A few years ago I had just graduated college and I was unemployed living off my parents in New York City. I developed a crush on someone, Bill, from my hometown in Texas. I met him on a vacation and he was incredibly sweet. He was sensitive and liked me.
In the Age Of Fuckboys, it’s hard to find someone who actually says they like you. I fell for him and my infatuation with him continued after the vacation. His did not.
The last time I saw him I was drunk and tried to kiss him. He pushed me away, said “you are embarrassing yourself” and left me crying on the floor of my kitchen. The next morning I woke up, still very drunk, and overcome with shame. I considered texting him to tell him to leave me alone forever and that I hated him. Because pre-emptive texts saying you never want to text them again make a lot of sense, right?
Instead, I listened to the song “Payphone” by Maroon 5, a band that I didn’t particularly like, on repeat.
Maroon 5 is not a very good band. Every single Maroon 5 song sounds exactly the same. It belongs on the radio at a department store or a Subaru commercial, nobody really chooses to listen to Maroon 5. Maroon 5 just simply is.
Whenever a Maroon 5 song came on the radio, sensitive artist type Bill acted like God was personally insulting him. He was a hipster and I guess hipsters have to be a dick about pop music or they’ll be kicked out of the club. To my knowledge, he had no opinion about Maroon 5 specifically, but to me Maroon 5 was the pinnacle of derivative pop music manufactured for your product-placement pleasure. Maroon 5 was a symbol of everything Bill hated. After the seminal “you are embarrassing yourself” Bill moment, I didn’t reach out to him. I didn’t try to talk. I just started listening to a shitload of Maroon 5.
It was an active rebellion towards my sadness. I was bummed about Bill and I was bummed about my life but listening to Maroon 5 was funny and safe. More importantly, I knew that Bill would be so annoyed if he knew how much pop music I was listening to.
Usually when somebody dumps you, there are negative consequences and your life becomes a race to get over feeling any sort of way about your ex. Introducing Maroon 5 to my life felt positive. It was a silly thing. It was fun. Maybe I was being ironic but I didn’t really care. I wrote really bizarre Adam Levine fanfiction. Maroon 5 helped me cope. I was broadening my horizons! I was not an Up My Own Ass Pretentious Artsy Fuck like Bill. It felt really good to be unashamed about Maroon 5, something Bill would be so ashamed of. It helped me feel unashamed about our entire relationship. It helped me let go of Bill.
Six weeks after I finally got over Bill, I fell in love for the first time with another sensitive artsy type, Daniel. To say that it didn’t go well is an understatement. He was kind of insane, like maybe he would be Charles Manson if he had clarity of vision and way more dedication. That kind of insanity makes for great sex but awful everything else.
He was constantly hassling me for eating meat, or watching TV, or whichever behavior of mine wasn’t spiritual that week. One time I started sobbing in my car when he told me he was becoming a Rastafarian. It was just so fake, how he grasped for anything even remotely Truthful. Post-Rasta, he really started to lose it. He wanted to move to Europe and find himself. I didn’t want him to go but it was important to him and when you’re in love that matters. His absence didn’t stop him from texting me, calling me, still pretty much acting like we were in a relationship, it was confusing and incredibly upsetting.
So I started listening to Jay-Z, another musician I don’t particularly like. I liked Jay-Z when I was younger but then he made Magna Carta Holy Grail into what was basically a Samsung ad. I thought Jay-Z sold out in a big way and that his music was mediocre at best. When Daniel and I were sort-of-dating-who-knows I started listening to a lot of Jay-Z. Another act of rebellion.
Daniel was all about spiritualism, casting off all his worldly possessions and eating broccoli. Jay-Z is all about hoarding money, buying expensive headphones and eating two bites of expensive cheese only to throw the rest away.
It helped me not lose my damn mind when Daniel sent prolific texts about how close to God he was now that he had smoked weed in Morocco. I revelled in the other-ness of Jay-Z. I began to appreciate him in a different way. His materialism almost felt religious because he had earned it. It was more about the journey of his life from Marcy Projects to Beyonce than bringing back the Concorde. His fascination with cars, money and bitches hoisted me out of the hell pit of pseudo-spirituality that was making me hate myself. Once again, it was turning something horrible (coping with my super hot but also super shitty ex) into something fun (I DON’T POP MOLLY I ROCK TOM FORD).
I never thought I would be the type of girl who is an “on-and-off relationship.” I thought those were for weak, indecisive people. However, I learned that love is more complicated than that. Sometimes it takes two or three goes of it to realize that you should never make a go of it ever again. So after two or three seemingly identical break-ups featuring both of us hooking up with each other’s best friends, it was really over. (author’s note: I mean, I can’t predict the future but at press time it’s VERY over)
Daniel hates Billy Joel. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because Daniel grew up in Westchester and if you live in the tri-state area you either love Billy Joel or hate him. And hated him Daniel did. I guess a lot of people my age don’t like him? I personally enjoy “Piano Man” and I don’t care who knows it.
Yes, he is lame, but his lameness is part of what makes him so great. Have you seen the video for Uptown Girl? It’s hilarious. Billy is just this genuine unpretentious dude. He is maybe the least offensive person on Planet Earth. He is just a dweeb who just likes riding a tiny motorcycle, playing piano and chilling in Oyster Bay. He makes me feel better about the entire world, not just Daniel.
If Billy Joel exists somewhere, dancing on his piano at Madison Square Garden, then the world is a safe place. It means that not everything is complicated, scary and dangerous. Yeah, there will be bad relationships and boyfriends who watch Holocaust documentaries at full blast when you’re trying to sleep, but Billy Joel is just chilling somewhere so how bad can it actually get? What do you think Billy Joel is doing right now? Probably watching old episodes of Scandal and enjoying a nice craft beer he made in his basement called BillyBrew. It was Billy, seeing him at Madison Square Garden, screaming “Piano Man” drunk with my arms around the strangers beside me, that got me out of the Daniel hole.
Yes, ISIS and Donald Trump and defunding planned parenthood and reality does suck I get it okay? Life sucks and heartbreak sucks and Billy Joel, Jay-Z and Maroon 5 don’t make it all better. And yes, I understand it is weird to start liking a band because it’s the polar-opposite of your ex-lover.
This music helped me though. It made my shitty break-ups into something silly, something fun, something new. When you’re heartbroken, your life is in pieces. You have to cling to new things and embrace change to stay above water. Listening to music my exes would hate put the pieces of my identity back together. It helped me realize that even though they were gone forever, it didn’t mean a part of me was gone forever too. That there was something new and fun in their absence. That feeling helped me get out of bed every morning, even though it fucking sucked, and start moving on.