Cowardly Lions

I had the pleasure of unexpectedly running into an ex — and not just any ex, THE ex, The One Who Got Away — this week.  I say “pleasure,” because I couldn’t have scripted it any better. 

The last time I saw him — which was the first time I’d seen him since our romance ended over a decade ago — I was in his city on business.  I was a good 30 pounds heavier than I am now.  I was wearing a dress I decided I hated about three seconds before I saw him. 

We met for dinner.  It was purely platonic, but I was nervous and awkward.  I lost a contact lens and dropped my cell phone in the toilet.  I was still attracted to him, and hated myself for that.  It took me weeks to recover.

Now, two years later, I was wearing a cute sweater dress, tightly belted to show off my newly svelte figure.  My hair and makeup were well done.  I was on my own turf — at a program in New York City, surrounded by women I know, admire and respect.  He was the interloper — not quite an intruder, but he was definitely out of his element.

He said what you want the ex to say in these circumstances: “You look great!”  I learned this past week that “you look great” is guy code for “Damn, you lost a lot of weight!” 

I gave him a warm hug.  The room was packed and seating was limited, so I invited him to take the open seat next to me.  He did, and spent an hour flipping through the program book instead of talking.  From time to time, I would look over at him and catch him staring at me.

He acted nervous.  He seemed unsure of himself.  He spoke of us getting together to catch up, but then kept retreating from the idea.  Repeatedly.  At the first break, he left the program.  He avoided talking to me at the cocktail reception that followed.  The next morning, he sent me an email saying that he was flying back early and would miss the rest of the program.  “You look great,” he said again in the email.


It has annoyed me for years that The One Who Got Away and I never were able to become, if not friends, then at least business acquaintances.  We know many of the same people and travel in the same circles. 

Whenever I see him — and this is only the second time I’ve seen him in the years since our brief, white-hot romance combusted — it’s clear we’re both still physically attracted to each other.  He’s also married and unavailable.  Our long-ago relationship ended when I found out he was engaged, a small detail he had failed to mention over the weeks we were together.  I wasn’t interested in being the side chick then, and I’m not interested now.  We don’t have to put ourselves in circumstances where something stupid might happen, but we should — I think — be able to be cordial and professional with each other.

He hasn’t bridged that gap yet.

The cowardice he displayed in not being able to deal with me as a professional, diminished him substantially in my eyes.  He’s even shorter than I remembered.  In my mind’s eye, I’ve always seen him as tall.  This time, I was wearing boots with five-inch platform heels, and we stood almost eye-to-eye. 

When we were together, he was always cool, unflappable.  This time, he was flapping all over the place.  Maybe he’d never seen me operating in my element before.  Maybe he’d never seen me display the level of power, confidence and self-assuredness he saw that day. 

Whatever it was, the words “his loss” never rang truer.

We’ll cross paths again.  It’s almost inevitable, given what I’ve said about our common professional and personal connections.  Hopefully, as we get more accustomed to seeing each other, the awkwardness will fade and we can both be cool.  If not, though, I still get to enjoy the memory of having that picture perfect fantasy “running into the ex” experience.


5 Responses to “Cowardly Lions”

  1. Alicia Walton Says:

    I good read as usual. But I’m wondering if the fact that “you look great” translated to him that you are also feeling good about yourself, which was a little threatening for him.

  2. Carolyn E. Says:

    Clearly WONDERFUL self confidence is flowing from a women who is strutting it with 30 pounds less than a year ago in a figure hugging dress and 5 inch heels — and I am certain that he was not the only one in the room who noticed that “you look great.” High five to you for FEELING good, looking good and being ok.

  3. Mark R Says:

    When a guy runs away before the relationship can become something, it is almost always because your presence makes him aware of a flaw he perceives in himself. It is almost always a flaw of character and almost never a flaw that matters in the presence of almost anyone else.

    Just you. It matters when he is with you.

    And so he runs to get away before you notice the flaw too, leaving him naked and more vulnerable than he is willing to be.

    And when you two see each other again, all you think about is that great guy that got away. All he thinks about is “She sees it. She sees my flaw. She knows my secret and she has too much power over me. Run.”

    If you search your head and your heart, look past the memories that you have chosen to preserve, look past the questions you were hoping would be answered, look in the space that was always there, but you avoided examining too closely, you will find that flaw that he was trying so desperately to hide.

    A cordial and professional future is all you can expect from each other, always with a veneer of frost. He can never feel safe enough in your presence to be honest with you. He’ll know it. You’ll know it.

    That’s just the way it is.

  4. Peter H. Fogtdal Says:

    I hate to sound like Bill Clinton but I share your pain.

    However, you can’t expect an ex to become a friend if he isn’t over you. The frost is there for a reason, and unfortunately, you can’t do anything about it, even if you feel you’re as hot as a furnace.

  5. jake Says:


    excelent post, keep it coming…

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