The One That Got Away…

The one that got away

In 2010 I was lucky enough to supervise a trip to America. With 58 students and 7 other staff, we visited three cities – New York, Philadelphia and Washington D.C. and as we were only there for a week our itinerary was jam packed with as many sightseeing opportunities as we could possibly could manage. (We actually ended up being stranded in D.C. for an extra week after the volcanic explosion in Iceland grounded all flights, but that’s another story).

In New York, we went to the Museum of Modern Art, which I was really excited about. During our visit we saw that there was a retrospective taking place, during which Marina Abramović, a Serbian artist performed a thought-provoking piece named ‘The Artist is Present.’ Sitting in silence, she invited viewers to sit directly opposite her at a table. Anyone and everyone could participate, but nothing would be said if they chose to do so. Intruiged, some of our students joined in and sat down for a few minutes. I noticed that after each person left the table she would close her eyes until the next sat down.

A few weeks ago, a story about the performance appeared on Facebook, and I instantly clicked on the video because of the memories I had of it. What I saw moved me very deeply…

On the opening night, Marina was unaware that one of the visitors waiting to participate was a former love, Ulay. Also an artist, they had an intense love affair in the 1970’s and performed together in a collective called ‘The Other.’ When the relationship ended, the walked along the Great Wall of China, starting from opposite ends and meeting in the middle. The hugged, parted, and never saw each other again.

Thirty years later, Marina opened her eyes to see Ulay sitting opposite. No words are needed – her reaction says it all, and it’s one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen.


Of course, I appreciate the performance and this moment for what it was, but I have thought about it a lot since I watched the video, and I have questions. Why did they break up? What happened afterwards? And based on her facial expression when she saw him, was he the one that got away?

The last question has been something I have reflected on the most.

The one that got away – the lost love of our lives – is something I have heard many times in conversation, particularly when life have been tough or lacking in passion. Whether the relationship was forbidden, happened at the wrong time, or simply just fizzled out, there are many of us that hold a previous relationship above all others. Indeed, when researching this post I was surprised to see how many articles written by people who felt that they married their ‘second best.’

I don’t have a one that got away when it comes to relationships, but there is someone that I always thought fondly of from when I worked at a nightclub in my late teens and early twenties. It was never specified that we were in a relationship, but after my ex from college and I broke up, we embarked on a short-lived thing that fizzled out simply because we were living in two different cities. The last time I saw him, as friends by this point, he had started a relationship with a woman who wasn’t keen on us being in contact, so we didn’t.

Admittedly I thought about him a lot for quite a while afterwards, and when I eventually joined the rest of the population and signed up to Facebook, he was one of the very first people I searched for. It didn’t take long to find him.

Honestly, I wish I hadn’t. He had married the woman by this point, and they had two beautiful children. He’d changed beyond all recognition and every image I’d had of him was completely different. My memories of him had always been rose-tinted, but we had both changed so much that there was a huge disappointment when I realised that the present day version of him was more of a dull grey.

It was at that point that I realised that things were exactly how they were meant to be, and while I can still look back on happy memories with my ex-boyfriends, I have never wished to see any of them again. Quite simply, they are exes for a reason, and I can look at The Bloke and know that he’s the one I want to be with, rather than settling for him because the real love of my life got away.

In one way, I like to hope that Marina and Ulay are now back in contact with each other. However, a little part of me romanticises that the moment in the MOMA was just that – a moment in which they reconnected for that single minute.

Either way, it’s a beautiful story…

What about you guys? Do you have a one that got away?

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Image Credit: Adam Cooney

33 thoughts on “The One That Got Away…

  1. She hasn’t gotten away – yet. If this were Shrek, this would be at that spot when Shrek leaves Fiona thinking he has nothing to offer her. My details are different, but the divide isn’t – I’m waiting to see what the next chapter holds.

    I’m grateful it’s still being written.

    Thanks for this beautiful story, Susie. It gives me hope that the red string exists.

  2. This is beautiful Suzie! The look on both their faces is priceless. Yes, I had one that got away ……… I’m pretty glad he did!!!!!

  3. Love this story. Yes, there was one that I must have really never had to begin with. I began 36 years ago and ended 35 years ago. It was intense and doomed from the get-go. He was leading a double life, I did not know that he had a wife and children in another country. What broke it for good was me becoming pregnant with his child and then that child dying inside me. My only child, and he just disappeared off the face of the earth. I imagine he is retired and living his happy life with his beautiful Annie, their 3 children and perhaps grandchildren. I believe this is where he should stay, in my imagination. Not because of anger or disappointment but because one cannot step into the same river twice.

  4. The most moving Internet video I’ve ever seen. A million words spoken between them and not uttered to break the silence, a thousand scenes enacted and each one a secret between them. You have to wonder if she created this performance art hoping this would happen, hoping it wouldn’t. I don’t even want to know their ending – it’s an invasion of their privacy.
    I’ve had my share of those who got away, am so glad they all did, the one I’m married to is the right one for me, and you and The Bloke seem perfect for each other. But the stories in between – enough to read while walking the Great Wall of China.

  5. We were both 15, it was summer. His mother said that he couldn’t date, so that was that. We stared at each other from distances, danced at a wedding and clicked immediately. But, he and hubby were not good friends and after hubby said some things to him, I never saw him again. I think of him still, after 40 some years, wonder how he is and what he is doing… yes, an unrequited love and my heart breaks each time I think of him…. BUT… if it had worked out, I would not be the person I am today. I would not have had the experiences I have had and I would not have my children or grandchildren. So, I relate to this post in many ways… the what if’s and if only’s sometimes are better left unanswered.

  6. No, I don’t have “a one that got away” thankfully. I can’t imagine what a strain that would put on your current relationship.

  7. Such a beautiful video and story! Oh, I hope they are still in touch, yet if they are not, what a powerful moment for them captured on film. As for me, he didn’t get away – luckily I was brave enough (and mad enough?) to follow him half way around the world, and we are still together twenty years later. I knew from when I met him that he was ‘the one’, and so it is, still. (And I presume it is for him too, ha ha) 😉

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