I gave myself a cigarette burn the day I told him I still loved him. It was an accident, smoking through tears is always a risky move. But it worked like a marker, a circle echoing the eclipse above. Something to remember my bravery by. A physical mark to heal alongside my finally-letting-go heart.
He said no. He didn’t want me back, he didn’t love me. It was a rejection even if it was a nice one. How can he not love me? I wondered as I walked back to my apartment, lit by the light of the brightening, crackling eclipse. I was giddy too, almost skipping. The love wasn’t in him, it was in ME. It was fucking mine. I did it all by myself. It didn’t go away when he said he didn’t want it. It didn’t turn to hate on a dime like I would’ve made it before. By loving him I was also loving myself, my very capacity to love. And I thought I deserved to be loved back. Possibly for the first time. I was flabbergasted he didn’t want me, good wonderful me? I had never felt myself worthy of love when he’d given it, unconditionally, effortlessly, until my inability to receive it broke us.
“I want to live and not just survive,” Adele sings on “Love In The Dark,” and if this album ascribed to that theme more, maybe it wouldn’t bore me so much. Living means — no, requires — that you heal. Move on. Stop living in the past. Even a few weeks ago “Hello” hit my system like a jolt, but 25 leaves me cold. This is Adele’s third album wallowing in her unassailable grief, and after all this time, I was really hoping this would be the one where she assails it. In the four actual years since her last album 21, Adele had a baby with her serious boyfriend Simon Konecki, ascended to world-stopping diva status, and embraced her right to privacy by holing up outside of the public eye. Amid all that maturity, it seemed like 25 could’ve been a pivot, a step toward self-actualization. Instead these songs feel like shadows of 21. Even so, 25 is already slated to set a new sales record. The mainstream has long proven its affinity for big, familiar shadows.
There’s only so long you can wallow. There’s only so much time you can spend navel-gazing, propped up on a tear-stained pillowcase, reading way too much into silence, reading way too much into someone else’s decision to move on. Healing means realizing that the world isn’t really against you, or even that concerned with you. It’s your job to concern yourself with the world, to stop equating how much you miss one person with everything else there is to do and see and be. “The entire world is waiting for you to love it as much as you loved him,” my brother told me when I was most deeply grieving my ex. That’s not the kind of wisdom most people will give you. That’s certainly not what Adele would say. But I think it’s the best thing anyone has said to me about loss. Grief is right, and necessary, and in many ways, inevitable. But it can also become a selfish way to avoid growth. Grief is not death, and it can stop us from encountering the kind of love that eclipses those past relationships, the ones we thought would always define us.
“What if I never love again?” Adele asks on “All I Ask,” a precursor to the one song on the album that does reach for some new ground. Album-closer “Sweetest Devotion” encapsulates what the entirety of 25 could’ve been. It almost works like a tease for her next album, could we have a whole slew of empowered, joyful Adele songs like this? It’s heads and shoulders above the filler — the wearisome “my love can fix them” “Remedy,” drum-heavy, drawn-out subservience on “I Miss You” and the jumbled torchiness of “When We Were Young” — these songs function like parties full of too many people, from too many different groups. In the past, Adele’s solemn, stripped-back pain hit a nerve, as if by accident. When she goes for mastery, volume and velvet are there, but not tenderness. These feel too heavy-handed to touch flesh; they bellow, but they don’t ache. “Sweetest Devotion” reveals why. Sadness has become too familiar, now it’s joy bringing that old rush back into Adele’s music. She will love again. You will too. But not if you stay home listening to the prickly and petty “Send My Love (To Your New Lover).” Not if you self-diagnose yourself as a fount of eternal sadness sprung from the “River Lea.” I like to call Adele’s music “grief-pop” (I often lump Robyn and Sia in there, too), and if you’re in that stage, by all means embrace it. But don’t cling to it too tightly. These songs are safety blankets, not mantras.
Give yourself as much time as you need. Give yourself twice as much time as the stupid algorithm for recovery all your friends tell you. Give yourself the space to dig deep underneath the relationship’s failure, down toward what was really lacking in you. Give yourself grace, you are learning. Take a good hard look at what was lacking in them, too. Comfort yourself for all the ways they failed you, for all the ways they stomped on your heart. Do this without malice. Do this without demonizing them. They are human too. If you don’t already have some in place, get yourself a few good friends. I find myself wondering again and again on 25 where Adele’s friends are? The ones who gently, firmly, over many, many whiskeys explain to her the ways this dude was not good to her. How she’s worth more than this. How this kind of codependence stems from a lack of self-love, and maybe she should explore that? Seek out some real friends who will listen to you deeply. Seek out those people who will remind you of your worth when you’re faltering. People who will take you new places, share their own secret sore spots with you, and make you laugh until you cry. You almost won’t realize when you hit the other side.