I’m grateful that Taylor Swift has sparked a discussion about grieving for her semi-relationships

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Photo credit: Katie Wilde - Getty Images
Photo credit: Katie Wilde - Getty Images

Scrolling through Twitter one night I found myself confused as to why Taylor Swift’s scarf was trending. The award-winning singer is somebody who I’ve sung along to in the car but whose music I rarely put on myself, until I started reading about the history of said scarf. I quickly became obsessed with the scarf – or rather the lyrics it’s referenced in.

Given that the song has already been streamed 25 million times (no exaggeration) on Spotify, you’ll likely already know that 'All Too Well' is part of a new re-recorded album, only this time around Taylor delivered an extended ten minute-long version of her song recanting a two and half-month long doomed "love affair". A semi-relationship. An encounter she remembers every tiny detail about, despite it never quite making it out of the gate. Oh, and was allegedly with actor Jake Gyllenhaal – who Taylor says kept a scarf that she left at his sister’s house after he called things off, citing her age as the problem. Despite then going on to date many other women that age whilst getting ever older himself. Lots to unpack there. And the internet has been doing so, at length, ever since the song's release.

The memes were what reeled me in at first. Glorious. Twitter at its finest. Squidward sleeping soundly because he’s so happy not to be Jake’s publicist. Adele’s six expressive faces demonstrating the collective response to the thought of a Hollywood actor hoarding a scarf for over a decade. In the mix though, there were others asking why, eleven years on, Taylor wasn’t just… over it? Why was she displaying that pain and vulnerability so publicly for something that didn’t even reach the three-month mark? Doesn’t she know that’s embarrassing? Emotions are gross. Yes, I thought, agreed.

And then I listened to the song and watched the music video to accompany 'All Too Well' and suddenly, it felt like my stomach had slid down into my kneecaps. Because I, as I suspect is the case for many others, have experienced a half-relationship ‘Jake’. At least to me that’s what it was – maybe to him it was nothing – which is honestly one of the most confusing parts. And a solid reason as to why situationships can actually be harder to get over than something concrete.

We never “got lost driving upstate” but we sat on a park bench in London until 2am telling each other about the best and worst moments of our lives, sipping Jamaican tonic wine from brown glass bottles. He never “charmed my dad over coffee like he was on a late night talk show”, but on our second date strangers outside a dim sum restaurant asked how long we’d been together, expecting us to say a number followed by the word “years”. He’d left me at the table alone to go outside and smoke and too many beats had passed. I thought he’d stuck me with the bill (£70, I remember it 'All Too Well') but he was just outside, distracted by a chatty table. One of whom made a joke along the lines of "She’s a good girl" and you "ought to hold on to her". I told myself that getting distracted was just his nature. He lost debit cards and phones so frequently that I shouldn’t take it personally when shortly after, he "lost my number" and disappeared for months on end.

In total, we met only ten times. Albeit over the space of a year. But if you add the actual in-person moments together, those ten times peppered with vast spaces in between and a lack of anything ever really being certain, means that the "love affair" was short-lived. Not even a fortnight old. Could we even call it a love affair? It was the equivalent of a baby bird whose broken wings could never quite take flight.

I remember when I was a kid I found a small, lone sparrow (I think it was, at least) and tried to nurse it back to life, keeping it in a spare rabbit hutch in the garden. After some time, when he thought it was ready, my dad launched that little bird towards the roof of our house like a shotput. For a moment, things looked promising – before it promptly bounced off the slate tiles, landed in the front garden and died, all while I watched on in horror, open-mouthed. We were that bird. So it felt deeply embarrassing to mourn my ‘Jake’ figure as hard – and for as long – as I did.

It hit me more than one of the actual full-on, we-say-I-love-you relationships I’d been in previously. Weirdly with that one, I struggle to scrape together many memories (it was the equivalent of a semi-dry cheese sandwich, average) but with the 'All Too Well' man? We first met on a Thursday at 7.30pm. I wore an olive silk shirt on the first date with ripped jeans and black heels, as the zip of the dress I wanted to wear broke. He spilled a glass of Prosecco on the table as soon as I walked in. We stumbled across a group playing chess in the bar and joined them (I won), we kissed, we got fries and it felt like my head was going to explode. I floated onto the bus. The last time we met I sat on the side of his kitchen counter in a PUMA dress that I was only confident in from the navel up. We watched The Beach. I’d gone straight to meet him from his office after a ten hour flight from Thailand and was delirious from jet lag. But still, I could never sleep beside him because I felt like I was being electrocuted. One time, when I thought he was drifting off, I got a book out and started reading. He threw it on the floor and started kissing me again and again and again. But he was not my boyfriend.

I remember it, as Taylor sings, all too well. So why shouldn’t all that be seen as valid? Why do we equate the time spent in a relationship (or situationship) to how much grief is appropriate in response, as opposed to weighing up intensity or personal response? Why can’t we universally acknowledge that the obliteration of hope – and unrequited love – can be on par with the death of even, say, a marriage?

I never left a scarf at his sister’s, but I did leave a pair of gold hooped earrings that I know he kept in his wallet for a while after. And now, five years on (and while in the strongest and most genuine relationship I’ve ever been in), I can still stab my pen into that ink and write a ten-minute extended track on it. Because it was traumatic. Because when Taylor, reaching the final refrain, urges (presumably) Jake Gyllenhaal to tell her if "the love affair maimed him too?" I was instantly transported back to the nails on a blackboard sensation I carried around for months after my own experience, desperately trying to not send a similar message. And I think it’s okay to wonder that – and that it doesn’t mean I’m not happy with my life and my partner now. I am, but as humans, we like to put things in boxes and categorise them. Unanswered questions are a head fuck. Which is why it’s confusing that some stories and emotions are publicly okay to recall, or sink into like a warm bath, but others aren’t?

Photo credit: NBC - Getty Images
Photo credit: NBC - Getty Images

We never, like Taylor sang, called it love (even though for me, I think that’s what it might have been. Or at least a warped form of). But when he told me we were heading too much in the direction of a relationship and he couldn’t handle it – “I can barely look after myself” – I actually appreciated the honesty, after so many lost phones and time spent in the dark. But the closest I got to saying what I actually wanted too was "I don’t think something like this comes around all that often, I can wait as long as you need". I stood outside my flat pacing on the phone, chewing my lip, not wanting to return inside in a hurry because things had changed. Truthfully, I missed a lot of work afterwards. All of my other anxieties wrapped around me like tentacles and I let them squeeze the breathe out of me. I think they call it a breakdown, but I called it embarrassing. Lame. Pathetic. He wasn’t my boyfriend. It was just "a thing".

And of course, six months later, you, me, we? It? came around again. We were back to square one (or as Taylor sings, “You called me up again just to break me like a promise”). Only by then, I’d lost myself through the uncertainty and emotional whiplash. My jokes didn’t land when I met his friends, my mood couldn’t stay consistent, fear being the pervasive, heavy and overwhelming feeling. I wrote "worry trees" out with my therapist trying to calm down, I told myself to stop being a "pain snail", lugging all the old bullshit around on my back and to be a cool, chill girl.

But my brain was an empty fish tank. Everything was agony. After what? Seven or eight dates at that point. Which is nothing. A drop in the ocean. Then, one night – the night I wore the knee high boots that crunched my toes – he watched the TV over my shoulder as we had sex and something inside me died. When, shortly after I asked “What even is this? Do you actually feel anything for me?” he said I was being too intense, too emotional. And hung up. Like Taylor, I was left wondering “maybe I asked for too much?”. Until weeks later, when he messaged asking why I had ghosted him and left him without closure, I realised the insanity of it all and walked away, bruised, but at last for good.

But all of this, the park bench, the dim sum, the small deaths. Society tells us it’s not appropriate, rational or cool to be hung up on it for too long, as there were no labels defining it. Which is why it’s refreshing that Taylor Swift has started this conversation. She’s unapologetically feeling her feelings, years down the line. And so what? Why shouldn’t she? It doesn’t mean she’s not over it or that she still loves (again, presumably) Jake Gyllenhaal, but isn’t it sometimes actually a little sadistically fun to revisit your pain? We’re all just jigsaw puzzle people made up of relationships and moments and experiences. Taking a piece out to examiner it once in a while, to remember how it clicks into you, and informs you, should be fine. Why not?If it felt real and huge and important to you on a personal level, then that’s what it is.

Ironically, I once went to a medley concert where Taylor Swift was the headline act and left before she came on (for a reason I can’t really remember, probably to go to a club). Now, I regret that. I used to low-key scoff at her too for cutting her stomach open and smearing her entrails all over Spotify, but now I love it. I am Taylor Swift. You probably are too. We’ve all got a Jake out there and if it left you traumatised as well, that’s nothing shameful. But remember he, she or they are only one jigsaw puzzle piece in the million that make you up – and only you get to decide how much of an impact it has on you. Or how long it takes you to feel okay again afterwards.

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