SINGAPORE: 2020 has been Taylor Swift’s year.
And if you are a Swiftie, you will know her music in Folklore is very different from her past oeuvre. Besides a surprisingly stripped back, indie musicality, the themes that capture her attention have evolved greatly.
From songs about yearning for love, boyfriends who have done her wrong, bad blood and revenge, she offers a more mature and complex perspective on life and relationships in this album.
My Tears Richochet, a song ostensibly about death, betrayal and loss, also expresses how she feels about her ongoing professional dispute with music industry executive Scooter Braun who bought then re-sold the rights to her first six albums.
Exile, a duet with Justin Vernon of Bon Iver studies the breakdown of a relationship from both parties’ perspectives.
In this year of introspection, Swift’s very public emotional evolution has led me to think back to my own journey.
Like most of us, both male or female, I have been involved in past romantic entanglements that did not turn out the way I would have liked.
Over the years, I’ve been ghosted, endured the indignity of being stood up on dates and spent far too much time wondering when the other person would get serious.
Was it too much to expect a polite conversation along the lines of “it’s over” if they were just not that interested instead of leaving things hanging as they carried on with their lives?
These days, although my dating days are over, I still live vicariously through the escapades of my friends who remain active on the dating circuit. Online dating, in particular, seems to encourage bad behaviour.
There might be the occasional gem that turns into a long-term relationship. But there are catfishers aplenty, love scammers and sleazebags of all sorts.
Many of us who have felt slighted by past partners may have at some point fantasised about exacting some form of revenge, like Swift so glamorously does in the video Blank Space when she goes on a rampage against her boyfriend.
I will admit, I have. On my most imaginative days, I have dreamt up TV drama worthy scenarios of me tossing the other person’s belongings out of the window in a fit of righteous fury while he grovels for forgiveness.
(For the record, I would like to state that I have never damaged the property or inflicted harm on an ex-boyfriend in real life – and neither should you.)
WASTING TIME AND EMOTION
Now, many years later, I still have regrets about these past relationships. What I regret is letting these people live rent free in my head as I wasted time and energy moping over these lost causes, wishing they treated me better and hoping they would come back to me.
I especially feel bad for inflicting so much drama on loyal friends who had to hold my hand while I cried my heart out into my empty wine glasses and ice cream cartons.
Instead, I wish I had channeled more of those hours into something more productive, such as attending gym classes, picking up a new hobby or spending quality time with people who actually care for me.
That said, emotions are complex and venting – whether indulging in an ugly cry or by writing that angry email (but maybe, don’t click send) – feels essential to the healing process. But be sure to pick up the pieces and make space for better things.
As grief expert David Kessler posits in his book, Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief, many people look for closure after going through the cycles of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance when dealt with a loss.
But it is the ability to find meaning in the experience that helps an individual emerge as a stronger person.
For me, with the benefit of hindsight and years of distance, I can confidently declare that life is more than being hung up over someone who does not care enough to make an effort.
FOCUSING ON THE RIGHT THING
This hard-earned insight of placing my own well-being first is now my guiding post in all my interactions with people, both personally and professionally.
I set boundaries and have a clear definition of what is acceptable to me in any relationship or friendship. When I am at the receiving end of thoughtless or shady behaviour, I find an opportunity to articulate my feelings.
This may be a challenge, especially if you have been brought up to hide your emotions. But staying mum on an issue almost always allows frustration to fester over time and worsens the issue – so you might as well bite the bullet and speak up.
Conversations about personal limits and making compromises are not the easiest to have. But it is worth going through discomfort in order to build stronger connections with the right person.
To smoothen the way when you broach a topic, experts suggest you avoid accusatory language (use “I feel” instead of “you did this and that”) and to focus on working out how you can both join forces to achieve a common goal.
This is perhaps why my current relationship with my long-term partner has weathered many challenges. While we are far from the perfect couple, what I appreciate is how we both do our best to respect each other’s boundaries and accommodate the other’s quirks and baggage.
For instance, although he has never been much of a Whatsapp communicator, he does his best to respond to my messages even when he is at an appointment with someone else. In turn, I consciously separate my personal separation anxiety issues from my interactions with him.
Over time, placing myself first has benefitted broader aspects of my life too. Stepping away from toxic people has allowed me to cultivate an inner circle of valued friendships.
THE OPPOSITE OF LOVE IS INDIFFERENCE
These days, I sometimes even find myself in the position of the confidante witnessing someone else’s relationship troubles. While I will always be there to pass the tissue as they cry, I am also the one doling out tough love with some straight talk.
Wondering why your other half is reluctant to introduce you to the family or spends so much time texting their “work spouse”? Talk about it. Think you have been cheated on? Bring it up.
Whatever the perceived slight might be, take charge instead of stewing over it privately. Bonus points if you manage to write a hit song a la Miss Swift.
And if a relationship does eventually fizzle out, consider it a bullet dodged and move on.
In writing this piece, I realised that I had to think long and hard to recollect past bad romances. These memories had simply vanished. I do not think I can even recognise these old boyfriends if I passed them by on the streets.
Ultimately, do I even care if they have somehow received some semblance of karma? I think the Swift song, I Forgot That You Existed, expresses it best. In this ditty, this millennial sage croons: “It isn’t love, it isn’t hate, it’s just indifference.”
Indeed, they simply do not matter anymore and I have emerged the better for it. Now, that’s how you do “revenge” right.
Karen is a freelance lifestyle, travel journalist and a graduate of Columbia University’s School of Journalism in New York City.