly into me because his heart belonged elsewhere, we are not meant to be friends or anything more. Ever.
This is my box. I’ve packed it carefully. In my mind, I’m placing it on his doorstep, I’m turning away, and this time I will not look back.