Like many, I’ve spent this weekend listening (and screaming along) to Taylor Swift’s, Red (Taylor’s Version). Each song captures love in such a unique way; in Red, you sing along to the warmth and excitement of a new relationship, in Sad Beautiful Tragic you plead with Taylor to feel a love you know is too far gone to ever get back. Along with the songs we remember screaming along to in our pre-teens, Taylor also added ten (!) vault songs. Of these, one caught my attention the most: Better Man.
In Better Man, Taylor writes of a man she knows doesn’t deserve her. A man who plays games, and doesn’t appreciate all that she does for him. This knowledge, however, doesn’t come without pain, and a longing for what could’ve been. Though this song can definitely be seen as about a relationship, it struck me in its resemblance to broken family relationships that many of us know all too well (no pun intended).
In the very beginning of the song, Taylor sings, “I see the permanent damage you did to me. Never again, I just wish I could forget when it was magic.” The duality of knowing someone who hurt you and changed you for the worse, but still continuing to miss them and the fun you had is something I personally relate to with my family members. Growing up, you are often not aware of just how bad situations can be. You notice the small things. Like, a mean comment at dinner, or being commanded rather than asked to do something, but you don’t notice how those things play out on a grander scale. I know that things in my own childhood still have an effect on me today. Something as small as someone raising their voice can edge me into withdrawal, unable to talk for a little bit. Even though I have been lucky in my general relationships, the things you learn to do in childhood stick with you – the permanent damage Taylor sings about.
Later on in the song, Taylor continues to miss the person who hurt her so badly, saying, “I wish it wasn’t 4am, standing in the mirror saying to myself: you know you had to do it. I know the bravest thing I ever did was run.” The last line of that lyric made me cry the first time I heard it. Taylor just so perfectly captures the feeling of knowing you are better off without them, but still finding it so incredibly hard to break free. Especially in closer family relationships, that separation can be hard to ever fully achieve. I know that growing up, I’ve always told myself that upon turning 18, I would allow myself to completely separate from the people in my life that caused me pain. But now, at 19, I am still in contact with them. Growing completely separate is something I would definitely like to achieve, but it is difficult. I feel guilty. Often, I feel more guilty after talking to them than feeling free from under their thumb. But I remind myself that it’s important to put myself first, too. Sometimes, the bravest thing you can ever do is run. Though it may seem difficult, and trust me, it will, it is self-empowering to always remember that you are not the people in your life that cause you pain, and your guilt is not a sign to stay.
The last lyric that stuck out to me was this, “I hold onto this pride because these days it’s all I have.” Physically leaving, and/or mentally separating yourself from harmful situations is hard. But there is power in doing so. Leaving situations you have grown up in can be especially hard when they are all you have ever known. I know that personally, sometimes I will see my family reflected in a picture I take, or a stranger will walk past who looks a little too close to someone I know. When this happens, I will pause. I won’t let myself freak out. I’ll remind myself that I’m further away than I’ve ever been from bad memories, and I will only grow stronger. Hold onto the pride of knowing you are moving forward. Even if there are days where it feels like you’re right back where you were in the beginning. Hold onto the pride and know that you are doing the bravest thing you could possibly be doing.