Once upon a time when I was still caught up in a world of romance, I danced along with a song, oblivious to the message it tried to scream. You never truly realize how much power you can give or take from a seemingly imaginable concept until you allow your conscience to actually observe and listen to it. For me, this epiphany came in the form of a melody. ‘Anyone who knows what love is/ Will Understand’ is a hauntingly beautiful song by Irma Thomas which was released in 1964 although it became more prominent through its repeated occurrence in the hit Netflix series – Black Mirror.
Everyone is familiar with the cycle of finding a new song and repeatedly playing it enough to soon grow tired of it. However, what I never realized was how one simple song could change my entire outlook on the fragile concept of toxicity within romance and destroy the elite bubble that seeks to glorify it.
The song begins with a chorus calling out for ‘Anyone’ and fades as Irma Thomas begins to sing. On the surface, this is a song about love. As a dutiful soft voice takes the lead, we hum along with a tune that wants us to believe the resilience of her love and her persistence to stay in it. But as her declaration of loyalty progresses, something doesn’t settle in.
You can blame me
Try to shame me
And still I’ll care for you.
You can run around
Even put me down
Still I’ll be there for you
As the first two lines echo in my head, I stop humming along. If the purpose of this song was to talk about romance, why does this ‘love’ demand humiliation and pain? Countless questions run through my mind as I desperately try to pen them all down. I listen to the verse again but I’m met with the same dilemma. Is this a song sung to declare her undying devotion or to justify it?
Honestly, had I asked myself the same question a few years ago, I would’ve gone on to brutally assassinate the very essence of this piece of art dismissing it as a gross misrepresentation of the idea of being ‘blindly in love’. However, over time and experience I grew up to understand that even when an overbearing sense of rationality and logic is weighed against a fleeting emotion, sometimes we simply just don’t get to control what we feel.
When I was fourteen, I wanted my love story to be a fairy tale complete with flowers, grand gestures and a gentleman. However, life isn’t a Jane Austen novel and I’m not a doting protagonist. Although I wish I realized that sooner, I wouldn’t have reached where I am without some painful reality checks along the way. I’m a person who has taken calculated risks all my life and I’ve always felt love is a subjective probability that I’ll never be able to count on.
May think I’m foolish
They can’t see you
Like I can
Oh but anyone
Who knows what love is
Ironically enough, I never really understood what those lines meant until the day I found myself waging a war against the world just because I wasn’t ready to accept how miserable I was. However, if misery ever taught me one thing, it would be that toxic romance is never a calculated decision. Nobody ever decides to falls in love with a bad person. I think, we try so hard to see the perfect version of someone despite the hurt they inflict just so that this illusion of who they could be can somehow justify the pain they cause.
While Irma Thomas proceeds to sing the final few verses of the song, a familiar feeling of emptiness starts to settle back in. This was never a song about romance. It had always been a plea for validation from the same world that burns around her in the name of ‘love’. As the final chorus starts to call out for ‘Anyone’ again, I realize as every aspect of intimacy is scrutinized and judged by walls that surround it, the idea of love isn’t just an emotion anymore, it’s also a choice. And despite all the conflicting emotions and personal convictions, that would want me to fight against it, I know that there exists a part of me that understands.
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