“He was the one who got away. We all have them. Who’s yours?”

My friend and I were walking through the grocery store talking about our past relationships. As we hovered over the apples, her question hung in the air for a second before I could grasp it.

“My boyfriend. That’s why we’re dating.”

If it seems like a simple conclusion then, rest assured, it hasn’t been. Honestly, it took me a long time and many messy relationships along the way to realize that the one who got away was, in fact, the one that got away.

How do you know if you’re missing someone, or lonely, or bored? How can you tell if that person is “the one who got away” or if it was simply a bad breakup?

The truth is, you can’t ever know for certain, which is both the beauty and the burden of dating relationships. There’s no guarantee or set formula to know you’ll make the perfect decision. The good news is relationships don’t require perfection; they just need participation.

Here are a few things that helped me participate in my life and eventually decide I didn’t want my boyfriend to be the one who got away anymore:

Get Curious

The best thing we can do when trying to evaluate a former relationship is to get curious. This also happens to be the hardest part of the process. It requires vulnerability to ask hard questions and to be willing to sit in the potential discomfort that comes with answering them.

How do I feel when I think about him? Am I hurting? Am I hopeful? Why do I feel this way? Could I be lonely or bored or maybe some combination of the two? Is my current relationship in a rough patch, so it’s easier to run to the past rather than deal with the present?

Ouch. None of those questions are easy, but they’re essential. Before attempting to recover your relationships, you’re going to have to recover the art of curiosity.

The Past Is The Past

It’s easy to get nostalgic about the past. We love to love what we loved, and it’s hard to let go of fond memories because they offer us a break from reality.

Odds are there were a few difficult things about this one who got away that caused you to either break up or never even date in the first place. Rather than get caught up in the past, it’s important to honestly evaluate the way things currently are.

Is there hope for reconciliation? Have you grown and changed? Has he grown and changed? Are you romanticizing the past because it’s easier than facing your present or future?

Growth, change, and reconciliation tend to be themes of healthy relationships. If transition happened while you were apart, then odds are they’ll continue into a future relationship as well.  If things stayed the same, then it’s a safe bet that your relationship will arrive at the same place yet again.

Better Together

First and foremost, you have to like yourself by yourself. Once your identity is firmly rooted then, it’s time to evaluate if you like yourself more when you’re with the other person.

Does he challenge you? Bring out the best in you? Compliment your weaknesses? Encourage you in your strengths? Are there things about him you admire and lack on your own?

These are the questions that sealed the deal for me. To be honest, I have a tendency to be flaky, inconsistent, and impulsive. My boyfriend, on the other hand, is steady, consistent, and thoughtful. I realized I liked myself better not only when I was with him but also when I wanted to be with him. I found myself growing and learning from him, which allowed both of us to be fuller expressions of who we were made to be.

Only after a lot of curiosity, honest evaluations, and healthy conversations was I able to admit I was tired of the “one who got away” being so far away. Ultimately we ended up together, but that was a small win in comparison to the huge healing process that came as a result. As a result, we’re both better for it, and I bet you will be too.