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I’ve always loved your song “Breathe.” You wrote about a girl driving away from her best friend’s house knowing the relationship was over.
“It’s the kinda ending you don’t really want to see,” you sang. And I have to agree. When female friendships disintegrate, it’s a painful goodbye. But that’s what I’m here to do today. I’m here to say goodbye.
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I was a sophomore in high school in 2006 when I first discovered your music. I had gone into my school’s library and grabbed an Us Weekly and was hiding in a corner, flipping through the magazine in an attempt to escape the overwhelming halls of my school, when I first spotted your face on your debut album cover. You were featured as an “artist to watch.” Wow, she’s my age, I thought. How cool that she writes her own music.
I was never into country music in high school, but somehow in my junior year I found myself listening to “Tim McGraw” on repeat. I had recently broken up with my first boyfriend, and the sentiment of your first single stuck with me.
I, too, desperately wished my first love would remember me forever. Could I really go from being his everything to just some girl he once knew? Like you, I was desperate for him to never truly get over me.
The December after I graduated high school, you and I both turned 19. Your second album, Fearless, had just been released. You had matured in those years since your sweet-as-sugar-with-a-hint-of-childish-revenge debut album: You now acknowledged there’s no such thing as a man saving you in “White Horse;” you spoke about the pain of seeing your best friend being used for sex and then discarded in “Fifteen;” and you acknowledged the draw of dating a toxic person simply for the addictive highs and lows in “The Way I Loved You.”
I, too, was beginning to understand the complexity sex brings to relationships, making sense of my teen years, and becoming drawn to the ups and downs of infatuation — mistaking it for love.
We were both 20 when your next album, Speak Now, was released.
You showed that you were no longer naive to the fact that adults could be cruel, petty humans in “Mean.” In “Dear John,” you discovered the pain of loving someone who couldn’t quite decide if they wanted to be with you, and in “Last Kiss,” you finally understood that someone can change their mind about you no matter what promises were made.
If your first album was about discovering love, your third album was about understanding it — a sobering awakening. The realization that when it comes to love there are no promises, only blind faith. This was my personal trajectory, too.
While listening to “Mean,” I’d question the cruel behavior of a teacher I had, and I suddenly understood “Last Kiss” when a boy broke it off with me — one who’d long been sending me mixed signals. You sang, “I’ll go sit on the floor wearing your clothes / All that I know is I don’t know how to be something you miss.”
You and me, we were on the same path.
My senior year of college, you released Red. For both of us, it would be the album that ushered us into adult love. You started dating a guy in his 30s, as did I. Wasn’t it amazing? The high of being with someone you never thought you could have? Until, all of a sudden, it wasn’t. They didn’t want us anymore. I suppose the novelty wore off.
And then, we did what many girls try to do in their 20s: We tried to tame an emotionally unavailable man. On the 1989 track “Out of the Woods,” you were praying for some clarity in a relationship that could never be defined.
I was so unsure about how this guy I was madly in love with felt about me, just like you were. I was addicted to the masochistic “are we/aren’t we” of it.
“Break up with him,” my mom would say. But I couldn’t. I wanted him to do it. I’d pray to feel detoxed, healed like you did in your wise-beyond-your-years, album-closing “Clean.” That song finally gave me a little push to break it off with him.
I was so stunned by your artist achievement and maturity on 1989 that I was sure your next album – especially after three years off – would blow me out of the water. I assumed you would emerge from your time away stripped bare and ready to share with us your sabbatical of self-reflection, the true you.
It made sense to me, since we’d always been on parallel tracks. From 25 to 27, I had some major Oprah aha moments. I realized there’s no sense in being a victim in my own story, so I reached out and made amends with the boy who’d broken my heart.
I had played a major part in the dysfunction of the relationship, I now realized. I understood jealousy was dangerous, so I worked hard to learn how to lift up other women instead of competing with them. I stopped placing high expectations on people only so that they could let me down and I could blame them for my pain.
And it wasn’t just me. All my girlfriends were experiencing these same emotional leaps, and it made me proud to know them. I couldn’t wait for your take on this at-times painful, but freeing, late-20s growth spurt.
I was ready for your Kesha-esque revival, but it never came.
Instead, we got finger-pointing at a celebrity feud you definitely took part in escalating. We got another strategically manufactured, inauthentic persona that’s trying way too hard.
And we got fifth-grade lyrics trying to prove you’re a bad girl — but all we wanted was you, the real girl.
What happened, T?
I know you can’t come to the phone right now to hear this, but I have a feeling you wouldn’t have picked up for me anyway. You and I, we took separate paths somehow.
I hope we find each other again. I hope I eventually understand the pain, stress, and pressure you’ve gone through as an artist, as a human, as woman.
But until then, this is goodbye. Miss you.