Dear reader, I have a question for you.

Who did you grow up with?

I don’t mean who were your childhood friends or the family that raised you. I mean who were the cultural forces that you grew up alongside? For some of my friends, the answer is Harry Potter – turning eleven and sharing secondary school years with the boy wizard can have that effect. Not me. Though I loved reading about Harry’s adventures, I was nine, not even battling spots, when he was dealing with teen rivalries and a dark lord.

I would wait until I was almost a grown woman to discover the person I would “grow up with”. As it turned out, I grew up with Taylor Swift. It took me thirteen years, and The Eras Tour film, to realise! (Yep, I’m starting this article at midnight after watching the masterclass in performance and storytelling called The Eras Tour.)

This realisation whisked me back to the summer of 2010.

Fearlessly heartbroken

I got my hands on Fearless earlier in 2010 but its power wouldn’t be unlocked until heartbreak.

My overriding memory of August 2010 is of running on my parents’ treadmill with Taylor Swift and The Saturdays blaring out. It was the first summer I had told a boy I liked him to his face. The feelings hadn’t been returned. Taylor Swift, along with Mollie, Una, Frankie, Rochelle, and Vanessa, helped me process a lot of tears and a lot of thoughts.

I love her. And true love lasts a lifetime. Joni Mitchell is the woman who taught your cold English wife how to feel.

Love Actually, Emma Thompson

What Joni Mitchell was to Karen (played by Emma Thompson) in Love Actually, Taylor Swift was to me. And it began an education that followed me to university.

Believing he belonged with me

The first relationship is a heady experience. I went from barely knowing this guy to head over heels in a month. Taylor was with me every step of the way. I imagined him as Stephen or the high school jock or Drew or whoever the song was written about. Surely, I kept telling myself, we belonged together.

I was either ecstatic or miserable. I told my then-boyfriend that girls listened to Taylor Swift when they were happy or upset. He never knew which I was! Unsurprisingly, we broke it off just less than six months in.

Saying goodbye to the careful daughter

Sixteen months later, boyfriend number 2 arrives. By this time I had discovered Speak Life. Somehow Mine became our song. Or rather, with honest hindsight, my song about how he made me feel. He was the first person to take an active interest in my writing and to encourage me to keep going with it regularly.

“You made a rebel of a careless man’s careful daughter” never felt more apt for who I was. I felt free to be me and just give myself over to this relationship. It was an escape, summed up perfectly by Taylor with the line “You say we’ll never make my parents’ mistakes”.

The problem was that as I became more me, walking the line of rebellion, I became less careful. Looking back, I owe him an apology for using and discarding him. I’m not sure I’ve found the Taylor Swift song for that yet.

Learning to be happy, free, confused, and lonely

My third year of university, after the relationship broke off, rapidly went downhill. Fortunately, there are happy memories too – ones I’m slowly learning to see again. The stars in the night sky.

It was also the year that Red was released – it quickly became the soundtrack of the good times. It was our campus’s nightclub that I jumped around yelling “We are never getting back together” and singing “I’m feeling 22” with girls I only kind of knew. I may have not known them all that well but this group of women gave me a glimpse of what “women supporting women” could look like. While I haven’t stayed in touch with them, the memory still lingers. It’s there, every time I hear that first line, “It feels like a perfect night…”

On a navy blanket is a phone and airpods. The phone shows Red by Taylor Swift is playing.
Photo by Omid Armin on Unsplash

1989 was the year I felt clean

Cue 2014. I’m coming towards the end of the darkest couple of years. University is behind me but I’m still dealing with the consequences of my choices. I’m estranged from the social group that had the biggest impact on me, mostly due to geography – I haven’t yet realised this was the best thing to happen to me.

I also know that I’m still getting over boyfriend number 1. Or, I thought I was still getting over him. In reality, I was healing emotionally from the toughest three years of my life.

… Rain came pouring down

When I was drowning, that’s when I could finally breathe

And by morning

Gone was any trace of you, I think I am finally clean

Clean, Taylor Swift

Has there ever been a song like Clean? I didn’t realise it till now but that song marked a change in me that would take a career change and several years to come to fruition.

That year, Katherine Welby wrote an article called Drowning Not Dying. It resonated so much that I wrote a blog post inspired by it. Because that was how I felt. So to hear someone sing about breathing while drowning was as powerful for me as reading Psalm 139 was. Balm for my soul. A bandage for my heart.

But most of all, I began to feel clean from a relationship that had shaped my entire university experience.

The story of me looks a lot less like a tragedy now

By the time 2015 rolled around, I was beginning the process of emerging from the worst years of my life. I also rediscovered country music – let’s be honest, by this point Taylor had left her original genre – and left behind Taylor Swift. Or so it looked.

I really thought I’d learned enough about crushes and boys by the time I left school. But I discovered I’d only scraped the tip of the iceberg. Over the next four years, Taylor Swift was my companion as I navigated relationships, friendships, and breakups. It felt like a tragedy. I didn’t know it would turn out to be a comedy.

But that’s a story for another time.