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Trigger warning: abusive relationships
Music is such an emotive experience. Few forms of art can move us quite so powerfully; it has the ability to inspire, to connect to others, and, arguably, the most important of all, it can influence us emotionally and physically. How often do we talk about listening to a specific song to help us cry, or to lighten our mood when we’re struggling? So many of us use music as a tool to work through our emotions, and while it can’t always provide answers, it offers a resonance we so crave.
For me, music goes beyond that, it tells me truths I might not want to hear but need to know.
When I was in my first serious relationship, at the all-too-tender age of 15, music helped me recognise how problematic and manipulative my relationship was. There were always signs, most notably that he was 18, but as a naive minor, I could not see those red flags. Not even when the abuse occurred and grew, did I realise just how toxic my situation was.
Then one afternoon, Nickelback's ‘Someday’ started playing on the music channel. The Iyrics caught my attention, and I immediately started listening, really listening.
Those opening lines, “How the hell'd we wind up like this? And why weren't we able to see the signs that we missed?”, hit me so profoundly that all my attention was devoted to the screen. Not because I was some die-hard fan of the band, but because I’d been subconsciously asking myself how we had ended up in such an awful situation for a while now, and why I wasn’t able to find a solution.
The song isn’t about abuse, but about a lost promise. In some ways, that’s even more fitting: I’d broken a promise to myself by staying with him.
I won’t pretend that I immediately ended our relationship right there and then, my teenage self wasn’t quite strong enough for that. However, in that moment, as the words played over and over in my head, I knew we had to break up.
Music helped me when I couldn’t help myself, something it has continued to do for many romantic decisions. It may seem ridiculous to some - how can you take words not meant for you and make them your own, make them apply to you? But isn’t that what music is about? I believe so. After all, when Taylor Swift released Folklore, a lot of us listened and wept about lost love, regardless of whether we were experiencing it. It just spoke to us. And for some of us, those lyrics spoke much louder.
Crying in my bedroom, sobbing so hard that my whole body shook, I listened to her song ‘The 1’ and felt like I’d lost a part of myself. Hearing lines like “You know the greatest films of all time are never made” stung because it’s how I felt about someone I was falling in love with, someone I knew I couldn’t be with.
I mourned for the love we could have experienced, and all the magnificence I was denying myself because it could never be. Or so I thought. But as love grew between us, and my then relationship slipped further into disrepair, Taylor Swift’s ‘Tolerate It’ gave me the sign I desperately needed.
Now, for all the Swifties out there, they’ll know that the song is heavily influenced by the novel Rebecca. Well, I wasn’t living such a Gothic tale, however, I was beginning to realise that my then-partner seemed to only tolerate me rather than celebrate me. And, if I’m being truthful, I was the same with her. We’d been together longer than we ever should have, trying to make it work, yet only ever building on crumbling foundations. We both knew it, but we didn’t want to accept it.
Hearing that song, which I played repeatedly, sobbing in my kitchen as wave upon wave of realisation hit, I knew our time was coming to an end. I wish I could say I did us both a kindness and ended it before it became messy, before I emotionally hurt someone I loved, but it would be a lie. A lie I don’t wish to add to my shameful collection.
At every stage of my life, when I’ve needed a sign, even if it’s too on the nose, music has been that sign. It’s been painful. There’s nothing more difficult than acceptance when denial grips tightly, yet I’m forever grateful that its influence has guided me. I find comfort in the dear and prolific friend music is for me.