Sad Girl Music, Heartbreak, and Why I Like It

Last night, I saw the person who broke my heart for the last time. As the Internet has a way of doing, I was reminded that this week marks one whole year single for me. A few feelings bubble up, but I was surprised to see that they had changed since I last visited them.

The person in question wasn’t absent during the entirety of the past year. While he made attempts to be my friend, we all know that it isn’t that easy. We had been romantically involved for four years, and that’s a difficult adjustment when they’re just not there anymore. I didn’t want to be friends. I wanted to be together, or I wanted to be left alone. Every time I spoke to him or saw him prior to last night, I would break down. I had no idea how I would react to our interaction last night, but I was relieved. I wasn’t angry or jealous.

For the first time since we broke up, I realized I would be okay without him. I know it seems dramatic; it’s been a year. When other people break up, I assume they’re okay when they say they are. I told a lot of people I was over it, but I wasn’t trying to lie to myself. I was only trying to seem normal. The truth is that I am incredibly alone. Don’t get me wrong, this whole “embracing my inner independent lady” business has been fruitful. Immediately, I saved up the money to move out. I quit a job for some new ones. I established what is now a career. I recovered from my eating disorder for me and nobody else. All of those excursions which would once be taken alongside another were now taken on my own two feet. And it’s really not so bad. If you don’t do a lot of things solo, I’d highly recommend trying it out.

I didn’t cry when we split. It took me a long time to feel it. One day, about six months later, it felt as though it had just happened. I couldn’t tell anyone about it. I had too much pride to try to explain that my stupid heart hurt because of a stupid boy when it was totally irrelevant now. Nope. I drove for Lyft at the time. I stayed up all night in my car shuttling strangers around. But when I would drop them off, I would cry. Something about being dead center in your city in the midst of happy people in your car in the middle of the night hurt a lot. All of a sudden, it was the moment it ended all over again, but this time for real. Maybe it was just the shift that my entire life had taken or maybe it was the hope that maybe we could make things better dying off for good. I don’t know, but I felt unimaginably sad.

Since then, I’ve embraced heartbreak. I’ve always been fascinated by it. There is something about that gut feeling that is so unique and powerful. It makes you realize just how alive you are, and it doesn’t cut you a break. It’s like, “HEY, deal with this” once an hour. And that feeling almost feels like it does when you get the wind knocked out of you. After a few days, you begin to feel like you can outsmart it. I’ve never mastered the art. Instead, I just got used to it. Hi, I’m Alex, and I’m addicted to being heartbroken.

While that feeling can be quite intrusive when it’s literally making you vomit, the feeling with a little less intensity can be quite nice. It’s a little like nostalgia. It’s somewhat empowering. It allows you to be entirely you. It makes you vulnerable. Nothing else is there. It’s become that warm, fuzzy feeling you get when you’re caught in the rain. It’s not the first reaction to being cold, wet, and inconvenienced; rather, the feeling that comes when you accept that you can’t change that and you go swing on the swings at the playground.

The most important absence of feeling from last night was this: I didn’t feel like anything was wrong with me. While contemplating just why I’ve been single for this long (it’s not that long, I know), the first thing that comes to mind is, “What the fuck is wrong with me?” I didn’t feel like I had done anything wrong anymore. I didn’t feel like I wasn’t good enough. I’m fine. It’s okay that I’m not in a relationship. It’s OKAY. I followed up my evening listening to the ‘Love Hurts’ series on the podcast called ‘Strangers’ which I’d highly recommend if you’re reading my story and thinking, “Hey, I feel that way too.” It was the cherry on top of my newfound sense of clarity and enlightenment.

The truth is, heartbreak doesn’t discriminate. I don’t believe that it gets easier as you get older. I don’t believe that a 15 year old ending a relationship and a grown woman going through a divorce experience any more or less despair than the other. The protocol and external damage is much different, but the gut feeling – the physical feeling – and overwhelming despair is likely just the same. What I just described in my own experience is not a whiny account of “why me?” bullshit, it’s a legitimate thing that exists in the back of my head every single day. I don’t feel the way that I did, but I still feel like a part of me will always love that person. I still long for the company I had. I still long to be loved. Maybe it’s attached to someone else’s identity sometimes, and other times it’s just a shout into the void. I don’t know. I just know that a lot of other people understand what I just said.

This all leads me to my next point which is what I like to call sad girl music. I like to think of myself as the pioneer of the phrase, as I am the main contributor to the hashtag on Instagram. But really, that doesn’t qualify you for anything. I’ll call myself an avid enthusiast instead.

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I don’t turn the television on when I have company. I am always playing music. Over and over, I get the same request: “Can you turn on something other than SADGIRLMUSIC?” And I’m lost. I seldom listen to upbeat, happy music. I don’t even listen to neutral music most times. The music I choose to listen to is heart-wrenching. It’s probably just to accommodate my state of eternal heartbreak – the permanent feeling I’ve chosen to honor. I’m honoring it with very good music that pulled me through the beginning when there was nothing charming about it. I’m not sad when I listen to that music. I don’t want to wallow. I just want to give credit where credit is due.

I just finished All Songs Considered: Songs That Make Us Cry. Everyone likes sad music sometimes. Maybe not as much or as often as I do, but it’s a universal desire: we want to hear some sappy shit sometimes. Some of these albums have stuck with me for a decade plus. Some just came out this year. All of them have gotten me through some of those, “I will never know joy again” moments. All of them feature ridiculously depressing lyrics that would later make me laugh at my own misery. Here’s a short list of my favorite albums that I consider to fall into the genre.

1. Grace by Jeff Buckley.

2. Are We There by Sharon Van Etten

3. Carrie and Lowell by Sufjan Stevens

4. Summerteeth by Wilco

5. The Con by Tegan and Sara

6. The Idler Wheel… by Fiona Apple

7. Either/Or by Elliott Smith

8. Fevers and Mirrors by Bright Eyes

9. Hospice by The Antlers

10. High Violet by The National

Honorable single track mentions:

1. Metal Heart by Cat Power

2. Videotape by Radiohead
‘In Rainbows’ almost made the primary list, but I don’t think that registers across the board. That album has about a million and a half ~feels~ attached to it for me. Reckoner and House of Cards are also contenders, but it’s difficult to choose.

3. Blood Bank by Bon Iver

4. Columbia by Local Natives

5. Hey by The Pixies

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