….how often does country music speak the truth to life?
I’ve been obsessed with Cole Swindell’s song, “Break Up in the End” because I think it so perfectly captures the workings of the memory; it is like, in his memory, he is re-watching old home videos of their relationship together–reeling each vibrant experience and reliving his favorite memories–and holding each one for the value they possess.
What’s often difficult in these times of loss is a feeling of ‘regret’ and ‘wasted time’ and ‘why didn’t I’–“I should have seen the red flags sooner, I feel like such an idiot that I wasted so much time”, “I wish I would not have spent all of that money on that anniversary gift if this is what was going to happen anyways”, “I’m mad at myself for letting it get that far”. So often, when we look back on a relationship, we focus on the ‘bad things’ that happened (mostly, probably because the last memories we have OF that relationship are ones of emotional trauma, uncertainty, and grief), that we let those memories package up our entire relationship–we neglect to see the good things that came out of it–the fond memories, the personal growth, the opportunity to experience those butterflies of being in love. But, I love how, in this song, Cole Swindell is able to reflect back on those fond memories and I think BECAUSE he can see the value in those experiences, albeit as painful as they may be, he can still say, “I’d do it over and over, again and again” (and, rhetorically, I also love how he begins the song with NOT the bad memories–that he begins his reflection reel with his favorite ones, and a very minor part of the song IS the emotional turmoil of breaking up).
I think you have come to a very mature place in healing from your break up when you can hold these memories for the value they possess, to recognize their individual significance in your life, but to also recognize that it was once a part of you that can never go away, but to also recognize that the relationship is not part of your future self (it is one of those tensions of being human–the conflicting desires between the past and present, what’s best for me and what I actually want, of the necessity of living with wounds, as painful at they may be). The memories–running into her at the bar, introducing her to his parents, playing his favorite song–are still things that exist–moments he can go back in time at any point in his memory and revisit the feelings of infatuation, of intoxication with each other, of the very joyful feelings of ‘being in love’ –those moments are static, unchanging, still relevant, and just because they “break up in the end” does not mean those memories have to be erased, wiped away, he must pretend like they never existed.
This song, to me, argues for the power of memory (one of the very beautiful aspects of being human). Of course, our memories can definitely possess some really unwanted films that we try really hard to repress and to not revisit, but I think we can also learn to use our memories to our advantages as well. We can reconstruct our memories–reposition ourselves in different locations, through different lenses–for a more healthy status. But, for Cole, it seems like he wants to keep his memories the same. He wants to continue watching himself stumble into the bar, he still wants to watch his parents disagree when “when I say you’re moving in”, and he would still attribute his favorite song to her so that now, “Now all I hear is you in it, but I’d still let you ruin it”.
…which also demonstrates an accurate view of the memory–when we attach a memory (something that is intangible, unseen, abstract) to a concrete object. People, places, things–restaurants, movies, songs–our relationships carry physical relics of our time together. Once we’ve reached the ‘break up’ phase, we are often so quick to reject those memories–to stop talking to those people, to avoid driving by those places, to throw out those things–that we, again, prevent ourselves from marinating in the value they possess. In retrospect, we might say, “I can’t ever drive by that place again because it reminds me too much of her”, or, “He’s forever ruined football for me because it’s too painful to associate”, or, “I wish I never played my favorite song for her because now I can’t ever listen to it again”, but then again, at the time and place where we cemented those physical memories with/for that person, it was done with fondness, appreciation, and joy. In the song, he doesn’t regret sharing, because even though he does hear her in it, that memory of listening to it “’til it felt like ours” was totally worth it–even if they do break up in the end…
But, my favorite part of the song? The double negative, when he sings, “I can’t not let you in”. Grammatically, we tell people never to use double negatives, but I think Cole Swindell so artfully and strategically uses it here. In the reconstruction of his memory, and in reconstructing of their relationship, this seems to be the point in which they first began their relationship, and if he wanted to, Cole could totally wipe out all of those previous memories with that one of letting her in–he could totally reconstruct that entire memory in his mind so that he does not let her in, and then erase all of the other stuff in his memory–as if, just by reconstructing that one memory of the knock on the door, none of this would never have happened (his past self, and his future self). That would be easy–to just pretend as if the relationship never existed, and he could totally do that by just recreating that one memory.
But, he can’t. Because, even though they break up in the end, he’d do it over and over, again and again (both the actual event of their relationship in the past, and the reeling of his memories that he continues to do).