The Situationship That Ended So Badly I Became a Singer-Songwriter
Reflections on yearning for love, letting it go, and making music in the meantime.
By Erin Party
Will Anybody Love Me (After I Say This)? is a monthly column on sex, love, and dating in New York.
Now that I’ve had my heartbroken by a 5’ 6” Bushwick bisexual and therefore have felt every emotion that a person can feel, I fucking hate Bob Dylan.
The obsessive pursuit of receiving monogamous romantic love from a man which has dominated a painstaking majority of my life isn’t my fault. I blame music. All the songs I heard on the radio in the back of my mother’s Volvo, while my brain was still developing, were about how love between a man and a woman is the only thing that makes life worth living. That idea seeped into my subconscious irrevocably, forcing me into a perpetual state of fight or flight, soothed only by the insistence from a boy that he loved me.
I know that it’s far better (even those in relationships would agree) to obtain love from a variety of sources—friends, family, roommates, co-workers, neighbors, pets, all conglomerating together into a semblance community—than it is to try to get all of the love you need to survive from one partner. Especially if said partner is a human being, naturally fallible and prone to disappointment and betrayal, incapable of living up to the fairy tale of unwavering unconditional love sold to us in youth as easy and natural. But in an individualist culture, I’ve found it much more difficult to build and maintain a community than it is to find a monogamous partnership.
I spent the better part of five years on the monogamy train. In those years, the dark trap of being a woman in a heterosexual relationship was illuminated to me from within. The expectations of being somebody’s “girlfriend” can look a lot like mothering and feel a lot like a full-time job. Friendships fade into the background and career aspirations become unfulfilled dreams when we make romantic relationships our priority. When I finally left, I was determined not to fall victim to the sunk-cost fallacy: that just because I’d spent most of my life in pursuit of a boyfriend I had to continue searching for it. I could choose a different way to both ease my existential loneliness and continue to have consistent unprotected sex.
Enter the fateful nine-month situationship. I began a non-monogamous non-partnership with a man who I believed to be a loving and communicative person who, like me, was interested in taking a Kantian approach to sex. I call this disinterested contemplation, the idea that to objectively evaluate the aesthetics of something, one must not confuse their judgment with a fulfillment of their desire (i.e., the only way to know if an apple tastes good is to eat it when you’re not hungry). We could appreciate each other’s aesthetic qualities while never actually needing each other, which could only serve to blur our judgment and lead to codependency. We signed a metaphorical at-will contract that outlined a mutual exchange of love and affection which could be terminated by either party at any time, no harm, no foul.
The only problem was this: When it came to love, I was starving. The apple (BDSM and a Nintendo Switch) tasted so fucking amazing I could no longer picture my life without it. I violated the contract. I fell in love. I was determined to prove my worth to him as a partner until he felt the same way that I did. I had been in therapy for years, so I understood plainly that he had an avoidant attachment style and I also understand that women-persons (I’m recently she/they) have a tendency to mature faster than men.
Being aware of this, I could overcome the obstacle of his emotional unavailability. I could not only accept the cognitive dissonance between his words and his actions and sympathize with his inability to reconcile them, but embrace it. In Communion: The Female Search for Love bell hooks explains, “We may even experience the constant tension between these two different value systems— a man who has chosen to avoid intimacy and a woman who desires intimacy— as stimulating” and this situationship, for me, proved to be equally as stimulating as my previous cocaine addiction and current Solidcore pilates addiction.
9 months I spent loving him: 2 months “I like you,” 4 months “I love you,” 3 months “exclusive,” 1 month “let’s move to Montana,” 1 day “I can’t do this anymore,” Leaving me sucker punched and completely empty, he was off to find someone better. Not better in general, but better for him, which is the same thing. No matter how hard I cried or begged, he couldn’t stay to hold me through it. Not for long anyway,he had lunch plans in Manhattan. I was left wailing on my own wondering how I’d let myself get in so deep, why I was so unlovable, and if I was truly incapable of achieving the dream of monogamous heterosexual courtship I’d been conditioned to want more than anything. To escape any chance of running into him on a first date walking through Maria Hernandez Park over the summer, I took a job on set in New Orleans and hopped a flight unaware of the force yet to come which would heal my heartbreak.
The word heartbreak itself is a gaslight, because even when you’re about to throw yourself off the rooftop of a 2-star hotel in New Orleans just to escape the pain of the loss you’ve endured, your heart still sits in your chest taunting you with its ceaseless beating, undeniably unbroken. To be openly heartbroken is an already embarrassing admission of your desperation for love and your inability to maintain it, which does not embody the highly evolved GirlBossQueen energy I’d sought to maintain since my first breakup. To be openly heartbroken over a person who never even admitted to being my boyfriend was total humiliation.
At work, I found myself unable to control my random bouts of sobbing. I was overcome with a grief so terrible it appeared to the cast and crew that my partner had died. But of course, it was much worse than that. He was alive and he just didn’t want to be with me. I was fortunate to find in my coworkers people who were older and wiser than me, who could easily identify what I was going through and could explain that heartbreak is not a metaphor and is a specific trauma-induced experience that at times feels like dying.
It was in this perpetual state of not dying but feeling like I was dying, half a country away from my community of friends who’d never supported the relationship to begin with, that I turned to the very thing which initiated my suffering from the beginning: music. Some 55 years after their debut, I began listening to the so-called greatest songwriters of all time, Bob Dylan and Townes Van Zandt. And they were gaslighting me.
The first time I heard “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” I was sobbing in the bathtub. It was like I could hear my ex-non-monogamous-non-partner cooing to me in his calm measured big boy voice that ‘it ain’t no use to sit and wonder why, babe / if you don’t know by now’. How dare he say the countless hours I’d spent sitting and wondering why, babe, were of no use? Worse still, was Townes Van Zandt who wrote a song about a woman who pleads with him to comfort her to stay with her, after the ending of their relationship. To him, her cries of pain are confusing, “maybe she just has to sing for the sake of the song”.
I’d already blocked my ex-non-monogamous-non-partner on Instagram so the blurry image I had left of him in my memory morphed seamlessly into the faceless folk singers my Spotify algorithm was feeding me. When I heard my ex/Townes Van Zandt say “She’d like to think I was cruel / but she knows that’s a lie / for I would be no more than a tool / if i allowed her to cry all over me” I screamed his name so loudly someone knocked on my hotel room door to check on me.
It wasn’t wrong of me to believe that even though my ex-non-monagmous-non-partner didn’t write these songs per se, he was embodied in the collective consciousness the lyrics invoked. Nietchze, in The Birth of Tragedy, made distinctions between the more logical Appolinian forms of art, which rationally separate people and their subjective experiences from ideas and their objective forms, and the Dionysian tradition, in which the impact of the art is so emotional that the lines between self and the form are blurred entirely. Folk music, he explains, is especially Dionysian. When the lyric poet sings the word “I” they refer not to themselves specifically, but to the unified collective consciousness.
Framing my heartbreak in this lens allowed me to see clearly how our Appolinian approach to lovemaking was from the beginning going to be impossible to reconcile with the Dionysian nature of love. Seeing that I was inevitably bound to devolve into madness, I was able to embrace it. I began to look around for signs. When I heard Bob Dylan croon to me, “so long honey bee”, I found it. I began to see honeybees everywhere; on the cover of my notebook, somehow trapped in my windowless hotel room, on the tattoo sleeve of a man I brought there one night, in the tarot readings I watched on TikTok.
I read the wikipedia page on honeybees. Did you know that any egg in the hive can become a Queen, they are chosen at random and fed a royal jelly so sugary and sweet that they grow up capable of rearing thousands of babies from thousands of fathers? The title of Queen is a misnomer, and I identified with her plight. As Fight Club put best, “Worker bees can leave. Even drones can fly away. The Queen is their slave.”
Dionysus himself was raised on honey from bees in a dark cave. Bob Dylan and Townes Van Zandt made art inspired by the sweet suffering of their partners. I no longer wanted to be a slave to my desperate need to be called “honey” by a man who had left me for the open road. Suddenly, it all made sense.
bell hooks said, “[Women] can all speak of our longing for power. Our longing for love must be kept secret. To give voice to such longing is to be counted among the weak, the soft.” It occurred to me that songwriting was the perfect medium in which I could long for love out loud, but disguise it as a longing for power. The commercial success of a heartbreak album would give purpose to my pain and in the process, would garner me so much wealth and admiration that I would no longer need the love that broke my heart. Like all the female songwriters that came before me, I would be called a Queen. With just one Grammy award-winning single I would go from heartbroken to heartbreaker. So, I got out my guitar. I bought a midi keyboard. I took vocal lessons. I wrote folk lyrics. I was no longer embarrassed by my desperation for love but empowered by it, because it was the sticky sweet honey of my heartbreak that was fueling my creativity.
My album is still forthcoming, indefinitely. My fingers are too small to play the guitar very well. But mark my words that when it’s done (if it’s ever done), it will be better than anything Bob Dylan ever fucking wrote.
If you think you might love me after I’ve said this, find me online.