A character once had a great love in his life, but that was a long time ago. Somewhere along the way he lost her (or him), often without even realizing at the time what he was ever giving up. Now all he has left are bittersweet memories. Second Love often has a bitter time getting him over it.
Sister trope to Did Not Get the Girl, only here we never even meet the girl (in the present anyway, flashbacks are allowed).
If said lost love is dead, and has a larger role in the story dead than alive, you're looking at The Lost Lenore, which is a sister trope but distinct.
Has nothing to do with fish, or with lies told by fishermen.
- A pretty heartwrenching one in Fruits Basket. When Hatori told Akito that he wanted to marry Kana, Akito freaked out so badly that he blinded Hatori in one eye. Kana was so distraught over this that Hatori had to erase her memories of their relationship.
- A strange case in Ano Hana The Flower We Saw That Day. We do see the girl, Menma, but only her ghost. After her death, Jintan all but gives up on life and becomes a recluse while Yukiatsu distances himself from most of his friends and cross dresses as her.
- Carl Barks's creation Glittering Goldie for Scrooge McDuck; future writers like Don Rosa jumped on the tragic story and made her an Old Flame in most adaptations, including DuckTales (1987).
- Devi is this to Johnny the Homicidal Maniac, both in the romantic sense and the serial-killer sense joked about in the page quote.
- Harry Vanderspeigle from Resident Alien is an alien stranded on Earth. He had a woman he loved back on his home planet. However, he's unlikely to ever see her again as even if he does get back home, she might be dead from old age, since Harry had to travel to Earth via Sleeper Ship for an unknown amount of time.
- In the proposed DC crossover The Twilight of the Superheroes, in order to prevent the Bad Future his future self intentionally caused to happen, John Constantine had to let this happen. After she left, he starts crying.
- Chronomistress Out Of Time: Daisy Chain, for Time Turner, who otherwise has little affection in his heart. This single old flame is enough of a weakness for him to get trapped in a Lotus-Eater Machine of romantic memories.
- Evangelion 303: Invoked by Shinji in chapter 13 when he is trying to talk Asuka into remaining together and thinks that if he fails, she - the only woman that he has ever loved and will probably ever love - will vanish from his life forever.
- HERZ: Kurumi had a crush on Shinji since they met in high-school. However he was always in love with Asuka. She spent years chasing after him, but she never managed to get him to reciprocate her feelings, and her attempts to seduce him were impulsive and ill-though-out and alienated him further.
- In An Extended Performance and A Long Night At The Hippodrome, Trixie Lulamoon and Piercing Gaze, to each other. (This is possible because of Trixie's serious emotional problems.)
- In The Memory Band, an installment of Skyhold Academy Yearbook, Dorian and Varric share a drink and talk about the people who qualify for this role in their lives.
- In Total Drama fanfic 'Lunch Date With A Goth An Indie Chick And A Wide Eyed Bubble Boy'' Gwen is still regretful on how her relationship ended with Trent.
- Sam the Lion and his "young lady" in The Last Picture Show.
Sam: You wouldn't believe how this country's changed. First time I seen it, there wasn't a mesquite tree on it, or a prickly pear neither. I used to own this land, you know. First time I watered a horse at this tank was—more than forty years ago. I reckon the reason why I always drag you out here is probably I'm just as sentimental as the next fella when it comes to old times. Old times. I brought a young lady swimmin' out here once, more than 20 years ago. Was after my wife had lost her mind and my boys was dead. Me and this young lady was pretty wild, I guess. In pretty deep. We used to come out here on horseback and go swimmin' without no bathing suits. One day, she wanted to swim the horses across this tank. Kind of a crazy thing to do, but we done it anyway. She bet me a silver dollar she could beat me across. She did. This old horse I was ridin' didn't want to take the water. But she was always lookin' for somethin' to do like that. Somethin' wild. I'll bet she's still got that silver dollar.
- Citizen Kane:
Mr. Bernstein: A fellow will remember a lot of things you wouldn't think he'd remember. You take me. One day back in 1896, I was crossing over to Jersey on the ferry and as we pulled out there was another ferry pulling in and on it there was a girl waiting to get off. A white dress she had on. She was carrying a white parasol. I only saw her for one second. She didn't see me at all, but I'll bet a month hasn't gone by since that I haven't thought of that girl.
- Evoked in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, when Harry sees Harmony.
Harry: You know the high school girl you had a crush on? The one that got away, and haunts you for the rest of your life?
Gay Perry: Yeah, I've had that. Bobby Mills.
- Anna in Out Cold, a pretty French girl who Rick meets while vacationing in Mexico. Even though it turns out that she's engaged and was all along, Rick still pursues her and ignores Jenny, a local girl who's clearly far better for him.
- The whole plot of Chasing Amy is the unfolding events of how a girl becomes this to the protagonist. The title of the movie itself is presented as another way of saying "The One That Got Away," and this trope could in fact be renamed to that with little difference in meaning.
Silent Bob: So there's me and Amy, and we're all inseparable, right? Just big time in love. And then four months down the road, the idiot gear kicks in, and I ask about the ex-boyfriend. Which, as we all know, is a really dumb move. But you know how it is: you don't wanna know, but you just have to, right? Stupid guy bullshit. So, anyway, she starts telling me about him... how they fell in love, and how they went out for a couple of years, and how they lived together, her mother likes me better, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah... and I'm okay. But then she drops the bomb on me, and the bomb is this: it seems that a couple of times, while they were going out, he brought some people to bed with them. Menage à trois, I believe it's called. Now this just blows my mind, right? I mean, I am not used to this sort of thing. I mean, I was raised Catholic, for God's sake.Jay: Saint Shithead.Silent Bob: So I'm totally weirded out by this, right? And then I just start blasting her. Like... I don't know how to deal with what I'm feeling, so I figure the best way is by calling her a slut, right? And tell her she was used. I'm... I'm out for blood. I really wanna hurt this girl. I'm like, "What the fuck is your problem?", right? And she's just all calmly trying to tell me, like, it was that time and it was that place and she doesn't think she should apologize because she doesn't feel that she's done anything wrong. I'm like, "Oh, really?" That's when I look her straight in the eye, I tell her it's over. I walk.Jay: Fuckin' A!Silent Bob: No, idiot. It was a mistake. I didn't hate her. I wasn't disgusted with her. I was afraid. At that moment, I felt small, like... like I'd lacked experience, like I'd never be on her level, like I'd never be enough for her or something like that, you know what I'm saying? But, what I did not get, she didn't care. She wasn't looking for that guy anymore. She was... she was looking for me, for the Bob. But, uh, by the time I figure this all out, it was too late, man. She moved on, and all I had to show for it was some foolish pride, which then gave way to regret. She was the girl, I know that now. But I pushed her away. So I've spent every day since then chasing Amy ... so to speak.
- City Slickers: Mitch asks Curly the cattle boss if he's ever been in love:
Curly: Once. I was driving a herd across the panhandle. Texas. Passed near this little dirt farm right about sundown. Out in the field was this young woman, working down in the dirt. Just about then she stood up to stretch her back. She was wearing a little cotton dress, and the settin' sun was right behind her, showing the shape that God had give her.
Mitch: What happened?
Curly: I just turned around and rode away.
Curly: I figured it wasn't gonna get any better than that.
- In Hot Tub Time Machine, Adam views his old girlfriend Jenny as this. But once he goes back in time and starts hanging out with her again it's easy to see why he broke up with her. Then he becomes depressed about it, especially after finding out she was originally gonna dump him, believing the choices he made in his life are pointless.
- Believe it or not, Muriel Finster was this in Recess: School's Out. When she, Prickly and Benedict were young, she used to date Benedict. However, due to his desire to boost test scores by getting rid of recess at their school, she broke up with him. Because Benedict genuinely had feelings for Muriel, he never dated another woman.
- In The Truman Show the title character falls for a woman named Lauren. However, since his life is actually a television show, she's actually an actress named Sylvia and he's not supposed to like her. The two only get one stolen kiss before the show's producers force them apart, but he continues to pine for her for years. At the end of the film, when Truman escapes the show, Sylvia is shown rushing out for him, implying they reunite.
Waitress: They got rid of her, but they couldn't erase the memory.
- The ending of Little Nicky shows that Satan (Nicky's father) never got over his relationship with Holly (Nicky's mother, an angel). The end credits reveal they tried to get back together but couldn't deal with a long distance relationship and found other love interests.
- Darling: How Diana feels about Robert. She doesn't seem to care very much about anybody else, but she breaks down sobbing after her infidelity causes Robert to dump her. Later she muses about how chance timing cost them a chance of reuniting. At the end she goes back to England to meet him, they have sex, and she's deliriously happy, talking about how they're going to live together in the country. Robert then cruelly rejects her, having had his revenge.
- A Christmas Carol: Ebenezer Scrooge and his vanished fiancée Belle.
- In a twisted example that brings to mind both examples in the page quote, Emeli of the Ciaphas Cain series invokes this trope. As a devout follower of Slaanesh, she takes it as a personal insult when Cain is able to resist her seductions. She redoubles her efforts the next couple of times they meet, though her priority gradually shifts more towards simply wanting him dead as he continues to thwart her.
- The Great Gatsby: The entire plot is based around this and Gatsby's subsequent attempts to win her back. He doesn't
- Sherlock Holmes: In the story "A Scandal in Bohemia," Watson seems to suspect that Irene Adler is this to Holmes, being the only person who's managed to outfox him, and that Holmes won't ever refer to her by name, instead calling her "the woman". Subverted Trope, and it becomes pretty clear that she's not. It's admiration, not attraction, and even Watson—narrating in hindsight—admits, "It was not that he felt any emotion akin to love for Irene Adler."
- Harry Potter: Lily Evans is this to Severus Snape. She's also The Lost Lenore, though, as she died after choosing James Potter.
- A Song of Ice and Fire:
- Tyrion Lannister's One That Got Away is his first "wife". He saves her from brigands, falls in love with her, and marries her. Then his father Tywin reveals to him that she is actually a whore hired by him to teach him a lesson, has his entire guard rape her, pays her, then sends her away. This leads Tyrion to never love another woman again, going with whores instead. Later it is revealed that she wasn't actually a whore; that was just a lie (or, as generously as possible, a Jedi Truth) created by Tywin to humiliate him.
- Tywin has one himself: his long-dead wife, almost certainly the only person on Earth he ever truly loved. She died giving birth to Tyrion, which explains an awful lot of Tywin's profound loathing for his son.
- Catelyn Stark is this to her childhood friend, Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish. He loved her since they were children, once fought a duel with her fiancé for her hand... and lost bitterly. That wasn't the end of it, though; he takes it to disturbing levels... Catelyn always saw him as Like Brother and Sister.
- Darkly used in the short story Perfect Days, in which a retired serial killer has a new resident move into his rest home... the one victim who got away from him. He kills her, but has a heart attack in the process and dies happy.
- Willoughby considers Marianne this at the end of Sense and Sensibility. Though he and his rich wife are said to not always be unhappy together, Willougby still compares any up-and-coming belles unfavorably to the now Mrs. Brandon.
- 30 Rock: When Floyd came back to visit, Liz tried to invoke this trope ("The next time Floyd brings some corn-pone tranny back to his apartment, all he's going to be thinking about is me standing there in the snow looking like the one that got away."), but largely failed.
- Game of Thrones: Catelyn Stark is this to her childhood friend, Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish. He takes it to disturbing levels...
- One episode of House has Wilson tell Taub and Kutner about House's "one that got away". Turns out he was just screwing with them—he even gives the woman's name as "Irene Adler". House actually did have a The One Who Got Away in Stacy, whom he rejected anyway after realizing that he could never love her like her husband Mark could.
- NUMB3RS suggests that Robin Brooks is this to Don Eppes, though the trope is later subverted with the couple deciding to give their relationship another shot.
- Earlier in the series, a victim's husband suggests that Don was this to the victim.
- Castle has one in Kyra in the episode "A Rose For Everafter," much to Beckett's chagrin, though she won't admit it.
- Not that Castle is pining away for her and abstaining from love entirely. Oh, no.
- Season 2 of Californication features Lew Ashby, a music mogul, who got so wrapped up in the fame and the money that he lost his girlfriend, Janie, who got married to some Jerkass. Hank even tells Lew that Janie is his "Daisy Buchanan," and the whole season is basically a Whole Plot Reference to The Great Gatsby. Up to and including Gastby/Ashby's death.
- Surprisingly, Belle is this for Rumplestiltskin in Once Upon a Time. It tortures the latter even in their new lives. They eventually start a relationship in season 2.
- Ted and Victoria in How I Met Your Mother. They became a couple twice but ultimately they couldn't be together as the latter wanted the former to cut ties (cease being friends) with Robin (the person Ted left her for in their first time as a couple), which he couldn't.
- A large part of Ted's Character Development in the later seasons comes from him realizing that Robin was NOT this trope. They were two people strongly committed to their priorities and their priorities were incompatible. Ted wanted to settle down and have kids while Robin wanted to travel and had absolutely no interest in being a mother. If they tried to make the relationship work, one or both would have to sacrifice their dreams and they would just make each other miserable. The series finale shows that ten years later, with their dreams fulfilled, their priorities have shifted enough that they now have a chance for a lasting relationship.
- With the introduction of romantic subplots upon its revival in 2005, Doctor Who has had a few of these implied for the lead character, the Doctor. Rose Tyler is the first; after she is trapped, supposedly forever, in a parallel world, the Doctor spends the entirety of the next season pining over her, to the point of alienating his next companion, Martha, who attempts to become his Second Love and fails.
- Clara Oswald is an odd example of this trope being zig-zagged. The Doctor falls in love with her, but ultimately loses her due to a Trauma Conga Line that includes her being Killed Off for Real, but then revived. In order to move on and stop himself from being Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds, the Doctor submits to a Mind Rape that wipes most—but not all—of his memories of Clara. He remembers her as a friend he traveled with, not that he was in love with her. Where the "one who got away" aspect kicks in is it's established that Clara, due to the Doctor's interference, is now functionally immortal and as such could have been the first companion actually capable of staying with the Doctor for the rest of his life. But he had to let her go.
- Katy Perry has a song of the same title , and the lyrics play the trope straight. The music video, however, is more of an example of The Lost Lenore.
- As does Jake Owen.
- Pops up occasionally as a theme in songs Michael Jackson sings. Most notably are "I Want You Back" by The Jackson Five and "She's Out of My Life" from Off the Wall.
- Tom Waits sings a song of this name on the album Small Change, although it's less about the one that got away and more about the life of the protagonist after the one that got away... got away.
- "Whatsername" by Green Day.
- A few of Pink Martini's songs feature this trope, most notably "Kikuchiyo To Mohshimasu," "Veronique," "The Gardens of Sampson and Beasley" (which actually manages to be pretty upbeat about it all) and possibly the tragic "Piensa en Mi." And of course "Hey, Eugene!", an increasingly desperate message for a guy at a party who refused to call back.
- Badfinger's "Baby Blue."
- "The Man That Got Away" was written by Harold Arlen and Ira Gershwin for the 1954 film "A Star is Born". While the original Judy Garland recording is the most famous, it has been covered by many artists, notably in a gender-flipped version ("The Gal That Got Away") by Frank Sinatra.
- "Hold on Loosely" by 38 Special is sung by a guy who pushed away the girl he loved, looking back on his mistakes. "Usually it's too late when you realize what you had."
- Jenny Lou Carson's "Jealous Heart", which is about a woman who drives her boyfriend because she can't control her jealousy and says the memory of him will haunt her for years.
- Referenced and subverted in "It's a Beautiful Day" by Michael Bublé, which has the lyric, "I'm so glad you were the one that got away!" This is one of his most upbeat songs, and that's saying something.
- "Strawberry Wine" by Deana Carter is told from the POV of a teenage girl who fell in love with (and lost her virginity to) one of her grandfather's farmhands when she spent the summer there. In the fall, her boyfriend had to go back to college, and though they tried a Long-Distance Relationship, it didn't work out. Many years later, she still comes back to the particular spot where she lost her virginity just to reminisce.
- "Runaway" by Del Shannon.
- The Residents' The Commercial Album has a track called "Perfect Love":
The only ever perfect love is one that gets away.
- The Boys Like Girls song "She's Got A Boyfriend Now" is all about this:
Wish that I could turn this car around, but she's got a boyfriend now.
- The one in Gaelic Storm's "Lover's Wreck" left to become a pirate. Her former lover mopes, and is eventually press-ganged onto a privateer.
- "One Love" by Marianas Trench.
- Lady Antebellum's "Dancing Away with My Heart."
- Blackhawk's "Every Once in Awhile," sung from the perspective of the one who got away ("Just ask her if she ever still thinks about me/She'll say 'every once in awhile'")
- Kevin Denny: "That's Just Jessie."
- "My Old Flame" by Sam Coslow and Arthur Johnston, which opens with, "My old flame. I can't even think of her name."
- "And Still" by Reba McEntire. The narrator runs into her former lover and the two reminisce about old times. Unfortunately for her, her ex soon introduces her to his wife.
I gave my best smile, but I was dying inside.
- Dire Straits: "Tunnel of Love". Sort of mutually understood at the time that it would be a momentary thing ("She said you are the perfect stranger/ she said baby let's keep it like this"—and in the end he didn't pursue her: "And in the roar of dust and diesel I stood and watched her walk away/I could have caught up with her easy enough but something must have made me stay"). But as he reminisces on this, he wonders what could have been:
And now I'm searching through these carousels and the carnival arcadesSearching everywhere from steeplechase to palisadesIn any shooting gallery where promises are madeTo rock away rock away from Cullercoats and Whitley bay out to rock away
- Zac Brown Band's "As She's Walkin' Away" is about an older guy (Alan Jackson in the radio version) convincing a younger man to not make this mistake as he did.
- In Luke Combs's "She Got the Best of Me", the narrator credits the one that got away with starting his music career— he learned to play as a way of coping after she broke his heart— but admits he's not over her yet.
- In One Touch of Venus, the reason that modern art collector Whitlaw Savory buys a 3000-year-old Anatolian statue of a goddess is that it reminds him of "the girl who got away." When Savory runs into the goddess wandering through the Big Applesauce, he recognizes her as his girl that got away, but not as his missing statue.
- In Diablo III Lyndon fell deeply in love with a woman named Rea, but she chose to marry his brother instead. He still loves her but after a scam went wrong and Lyndon's brother ended up in jail, she thinks he's responsible and hates him.
- The Reaper Of Souls expansion reveals that this trope might have been invoked by Rea. She murdered her husband. There's an implication that she's the Thieves Guild Master and has been playing a long con on both brothers.
- Red vs. Blue: The Director of Project Freelancer is so haunted by the memory of a lost love that he ends up in a perpetual cycle of losing her over and over again, via the AI he created (a Living Memory of his own experiences) and the Virtual Ghost that the AI creates in the image of the Director's lost love.
- The Narrator of Alice Isn't Dead has totally restructured her life to chase after her vanished wife Alice, taking a long haul trucking job to capitalize on clues that Alice is Wandering the Earth. Though her pursuit is partly motivated by evidence that Alice is involved in The Conspiracy, the Narrator's logs sometimes veer into ruminating as though it were a typical breakup.
- In the Justice League Unlimited episode "Epilogue" (the Fully Absorbed Finale for Batman Beyond), Selina is given a nod as being this for Bruce.
- On Adventure Time, Betty is this for Simon, aka the Ice King. It's tinged with The Lost Lenore as well, since she would presumably have died centuries before the show's setting. As it turns out, Betty jumped through a time portal opened by a temporarily sane Simon attempting to communicate to her and by the end of the episode is still out in Ooo, seeking a way to cure him of his insanity.
- Subverted in Over the Garden Wall. In the first episode, Wirt enters one of his poetic phases and mentions a "lost love;" in a later episode, he mentions that he has a crush on a girl, but she was "swept off her feet" by someone named Jason Funderberker. When we actually see what happened, it's clear to the viewer that Wirt's perceptions were less than accurate. Sure enough, Wirt and Sara are implied to hook up in the last episode.
- In Steven Universe, Rose is this for Pearl. She's also The Lost Lenore, though, as she died after choosing Greg.
Pearl: You won, and she chose you,
And she loved you, and she's gone...
- King of the Hill: Boomhauer has Katherine Hester, an old girlfriend that he hasn't seen for twelve years and it's shown that he was this to her. She unexpectedly returns to his life engaged to his younger brother Patch. Things get complicated for Boomhauer because not only is he still in love with Katherine but also because Patch proves very sleazy in his own behavior, which eventually cancels their engagement. At the end Katherine leaves town again to clear her head but both of them leave the door open to possibly rekindle things in the future.