I’ve never been married, owned a house with someone, or accumulated enough assets with a partner to warrant a stressful distribution of things when things eventually go tits-up. I’ve never argued about who paid more for a credenza or how to divide the cutlery. I gained custody of my cat because it made sense for her at the time, and she’s too much of an asshole to warrant an argument anyway. All in all, the break-ups in my life have been — admin-wise — pretty stress-free.
Except for one thing. An unspoken thing. A thing which, if not dealt with properly, can morph into the same monstrous reminder of your happiest times as, say, an expensive three-seater couch or an oak dining table. You know, like, grown-up things.
I’m talking about the song. Your song. Our song.
You might have more than one song. You might have a whole album. A playlist. The entire Nike Drake discography. It might be a song you don’t even really like, but it just happened to be playing on a shitty laptop speaker while you touched faces for the first time, or a song that some DJ was playing on the radio while you waited for them to text you back. It might be a song you sang to each other, replacing the title with each other’s name. It might be a song that they sent to you in an email because they thought you’d like it and — being the predictable little protagonist you are — you did.
Obviously, all of this behaviour is disgusting and embarrassing and we should be ashamed of ourselves. But we do it — and we act like we’re the first couple in the world who had the clever idea that ‘God Only Knows’ would be our song.
Then you break up. Because you’re 22 and he’s 22 and that’s what you do when you’re 22 and your entire relationship hangs on liking Wes Anderson films and indie music. You cry and you drink and eventually, you move on, filing away the relationship as, at best, a learning experience, or at worst an anecdote.
During the mourning period, you are in very dangerous territory when it comes to your song. Do you listen to it on repeat, trying to sap every ounce of emotional resonance from something that once meant something to you? (Not recommended). Or, do you remove it from all your playlists, donate the record to a friend, and send around a text “just letting people know” that if they find themselves in possession of the aux cable at a party and they play that song you will hold them personally responsible for the emotional fallout. (Also, not recommended).
I’ve lost a lot of songs by choosing option two here, and if I could give my younger self one piece of advice, it would be to never, ever give up custody of your song.
You love this song. You loved this song before you ever met them. It was your song first, and besides, they wouldn’t even know what Neutral Milk Hotel was if it wasn’t for you. They probably don’t even remember that this is your fucking song. They’re out there walking around the city centre with ‘Oh Comely’ blaring in their headphones, oblivious to the fact that they’ve won the silent custody battle.
So, reader, I am calling for an international amnesty on Our Songs. Because really, there are two possible outcomes of reclaiming your song;
Listening to the song is painful for them too — Hooray! You’ve won custody of your song. Enjoy basking in the smug glow of a winner.
They don’t remember. Bastard.
And look, you don’t need to confront your demons by listening to songs you don’t even care about. If your first kiss was to a Nickleback number, then I’m not asking you to listen through the pain (twofold, in this case). Instead, I’m inviting you — encouraging you — to take back control of all the songs you’ve lost because you were human and you loved someone and you wanted them to love it too.
As for the songs given to you by your exes? Ask yourself — do you like this song? Do you love this song? If you had heard this song of your own volition without the help of your stupid ex, would you have loved it then? If the answer is yes, then take it. Share it with your best friend. Do something new and exciting while you listen to it. Find a new space to rediscover it. Learn something about it that they don’t know, and keep it as your own.
And crucially, remind yourself of how very basic and embarrassing you’re being.
This week’s playlist is not a collection of songs that I’ve reclaimed from past relationships — frankly, that would be too embarrassing for everyone involved. Instead, I offer a little collection of love songs that you can call your own. Claim them now, before some good-looking, mysterious type tries to fool you into thinking they invented music.
Thank you, again, for your amazing support, your patience, your kind words and messages. And to everyone who throws a few quid a month, thanks especially to you.