I can’t listen to “better off” by Ariana Grande and “Will He” by Joji without thinking of them as breakup songs — more specifically, my breakup songs. When I hear the lyrics, all of those emotions and memories flood back into my mind instantly, and I’m immediately brought back to my freshman dorm room, sitting under purple LED lights alone on a Friday night. Music can make you feel on top of the world, but it can also remind you of the ex you’d rather forget. Yikes.
With Valentine’s Day season in full swing, some people might be stuck reflecting on past relationships. Maybe you’re single on Valentine’s Day and wishing your past partner was still celebrating with you. Maybe you’re just feeling nostalgic for a part of your past. Either way, music can help you process these feelings — so maybe it’s light your favorite Valentine’s Day candle, get cozy, and open up your favorite music streaming platform.
In honor of Valentine’s Day, I found 10 college students (with great music taste) to share the songs they associate with their exes, and the stories behind them. Take a listen, reminisce, and protect Mason* at all costs.
Genevieve*, 19: “Life is Not the Same” by James Blake
“I dated this person on and off for roughly five years. Each attempt we made to make it work, I would extend myself fully, making sacrifices and giving to them without a second thought. But this person, despite being public with other people in between our relationship, could never commit privately or publicly to me. It severely destroyed my self-image, so much so that without the action of devoting myself to them, I did not know who I was or what my purpose was. I felt like I needed to be with them or I could not exist fully. It definitely shaped me, as cliche as that is.”
Sean, 21: “Cinderella” by Mac Miller
“It’s the unmistakable euphoria of starting to fall in love. I feel like, in that song, Mac totally nails the anticipation of being on the cusp of something special. Let’s say, hypothetically, you liked someone a lot, more and more every day as you discovered everything there was to discover about her. Neither of you had acted on anything and the tension drove you crazy. Then, finally, you act on it. That cathartic release and euphoria that carried over afterwards — it’s all you think about. It changes you in all the right ways. Call it a honeymoon phase if you’re a cynic; I call it falling in love.”
Sarah*, 21: “If the World Was Ending” by JP Saxe
“Our relationship ended up getting really toxic. But at the end of the day, I still loved him so much that if he was the last person standing on Earth, I was convinced I would still pick him.”
Grant, 21: “Going to California” by Led Zeppelin
“I first listened to the song when I was driving to see family for Christmas. I made a point to listen to as much Led Zeppelin as I could to impress her. I had a huge crush on this girl. And when I heard the song, it just really resonated with me. We’d listen to that album on vinyl when we were together. And I still love the song, but it’s more of a painful memory than a melancholy afterthought. My perception of her and that relationship changed a lot after we broke up, but regardless of what happened, the joy and happiness that was shared between us and that song was something special.”
Becky*, 21: “Sad, Beautiful, Tragic” by Taylor Swift
“Because I’m dramatic. I’m a Pisces. You get it.”
Ivy, 20: “traitor” by Olivia Rodrigo
“Between the months of January and July in 2019, my boyfriend of over three years at the time would talk to girls from a Twitter anime community at three in the morning, after telling me he was going to bed at like, 11:00, with hearts and all. Once I found out, he decided to make a second account that he didn’t tell me about so he could continue to talk to these girls. And when I found out again and brought it up, he would essentially gaslight me and tell me that I was being dramatic and claim that I didn’t trust him. ‘traitor’ was the song I needed after that breakup because, although he wasn’t physically cheating, the lying mixed with the late hours and hiding the conversations felt like cheating to me. So, everytime I sing that song, I do it for 17-year-old me.”
Mila*, 24: “Fashion Killa” by A$AP Rocky
“One of my exes was from Puerto Rico and everyone called him ‘Papi.’ I studied fashion, so it was only natural that ‘Fashion Killa’ was our song. ‘Mami in that Tom Ford, Papi in that Thom Browne’ was just too perfect for us.”
Maddie*, 22: “I Live for You” by George Harrison
“We never officially dated but he sent me that song and said it reminded him of me. I think he really loved me and wanted a real relationship, but I just wasn’t ready. I still listen to it sometimes, but it makes me sad because I was immature and unfair to him during the time we spent together.”
Mason*, 22: “Tomorrow Never Came” by Lana Del Rey
“I waited for this person. When they would come back from traveling after a couple of months away, they were different. And I was willing to work with that, but they chose to put themselves first and kind of just left me in the dust. Ghosted me, basically. So I just started working on myself and left it at that. And even though in the song it says, ‘If I had it my way, you’d always stay,’ there is nothing I can do now. She’s with someone else and I just have to live with it. I haven’t been the same since — insert the 17 tattoos I got and all of the places I’ve traveled — because it’s been lonely, but I wouldn’t be on the path I’m on now if that didn’t happen. So I’m thankful for that.”
Jessica*, 22: “Dreams of Losing Teeth” by Suave Punk
“I think that most people’s breakup experience involves finding songs that resonate with how they’re feeling about a person. With me, I didn’t have to find songs because I had at least three that were written about my relationship — one being ‘Dreams of Losing Teeth.’ The songs are all really bittersweet, but overall I just feel so lucky that my relationship with that person is captured in lyrics. People all really love the songs that were released to the public, ‘Dreams of Losing Teeth’ went viral, and it’s kind of just a secret with myself that I know they’re about me. Of course my close friends know and I’ve talked about it with my ex, but it’s just a special feeling I really treasure.”
If you find yourself hurting because of an ex this Valentine’s Day, you can try to process those emotions and the loss of that relationship through music. You’ll know that at least the songwriter (and these 10 students) understand what you’re going through at the moment, even if it feels like nobody else does.
*Names have been changed.
Interviews have been edited for clarity and length.