For me, That Person is a guy I dated very briefly in college. My self-esteem was not exactly sky-high in college, and I could not believe that this guy—this incredibly intelligent, amazingly good-looking, popular, witty, guy—wanted to date me. Me! Me. I have a thing for The Smart, and Jeff had a huge dose of that, and he was not suffering in The Esoteric, a quality to which I , like so many college women, was inexorably drawn. He had this odd hairstyle that required the use of a miniscule rubber band, the type used by teens on their braces. He gave great backrubs (wink, wink). He would write messages in cereal on cafeteria trays, messages intended for the food service employees, urging them to rise up against their oppressors.
Our story is not very interesting. We dated for a brief bit, I went overseas to study in London, and while I was away, he got back together with his high-school girlfriend. He didn't handle the situation very well, but neither did I.
At first, I was simply sad and hurt and under the impression that I could never find anyone of his caliber who would ever want to date me ever again. Once I found the line for self-esteem and managed to get some, I realized that he wouldn't really have been good for me anyway. He's emotionally distant; I'm emotionally needy. He's not particularly good at compromise; I require give and take and middle ground. He's not a bad person, but he's certainly not the right person for me.
And yet, even knowing that, Jeff haunts me to this day. If his name shows up in my Inbox, I get That Feeling in my stomach. We've stayed in touch over the years, mostly through mutual friends, and increasingly infrequently, but any news of him is like a little treasure. If I were to see him in person, I'd be rendered mute for a few minutes, and then I'd say something stupid.
John was not That Person. I think you can have more than one That Person over the span of your life, but a key element of That Person is that they are not the right person. You want them to be right, you yearn for them to be right, if you could be with them, you would, even knowing that they are wrong and knowing it wouldn't end well. There is an unhealthy element to That Person, and John was, despite his flaws and my own, definitely a healthy choice for me.
Mr. Coffee, however, was That Person all over again. I was knees-weak attracted to him from the moment I saw him sitting in the coffee shop, waiting for me on our first date. You could argue that I was feeling the effects of not having been on a date for a long time, but no, I was the one who was there, and I assure you that it was something else. Mr. Coffee had The Smart. He had The Exotic. He had The Sexy. But he also had The Emotionally Unavailable, The Never in Town, and The Obsessed with Work. And so, much as I wanted him to be right, he was not. And so now he has earned the title of That Person, v2.0.
After a long silence between us, yesterday I sent him an e-mail telling him just that. He's in the throes of looking for a new job, perhaps not in this area, and my Spidey Sense tells me that he's started dating someone else. It doesn't matter. I'm happy to be at a place in my life where I can appreciate the time we spent together, the role he played in my life, the good that was there, and move on. It's tempting to be mad at him for prickishly just disappearing rather than saying goodbye, but I don't feel angry. I feel like I got what I needed from him, and now he's gone. I suspect he feels rather the same.
In some ways, it's good to grow up. I'm glad I didn't spend years of angst figuring out how to recover from the effects of That Person this time around. But if Mr. Coffee's name should show up in my Inbox again, or if I see him walking down the street, or if I find a piece of Swiss chocolate in the back of my cupboard, I know I'm going to get that rush, that contact high, that wistful sense of what was not. That Person never completely goes away.
EDITED: Moments after I posted this, I got an e-mail from Mr. Coffee saying that he has been exploring job opportunities all over the world and has has nothing but that on his mind. I can still feel the lurch in my stomach from seeing his message in my Inbox fifteen minutes ago. He left the door open for us to get together, and it's very tempting. The lure of That Person! It's like crack! But I am saying no because I am strong, wise woman. Sometimes it sucks to grow up.