What To Consider Before You Reach Out To The One That Got Away

We hear a lot about "the one who got away" in songs, films, art, and, of course, literature. But what does it mean exactly and how do we know if we have a "one that got away" in our past?

"It means that there was someone who, in hindsight, we regret not being with because when we look [back] we feel that they may have truly been 'the one' for us that we might want to have known better," relationship expert Dr. Gary Brown tells Elite Daily. "[You may] even realize that they were potentially the one you might very well want to spend the rest of your life with."


Basically, pick up a copy of "The Great Gatsby," and you'll see the very definition of this concept play out before your eyes. But while it's beautiful to be longed for, as Jay Gatsby longed for his own "one who got away," Daisy Buchanan, if you're the one who has someone whom you think "got away," it's far less lovely. It can be downright painful. So painful, in fact, that it can have people — like Gatsby -– doing whatever it takes to reconnect with that "one." But is it ever a good idea? Or should the end of the classic novel be a lesson and omen for the rest of us?

If you can't shake the urge to reach out to your ex and you absolutely have to do it, here are some important things to consider.


Think about 'why' you want to reach out

Reasons someone might want to get in touch with an ex can really vary. For some, there's the hope of getting back together, while for others, it can be curiosity, lack of closure, or maybe you just want to make sure that they're miserable without you.


"If you're going to try to get back to the relationship, the obvious question is: Why didn't it work the first time?" licensed therapist Mark Williams tells Insider. One might think that enough time has passed that the issues that plagued the relationship before are no longer. But the reality is, if you couldn't remedy them the first time around, what makes you think it will be any easier now?

There could also be a case of loneliness, as Williams points out. "Sometimes it's hard to date, and you think you're comfortable with that person, or maybe it's easier to get back with that person than to try something new," says Williams. But if that's the reason, then it's not much different than settling out of fear of being alone — something that, as people get older, becomes a common "fix" to the possibility of eternal singledom (via Psychology Today).


If you can't pinpoint the big "why?" you want to reach out, then it's probably best that you don't. There's no point in complicating things where there is currently no complication.

Consider what their response might be

Just because we reach out to someone whom we consider "the one who got away" doesn't mean they feel the same way about us or that they even want to hear from us. If there's a chance they may not want to hear from you, ask yourself, "why." Did you do something that hurt them? Have you yet to take responsibility for your contribution to the partnership not working out? You can't expect someone with whom you had a relationship, whether it was romantic or platonic, to take you at your word if you haven't done the work required to be emotionally responsible. So, you should be prepared for your ego to possibly take a hit.


 "Some people like the idea of someone having feelings for them...," professional matchmaker April Davis tells Bustle. "It makes them feel wanted." Are you reaching out for validation that they want you the same way? If so, maybe put down the phone. 

Consider their current relationship status

Fun fact: just because you've decided that someone is your "one who got away" doesn't mean you're entitled to them, especially if they're in a new relationship. While you won't be breaking any unwritten law by getting in touch with an ex who's in a new relationship, you need to respect that there's now someone else in the picture, and you don't have any right to disrupt that (via Mind Body Green).


"Humans like closure," director of The Intimacy Institute Jenni Skyler, Ph.D., tells Elite Daily. "If there's a possibility for that, without reopening the relationship or threatening any current relationships, that's really key ... You have to be careful that the person is single, otherwise it's just completely inappropriate."

There's also your relationship status to consider. If you're with someone new, is your relationship worth rocking the boat so you can reconnect with your past love? If it seems like there are too many feelings at stake, then there probably are.

Be realistic about the outcome

According to a 2021 YouGov America poll, 44% of people have gotten back together with an ex, and 21% have broken up with an ex and ended up back together more than once. While how many of those relationships lasted is yet to be determined — we still don't know the ultimate outcome of Bennifer 2.0 after all — these stats prove that a decent amount of people are hopeful that the second (or third or fourth) time around will be it. But how realistic that is, is up for debate.


"Our desire to reach out to an ex is often about a wish for an idealized, sentimental version of the relationship more than because the relationship could actually work better in the present," sex educator Liz Powell, Psy.D. tells Cosmopolitan. "I think we can also get lost in our own ideas of what would be good or beneficial and lose track of whether our ex would even want to hear from us."

As much as it might pain you to hear this: you do not live in a fairytale, and The Beast doesn't turn into a prince at the end of the story. 

Consider the possibility of regret

At the end of the day, the people we have loved and lost, even the ones whom we'd prefer to forget, play a huge role in defining who we are. What also defines us are our actions, reactions, and what we can and can't live with. If you know that reaching out to the one who got away is what you need to do, if only to tell them what they meant — and mean to you — then go for it. You can be honest about your feelings without heaps of expectations.


"If you still want them in your life, you should absolutely let them know," relationship expert Dr. Gary Brown tells Elite Daily. "Even if it doesn't work out, you don't want to be on your deathbed, looking back on your life and regretting that you didn't at least try to go for it. I've seen people live and die with that regret. You don't really have anything to lose by letting them know."

As Oscar Wilde wrote in De Profundis, an epistle he wrote while he was in jail to his own "one who got away," Lord Alfred Douglas, "To deny one's own experiences is to put a lie into the lips of one's own life. It is no less than a denial of the soul." While neither Wilde nor the fictional character, Jay Gatsby, had happy endings, at least they put their feelings for their great loves to words, so maybe send that text. But only if you've considered everything and back again.