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Life lessons from Taylor Swift’s ‘Red’ (A Swiftie Version) 

By Maia Marquez Published Nov 12, 2021 5:00 am

In a recent conversation with good friends, we talked about old heartaches, and I dismissed my then-painful ones, having gotten over them and saying how they were now all trivial to me — stupid, even.

One of them was quick to defend my younger self, saying that at the time, it wasn’t stupid. And that until now, it still isn’t. “Because when we’re in the moment, we always want to be the exception.” And I realized that was it: we all want to be someone’s exception, their game-changer, their end game.

That’s what I felt listening to Taylor Swift’s first three albums. 

But, when the first version of “Red” came out in 2012, I was a high school senior who focused on college applications, getting good grades, and spending the rest of my free time on extracurriculars. 

Back then, I would get second-hand kilig through friends’ love stories. I had very high expectations of love: it had to be just like the movies, it had to have that storybook ending, and it had to be perfect. Having had my personal favorites “Fearless” and “Speak Now” ingrained in me, I figured: “That’s okay, my time will come.” Perfection can wait. 

Yet, the tumultuous heartbreak that was “Red” brought me back down to reality. Through Taylor’s whirlwind romances and failed relationships at the time, plus the lack of my own then and now, I am reminded that more often than not, expectations are exactly what they are: just expectations.

The sad truth is: heartache, heartbreak and hurt happen for us to realize that life and love aren’t always what we want or imagine them to be. 

As a fault of my blind optimism, any miniscule prospect of romance led me to get my hopes up, wishful about finally getting my own happy ending. I figured that in about 10 years’ time, I’d have it all figured out. The “Red” re-release today is my reminder that while I may carelessly get into situations without knowing what lies ahead, I always end up okay.

I’ve known fleeting crushes and fading romances all too well, and “Red” has always been my faithful companion through them all: from the carefreeness of 22, the promising anticipation of Everything Has Changed, the thrill of the chase and tragedy of I Knew You Were Trouble, the what-ifs of I Almost Do, all the way ‘til the painful realization of The Moment I Knew and the slow-burning sadness of All Too Well, to anything and everything else in between.

Taylor’s raw vulnerability in her songs, despite the roller coaster-like mess of what was going on in her life during her “Red” era, made me feel seen and heard. And if I really stopped to listen and internalize her words, I might even dare to say some of these songs were written about me.

“Fearless” and “Speak Now,” her two albums prior, told me about feelings of hopeful longing — the kind where you wish these love stories you heard would happen to you, too. Yet you know they wouldn’t; not even in your wildest dreams. Still you dreamed anyway, because dreaming makes you feel alive.

“Red” spoke a different story. It doesn’t just tell you about heartache and hurt; it opens you to and takes you through them — as real as they are, and as painful as they can be. 

And so it’s through this album that I discovered where the magic of Taylor Swift’s music lies: in her storytelling — how she writes what she feels, and how she makes us realize that they’re our lives being unveiled through song too. She thoughtfully takes us along on her journey of failure then growth, and of heartbreak and then hope. That said, with her music’s ability to heal, also comes the power to hurt.

The sad truth is: heartache, heartbreak and hurt happen for us to realize that life and love aren’t always what we want or imagine them to be. 

True to the progression of the happier and more hopeful “Fearless” and “Speak Now” to the chaotic vulnerability of “Red,” I learned that, as instantly and intensely sparks may seem to fly, they can die down just as swiftly.

So, gone are the days of the totally blind optimism and childlike innocence of someone who strives to always find perfection in everything. I’ve bade goodbye to my younger self who was always just patiently waiting, oftentimes in desperation, for good things to land in her lap.

I look back at past heartbreaks almost fondly now, because I realized that while there’s no right answer to healing, there never is a time where we can’t pick ourselves up and find ways for us to be whole again.

In her place stands someone who might be both okay with heading into the unknown, yet sometimes not fine at all with the uncertainty of what lies ahead.

It’s been a little less than 10 years since “Red” was first released, and admittedly, I still haven’t fully figured life and love out yet. And that’s okay, because there’s one thing I’ve learned for sure: it’s that while life is never an upward slope, it isn’t always a treacherous one either. While old, fleeting feelings led to seemingly enduring pain and the need to fill whatever I felt was missing, time eventually brought me peace. 

I look back at past heartbreaks almost fondly now, because I realized that while there’s no right answer to healing, there never is a time where we can’t pick ourselves up and find ways for us to be whole again. 

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So now, I am whole. I am made up of all lessons learned, and always headstrong and hopeful in the best way. And while sometimes still with childlike nonchalance, I know for sure that whatever new challenges life throws at me, I’m always ready to begin again.

From one Swiftie to another, throughout the years since the first version of “Red” to Taylor’s version today, I hope we’ve all grown with the same silent strength and sureness, that same state of grace that Taylor has and we’re all so in awe of. Because we, too, in our own way, despite things hardly ever ending up the way we expect them to, will turn out to be perfectly fine.

The past almost 10 years or so have been a testament to that.