January 15th, 2013
It’s another guest post from my sister, Molly Free! This time she gives relationship advice to song lyrics.
Last week, as I was partway through a Glee marathon with my Mom, I found myself uncharacteristically emotional after Quinn’s rendition of the golden oldie “You Keep Me Hangin’ On”:
I wanted to jump out of my chair (well, unzip my snuggie, roll off the couch, kick some ice cream sandwich wrappers out of the way, and then stand up and shake my fist) and shout at Quinn: Stop giving away your power! Take control of your own life! (I’m not gonna lie. I also wanted to be a cheerleader again, just for a minute. But that’s another story…)
I used to think of this Supremes song as an empowering anthem of moving on-ness. But this time, I heard it differently. I heard it as a scorned woman who’s stuck in a phase of a break-up that won’t serve her. And I wanted to help.
So I’ve made myself an imaginary psychologist and I’m putting this song on my pop culture couch.
Here’s what I’d say:
Set me free, why doncha babe?
Get out my life, why doncha babe?
OK. We’re just starting off problematic. “Set me free?” This implies that he has the power to keep you or let you go. But you’re an adult. Unless you’ve filed for divorce and he won’t sign the papers, or he’s tied you to the bed and the neighbors can’t hear you scream, your freedom isn’t actually up to him. Sure, he can call you. But it’s up to you how you react to him calling. You can answer, talk to him for an hour, and then cry about it for a week. Or you could answer, tell him you’re not ready to talk yet, and hang up. Or not answer. Or change your number. Or move to Bali for a year. I know you feel powerless, but you’re not. And leaving it up to him to decide when you’re allowed to move on will just make you feel worse.
And then there’s this “why doncha babe?” business. Ignoring the poor grammar for now, asking a question is immediately a mixed message. “Set me free” implies he should leave you alone. But asking him a question implies you want him to respond.
And then, let’s say he does. What kind of answer could he possibly give you? Most likely, his answer will be “I don’t know.” But maybe it’s “I like having you around,” or “I want to keep sleeping with you when I’m lonely,” or even “I’m not sure our break-up is the right thing and I want to keep you on the hook just in case.” But do any of the answers really matter? You broke up for a reason. You’re not getting what you want, so there will be no answer that will make you happy. If there were, you’d still be together. So don’t ask. It’ll just confuse him and hurt you.
‘Cause you don’t really love me
You just keep me hangin’ on
You don’t really need me
But you keep me hangin’ on
Oh, honey. Making these accusations isn’t going to go well for you, either. The thing is, you’re just begging him to argue with you. He probably does love and need you, in his own way. After all, he was in a relationship with you, so you were filling some of his needs. And now that you’re gone, it doesn’t mean that he doesn’t wish you were still meeting those needs. So don’t give him the chance to justify himself to you, to explain how he really does love you and need you. Once again, this isn’t really the point. Even if he does, he’s still not giving you what you need, and it doesn’t feel good to you. That’s why you need space from him. And that’s enough.
Why do you keep a coming around
Playing with my heart?
Why don’t you get out of my life
And let me make a new start?
Let me get over you
The way you’ve gotten over me
And this is the clincher. “Why do you keep coming around?” Honestly, probably because you let him. It’d be nice if we all acted 100% ethically 100% of the time. But most people will do as much as they can get away with, especially if doing what’s right for you is uncomfortable for them. That’s why it’s up to you to set the boundaries. If he wants to talk to you and there are no consequences when he reaches out, why would put himself through the pain of not calling? From a survival standpoint, that’s just stupid logic on his part.
The rest of the song basically goes on this same way, calling him on his contradictions, questioning his emotions, and blaming him for her continued emotional attachment. And it’s true. He’s probably behaving badly. But, and I hate to say it, she probably is too.
The truth is, separation is painful for everyone. It doesn’t matter who dumps whom. It doesn’t matter who moves on faster, or who looks happier in public. And as much as we all would like it to be possible, there’s really no way to have the perfect break-up, where no one says anything they’ll regret, no one’s feelings get hurt, you get to stay friends, and you both move on unscathed.
No. Every break-up sucks. Everyone acts poorly part of the time. Everyone is selfish. So maybe you send letters to his mom in the hopes she’ll tell him what a mistake he’s making. And maybe he calls you or comes over even though he doesn’t want to get back together. You’re both going through a process. All you can do is set clear boundaries with him and then do your best to change the focus from what he’s doing wrong to what you can do differently.
In short, Ms. Supreme, or Quinn Fabray, or whoever, it’s time to set yourself free.