What The Tortured Poets Teach Us

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Eva Amurri shares What The Tortured Poets Teach Us

I know I wasn’t the only woman who waited with bated breath for The Tortured Poet’s Department to drop, thinking it was a Joe Alwyn breakup album.  I anticipated a full run of songs detailing the complicated and sad demise of a long-term love. I knew what I expected, and I was ready. I thought there would be some songs that I could relate to as a divorced woman who put a lot into my marriage and was devastated when it didn’t last. But, as I listened to the album for the first time, something felt off.  This wasn’t a Joe breakup album at all. This was a furious recounting of a woman scorned. And who was she scorned by? A tortured Poet, an on-again off-again “Situationship”, a Twin Flame who burned her badly.  THE Taylor Swift had been ghosted by somebody she gave a second chance to. I was shocked. We all were. The man she had written almost 32 songs about had seemed to the public like a brief fling she cast aside almost as soon as the affair began.

As I listened more to the album, I realized that this all sounded eerily familiar.  I leaned in closer, with millions of other women, as we heard Taylor recount an experience far too many of us have had.  Because, unfortunately, most of us have dated a Matty Healy. Not THE Matty Healy, of course, but that same cartoon character. The misunderstood artist, The viper with bedroom eyes, The best friend who needs you to fix him, the Broken Doll. Or, why don’t I speak for myself now: I DATED HIM. And I’ll tell you something I didn’t know until years later: the disappointment of him saved my life.

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As I’ve listened more and more to Taylor’s latest album, the similarities to my own experience are astounding. And, as the success of the album shows, I’m not the only one feeling a connection to this certain type of ill-fated heartbreak. The kind that feels world-shattering and against-destiny.  The back-and-forth, the promises and abandonment, the dedication to saving somebody you love so much that it becomes like a vow you take.

I dated somebody in High School, let’s call him Bobby. Let’s not even call it dating, it was almost more like a kid version of a Situationship. We were both kind of nerdy, both academic, both fairly social, but both pretty shy in certain ways. I felt like I knew him deeply even without knowing him that well.  I felt protective of him. There was just something about him that had occupied my full attention and also drew the caretaker out in me. He seemed to understand something in me that I didn’t actively share with others. There was some kind of tacit exchange of truths whenever we interacted. Other peers of ours could tell, too, and they teased us for it. Instead of being embarrassed, I was hooked.

We lost touch for a while after High School Graduation, and then throughout College, he kept coming in and out of touch with me.  Just when I started dating somebody or talking to somebody new, he would sense that somehow and reach out. It was just barely enough to always feel like a surprise. Then, when I would begin to reciprocate the attention and show my cards on the table, he would pull away.  It was a classic move of somebody seeking attention, but that’s not what I told myself. I made up my mind that our connection was too strong and it made him nervous, that he wasn’t ready to commit now to what was probably an “endgame” type of relationship. One time, junior year, it even went so far as for me to book a flight to see him after lots of talking until the day arrived to leave and he hadn’t responded to my last ten messages over the last week, and I realized that he had done it again. I laugh out loud now when I think about how completely I believed that we were destined to be together. When he ghosted me time and time again, I was devastated. I was humiliated. But I couldn’t ever figure out a way to feel angry at him.

Girlfriends I had known since high school thought I was crazy for holding this flame for him. He was a lost little lamb, a desperately intelligent boy with an axe to grind and a life of potential to piss away. They thought he was a lost cause. But, holding a flame was exactly what it felt like. Even though I loved others (and even had long-term relationships) in college, I felt like the keeper of a lighthouse, tending to this flame for Bobby that I casually kept burning. Just in case. Sometimes in happy moments or during milestones, he’d pop into my mind. I’d wonder what he was doing, if he was well, wondered if he ever thought about me.  Then, inevitably I’d get a text message or some kind of intoxicated (probably) email, and my suspicions would be confirmed: he did think of me! Or that’s what I told myself, instead of the admission that I was an obvious target for his insecurities. He knew I was all in. But why was I?! Even I couldn’t figure it out at the time.

Then, after college, he reached out in a way that seemed more substantial. He wanted to meet up this time. And then, he SHOWED UP. Suddenly, after four years of ghosting and broken promises, we were sitting next to each other at a bar, drinking beer. I remember feeling so ecstatically happy that night, so vindicated, so whole.  As somebody with serious abandonment issues (that’s a different blog post, but related. Duh), this guy finally showing up for me reignited the vow I had made in my mind to him. This was it. Our chance at this life together was happening! I was twenty-two, and so naive. We continued spending time together, and it was like every fantasy of happiness I had been imagining since high school.  Just like Taylor so perfectly put it, he was Chaos, he was Revelry, he was my Wild Boy, and I was taking care of him as I had always promised myself I would. And I was obsessed with him.

Before I knew it, I was his girlfriend. I WAS HIS GIRLFRIEND! We made promises to each other, that looking back I see were mostly mine and not his. I would drive over four hours to see him where he was living at the time. I would hang out with his friends, I would do pathetically domestic things like clean his bathroom and cook dinner for his roommates, and ignore the warning flags of a young guy living a time of his life that was allergic to commitment.

Then, every so often he’d do something that pulled me in even deeper, like send me a care package when I had the flu of things to cheer me up. I convinced myself that our love story was now so much better for all of the heartache that had come with it. If you’re embarrassed for me at this point in the story, I don’t blame you.  I’m embarrassed for me. But goddamn it, American Media had taught me that in a true romance, there has to be some conflict, some uphill battle, some drama before the “Happily Ever After.” And wasn’t that what this was? If we were together forever, wouldn’t the embarrassment be worth it?

Well, friends, it only got worse. After about five months of being in a relationship, including an International vacation (which I paid for LOL) he fully ghosted me. AGAIN. First, he disappeared for five days, during which time I couldn’t track down his whereabouts at all, or get in touch with him. Then, when he finally called me back, I demanded that he immediately come over so he could explain himself and we could talk. He showed up at my door, sat down on my couch, and without even looking at me told me he couldn’t do this anymore. I was so confused and asked him to explain himself further. He just got up, and walked out the door, and I never heard from him again.  I tried calling, I tried emailing, I did everything I could think of to get him to answer my calls so I could get some kind of explanation, any kind of explanation. But I never got one. I even ended up having to get a full panel of STD testing because I was smart enough to suddenly realize that he had never been committed to me in our relationship the way that I had been.

It was the most lonely, heartbreaking, and devastating experience I had ever had. I spent weeks in bed. My friends had to come over and put me in the shower, bring me food, and open my curtains so I wasn’t in the dark for days at a time. When I finally emerged, it was only to put a mask on as a functioning person. I smiled, I went out to clubs and bars, I dated people if they wanted to date me. But, for the better part of a year, I lived in absolute heartbreak. Everything reminded me of him, and also reminded me that I hadn’t been enough for the person I wanted more than anyone else.  Now that it was so obvious how he felt about me, it felt like I was mourning the death of what I expected my life to look like. I felt like I had truly lost my other half.

Now, I’m the farthest thing from a songwriter, but if you have listened to any part of The Tortured Poets Department, you are definitely listening to exactly what I was thinking and feeling during that part of my life. Almost verbatim. If I’m honest, It probably took me two full years to recover completely, and it wasn’t until I met Kyle (my ex-husband) that I was able to spend time with a man and not have Bobby in the back of my mind.

But I’m not writing this to randomly share one of my life’s most pathetic and heartbreaking sagas. I’m writing it because a month ago, a Pop music album dropped that proved that sometimes relationships find their way to you and blow up your life so completely for one very specific reason: YOU NEED THEM TO.  I don’t know Taylor Swift personally, obviously, but I can speak to my own experience of twin-flame delusions of grandeur. Of feeling a fated pull to someone who holds you in such low regard that they break promises, let you down, and disappear.

Because, friends, it has taken me 17 years to realize that all this boy was doing was holding up a mirror. He was such a ghost, that he allowed me to see exactly what I wanted to see, to project my deepest fantasies and my wildest insecurities against a living and breathing person that I could worship.  The flame I was holding all along was the flame I was desperately holding for my Girlhood. I wasn’t ready to let it go, I wasn’t ready to move forward into all of the new horrors that awaited an adult life vulnerably lived.  Every time I wanted to hide, all I had to do was love him more, chase him more, lay down more and let him walk all over me.  And then, guess what? It wasn’t my fault for not growing up, it was his fault for not loving me.

I look back at the version of myself who didn’t see the forest for the trees, and I want to hug her and slap her in the face. I want to promise her that he will stay just the same as he ever was, and she will do the work on herself that will finally, relievedly, allow her to look for love in the graceful places. One of life’s greatest ironies is that some of the relationships that effect us the most deeply (romantic, friendship, work, or otherwise) are in reality just a blip on the radar for the other person in the scenario.  What was a years-long lesson for me, I’m absolutely sure is something he never even thinks about. There’s something beautiful and comical about that. It shows that our minds have the most incredible ways of building cities and monuments of our own greatest fears, and calling them a fantasy.  We end up worshipping at the feet of an idol who doesn’t even see us there. Some may find that thought depressing, but I find it beautiful.

My relationship with Bobby taught me how deep my capacity for love is, and how completely I can devote myself.  Picking the wrong target for love is not a waste. Instead, it prepared me for the joy that happens when you pick the right one.  It gave me the context for the work I had to do on myself, and it broke me so deeply that I actually had to do it.  I’ll always be grateful, and a little amused, that he’s the one who showed me that.  As Taylor sings in Fortnight, “All of this to say I hope you’re okay, but you’re the reason.” And to all the other Girlies out there surviving their “Reason”, Congratulations: you’ve overcome the hardest part of the beginning.


Photographs by Julia Dags | Copyright © 2024 Happily Eva After, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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  1. Amanda says:

    Wow. ❤️.

    05.17.24 Reply
  2. Casey says:

    Well this hits close to home! Your vulnerability here finally put words to the feelings I was having. Thank you as always for your honesty and openness to share. ❤️

    05.17.24 Reply
  3. Rebecca says:

    Wow, it sounds like you were dating Mr. Big from Sex and the City. He was never emotionally available to Carrie and always managed to show up when she was finally happy in a relationship with someone else. I’m glad that you found Kyle, and even though your marriage didn’t work out, you’re still able to be friends and get along for the sake of your children. There’s something really beautiful about that. All the choices you made along the way and all the heartbreak you experienced eventually led you to Ian, and I hope that your marriage with him will bring you much happiness, laughter, and comfort.

    05.17.24 Reply
  4. Michelle says:

    Eva! Wow…so raw and so very relatable for many of us as we look back at our younger selves and even older selves who thought we’d never allow it again.

    “And then, guess what? It wasn’t my fault for not growing up, it was his fault for not loving me”….that’s the part that maturity and hindsight reveal ❤️

    Thank you…now I’m going to listen to TTPD again with a new appreciation

    05.17.24 Reply
  5. Sarah says:

    Great read.
    Where is he now?

    05.17.24 Reply
  6. Taylor says:

    Beautifully written and thoughtful. I think so many of us can relate to that story and the lessons we learned. We are stronger for it.

    05.17.24 Reply
  7. Natalie says:

    Eva, This may be my favorite blog post you’ve ever written. Thank you for sharing something so deeply personal and poignant that many (if not all) women can relate to…myself included. I have never sought out a Taylor Swift album before to listen to…but after all of the reviews, I decided maybe this was the album to turn me into a soft Swiftie. And it’s done just that. There are songs I listen to on this album, and I see the girl of my past (and sometimes my present) trying to navigate the muddy waters of life and love. An anthology of all the heartbreak we have all experienced laid out so beautifully it nearly makes you cry…thank you again for sharing, and for your authenticity always. 🩷

    05.17.24 Reply
  8. Sharon says:

    Your story, while very upsetting to have gone through, I’m sure, just confirms my impression that Taylor Swift really targets very young women as her audience with her songs about love and betrayal and breakups and disloyal boyfriends. I am still confused about older experienced women who love her songs. She doesn’t write songs that sound like a 34 year old woman who is obviously very smart and experienced in life’s challenges.

    05.17.24 Reply
    • Deb says:

      I think you couldn’t be more wrong. I have seen divorced 50 something friends in the same situation. The “I can fix him” mentality has no age limits.

      05.19.24 Reply
  9. Cari says:

    “It wasn’t my fault for not growing up, it was his fault for not loving me.”

    Giiiiiiiiirl….. 🙌🏼👏🏼 🎯

    05.18.24 Reply