In Which We Have An Unnatural Obsession With Romantic Disappointment

Breaking Up and Breaking Down

by Tyler Coates

Call me a pessimist, but I think I have an unnatural obsession with romantic disappointment. Most of my favorite songs are about failed relationships, and my favorite album is Exile in Guyville, the quintessential Liz Phair album, which is almost entirely about fucked-up relationships.

Liz Phair

Some of my favorite novels are similarly depressing (Sophie’s Choice and Lie Down in Darkness by William Styron; The End of the Affair and The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene).

Styron was brilliant, happily-married, yet still incredibly depressed.

I have a thing for movies whose climaxes are particularly bleak (despite their often forays into awkward comedic moments).

There’s Broadcast News, my absolute, all-time, favorite-favorite, in which none of the main characters end up together (uh, spoiler alert), or Annie Hall, the most realistic film about a relationship I’ve ever seen (and about which Molly has recently written). The latter of the two provided inspiration for the only poem I’ve ever written that I can be somewhat proud of, as opposed to tearing it up or locking it away in a diary.

Dead Shark

Placing the paperbacks on the crease of her inner arm,
Annie carries the collection across the room to fill
the empty brown boxes with books without
noticing whose name is on the inside covers.

She picks out the classics, the novels, the volumes of poems,
leaving behind the books that he bought her
in an effort to teach her more about life and death.
She turns and stares at the sturdy oak shelves,

still packed and crowded with cardboard and paper.
The boxes of books still half-empty,
Annie wonders if he will notice the
slivers of air tucked inside the library.
She returns to her cargo, packing it with

lobsters, rollercoaster rides, tennis lessons,
and Bergman films worth repeating.
She folds over the flaps, fitting them into place
and seals the break with the flimsy, yellowing tape.

I don’t think these two could have made it.

It seems appropriate that the only poem I wrote was about a breakup, since my previous foray into creative writing (read: my two semesters of undergraduate creative writing) produced a overdrawn, completely autobiographical story about a girl I had a crush on in college.

Looking back on it, it’s really embarrassing, as I didn’t even bother to change the names in it, and when you go to an average-sized liberal arts school, you find that things like that get around. It’s more embarrassing than blogging about yourself.

To give myself credit, the story had a lot of style: it was based around songs that reminded me of the girl, so it read like liner notes to an album. I also told the story backwards (I had watched Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind a LOT during that time). I will not post the story here.

Whenever I am irrationally obsessed (but the good kind of obsession) with someone – and when I went through my first major break-up a year ago – I listen to exclusively heart-wrenching music, eventually associating those songs with the object of my affection. I’m sure I have a stockpile of mix CDs somewhere that serve as historical, depressing moments in my romantically-confused life.

I’m used to being the dumped one, or at least the person whose feelings were unrequited. While some (*cough*Julia*cough*) might turn to blogging about the situation, I’ve learned (through, well, blogging about the situation) that publicly revealing your mistakes, as well as your partner’s shortcomings, proves fatal, especially if you’re in a city like Chicago, where the young, post-collegiate, middle-class crowd segregates itself to one small section of the city.

Instead, take this blogger’s advice and stick to sad music.

A lil’ bit of emo never hurt nobody.

If you’re in my current situation, however, and have just going through a recent breakup in which you were the dumper, I can’t help you. I’ve found that there aren’t many songs that say, “I love you but we should just be friends.” No, you’re just the asshole, and will continue to be miserable.

Tyler Coates is the senior contributor to This Recording. He is a blogger living in Chicago.

The author at sixteen, single.


“Dead Shark” – Liz Phair (mp3)

“Divorce Song” – Liz Phair (mp3)

“The Calendar Hung Itself” – Bright Eyes (mp3)



“Your Lies” – Shelby Lynne (mp3)

“Memphis Blues” – Magnolia Electric Co. (mp3)


Tess’ debut post/poem.

Nobody moralizes like children.

We did heroin just for the glamour of it.

6 thoughts on “In Which We Have An Unnatural Obsession With Romantic Disappointment

  1. >>I’ve found that there aren’t many songs that say, “I love you but we should just be friends.”

    Check the new Jens Lekman album, which has the song “I’m Leaving You Because I Don’t Love You” – the lyrics deal with the guilt of breaking up with someone.

    Not a particularly sad song, nor my favorite Jens song, but nevertheless – it fits your description!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s