What Taylor Swift’s ‘secret engagement’ to Joe Alwyn can teach us about love – and break-ups

It’s happened: Taylor Swift and Joe Alwyn are reportedly getting married. Word is spreading via certain outlets that they got engaged in secret several months ago, and are now in the midst of planning their wedding.

That’s right. Taylor Swift, queen of the break-up song — the artist who’s always been able to reach into the deepest depths of messy, sprawling heartbreak and pull out the strands of universality and relatability before stitching them into a song that will resonate with people all over the world—seems to have found her “happy ever after”; bringing hope to anyone buckling under the unique, knife-like pain that comes from a break-up, or who’s wondering if they’ll ever (ever, ever) be able to stop thinking about their ex de ella.

To be clear: I’m not saying Taylor Swift’s reported engagement brings hope because getting engaged is the only route to moving on. There are a thousand routes to finding yourself again after a break-up, and a million paths to happiness: getting engaged (or ending up with a romantic partner at all) is just one of them.

But what Swift’s (hopefully true) engagement does show is that it’s possible for the person who’s caused so much hurt, anger and heartbreak to — eventually — leave your brain. Believe me. I’ve been there.

Listening to “All Too Well (Taylor’s Version)“, it had seemed inconceivable that Swift would one day be able to stop dwelling on the memories of her relationship with Jake Gyllenhaal (whom the song is widely accepted to be about).

Lyrics like “I might be ok but I’m not fine at all” and “I kept you like an oath” perfectly encapsulate what it’s like to carry your ex with you everywhere you go; to squeeze your eyes shut when your alarm goes off, trying to find your way back into the dream you were having where he told you he couldn’t live without you.

But years later, Swift is reportedly engaged to someone else. She’s demonstrated that it’s possible to close the door on an ex forever; and, trust me, you don’t need to get engaged in order to do that.

I should know; it took me nearly eight years to feel as though I’d finally moved on from one of my exes. I was in a show at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival when we broke up; I spent most nights crying so hard I could have choked up my spleen.

How I got through the show without collapsing from dehydration is anyone’s guess; especially because one night, I drank most of a bottle of gin at pre-drinks in an attempt to drown the steadily increasing heartache I wasn’t sure my body could hold. I threw up all over the carpet of the room I shared with another cast member and begged my friends to give me my phone so I could text my ex.

I really thought I’d never move on. Over the following years, I couldn’t shake him from my mind. Every time I went on a date, I’d compare the men sitting in front of me with my ex. I’d see if they could stick to the script he’d set out on our first date, a script I then expected all future men to memorise and perform perfectly without having read it. Invariably (and inevitably), they couldn’t: and I’d come home, shrugging to my friends that “he’s just not for me”. What I meant was: he’s not my ex-boyfriend.

Once, I said to my mum that I thought I’d always be in love with my ex. “I think it’s just something that I’ll have to live with forever,” I said to her on a walk. She didn’t say anything; I think she knew that telling me I’d be ok wouldn’t have registered. Speaking to someone in the throes of heartbreak — even if it’s ongoing heartbreak from a years-old break-up — is like trying to write a message in water. You just have to wait it out.

If anyone could identify with how I felt, it was Taylor Swift. “Back To December” may as well have been written for me. The lyrics, “It turns out freedom ain’t nothing but missing you/ Wishing I’d realized what I’d had when you were mine” were the mantra of my final year at university, when I’d wish desperately that I could transport myself back to that moment in Edinburgh — the moment when I stood in front of my ex and told him I thought we should break up — and force the words back into my mouth.

As in “Holy Ground”, I had no interest in dancing if it wasn’t with my ex. And, just like in “Red (Taylor’s Version)”, “losing him was blue like I’d never known.” In “Sad Beautiful Tragic”, time really did take its “sweet time erasing” my ex-boyfriend from my head, heart and soul.

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Swift has written about several of her exes over the years: here, I’ve just written about one of mine. But the point is: it does get better. Swift’s potential engagement news exemplifies that – and, over time, I somehow managed to move on from my ex, too. I don’t know exactly how, or why, or when, but I gradually realized that he and I aren’t right for each other.

I have no idea how Swift feels about her exes these days, but her reported engagement proves that the tears cried over an ex do run dry, and that the memories do eventually stop broadcasting themselves across the forefront of your mind.

To anyone who’s currently in the throes of heartbreak: you will be ok. I’m not writing that in water, I’m writing it here. The rumors of Swift’s engagement are living proof that it gets better – but, believe me, an engagement isn’t the only route you have to take to get there.

Not only because Swift likely moved on from her exes long before now, but because I know first hand that it’s possible to reach that point of closure, whether with a romantic partner or on your own. In fact, I know it “all too well”.


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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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