*TW: Some references to abuse
Written by Alanna Duffield
As if the uncharacteristically beautiful autumn we’re having here in the UK wasn’t enough to make us all poignant and reflective, last week, Taylor Swift released a ten-minute version of her song All Too Well, rumoured to detail the singer’s relationship with Jake Gyllenhaal which took place over ten years ago. The song, which features almost five minutes of brand-new material compared to the original 2012 version, has plunged many of us back down our own romantic memory lanes—eyes narrowed, pumpkin spiced lattes in hand.
For those that know Swift and her music well, which (according to my timeline at least) covers a surprising breadth of people, the tone of the song has changed considerably compared to its preceding version. Swift is no longer a girl looking forlornly back at love lost—this is a woman who, with the clarity of hindsight, now sees this scenario without its rosy tint.
When Swift began dating Gyllenhaal back in 2010, she was a mere 20 to his 29 years. Fast-forward to the present day and Gyllenhaal, now 40, continues to date a woman almost half his age. Where one party has grown both in age and preference, it would appear the other has not. According to the song itself, however, this is just one of many uncomfortable facets to this relationship which, this time around, Swift seems to tiptoe less carefully around.
For many of us, the only way we are able to see how toxic our past relationships were is through the passing of time and our own personal growth. It is one of the more harrowing aspects of growing up—particularly as a woman. Recognising instances that, when you were only a little older than a child, may have felt sad or shameful, you realise were sinister. But, harrowing though it may be, the only way we can fully come to terms with our past maltreatment is to revisit it.
During lockdown, I began to publish the poetry I had been writing away secretly for most of my life. I was surprised at how much I still had to say about my own toxic relationship, which lasted from the age of seventeen through to twenty-one and left me with trauma that followed me well into my mid-late twenties. Like Swift, I could now write about it with a degree of distance, discernment and, crucially, let other people hear my story. Swift gets a lot of stick for writing publicly about her former partners, but it’s the best form of therapy that I know of, aside from perhaps therapy itself. People tend to frown upon women for ‘airing their dirty laundry’ but this is usually just the patriarchy at play, telling us to keep quiet about things that are unacceptable and should be brought to light with more frequency and ferocity.
Often, toxic partners will not gift us the apologies and explanations we so desperately want in order to move on and make sense of heartbreak and abuse. But this does not make us powerless. Any one of us is capable of rewriting the narrative on our past loves, and you don’t need to be a poet or a songwriter to do it.
Sometimes, just recognising that you were too young, too forgiving, too polite can make all the difference. Sometimes, revisiting what once brought us shame and embarrassment with older, wiser eyes can show us a very different version of the truth. For me, hearing the stories of other women helped me to comprehend just how badly I was treated. Coming to understand fully what constitutes sexual assault and emotional abuse made me feel more justified in my anger and sadness. Sure, it didn’t undo what had happened to me, but it made me firm in my resolve to try not to let it happen again, and recognise those first signs of danger.
But All Too Well (10-minute version) is also a helpful reminder that it’s okay to look back at troubling relationships with fondness now and again. It’s a human response. If we were to punish ourselves every time we thought kindly or nostalgically for someone that made us miserable, we’d forever be in the dog house. What we can do, however, is recognise that these relationships are infatuating precisely because they are dangerous and therefore exciting. We can see them now for what they truly are: spliced with both passion and malice and, ultimately, not the love we deserve in the end.
In the wise, slightly altered lyrics of the modern-day Taylor Swift during her recent SNL performance, when it comes to the suffering we endured at the hands of past heartbreaks: we can “remember it”, but no longer “all too well”.
Follow Alanna HERE.