Sex & Relationships

‘The Tortured Poets Department’ Tells The Messy Truth About Love

written by AN EVERYGIRL
The Tortured Poets Department"
The Tortured Poets Department
Graphics by: Aryana Johnson
Graphics by: Aryana Johnson

Poetic yet entirely relatable, Taylor Swift’s songs echo the human experience of heartache, love, heartbreak, regret, desire, and hope in a beautiful cycle, helping us all feel that we’re not alone in life’s journey of love and loss. Her ability to capture specific moments, feelings, and situations into beautiful analogies that both hurt and heal is a gift. Swift can take the chaos of our feelings and perfectly put them into words, and each time, we are relieved with the feeling of finally being understood. Whether you’re a Swiftie, an average fan, or simply know the singles, there’s bound to be a Taylor Swift line that speaks to your soul.

A fan since 2012 with the release of Red, Swift’s first venture away from true country and into the world of country pop, it wasn’t until Evermore, her ninth studio album, that I truly understood why her music was so transformative. Listening for the first time in bed, I heard my first life-altering Taylor Swift song: Ivy. In the folk song, Swift describes a married woman who is in love with someone else:

He’s in the room
Your opal eyes are all I wish to see
He wants what’s only yours

As the song played on, tears streamed down my cheeks. I finally admitted something I had been in denial about for almost a year: I was a married woman who was in love with someone else.

Shortly after listening to Evermore for the first time, I ended my marriage. Swift’s lyrics, though novelistic in nature, made me admit something I had never before dared to think of. She has a way of doing that. Her ability to speak to feelings, whether her own or imaginary, helps listeners to process, admit, and feel their own. If I had not heard that song, I may have never been able to process my feelings or have dared to walk away from a relationship that no longer served me. If I hadn’t left, I probably wouldn’t be in the happy relationship that I’m in now (with the person whose opal eyes were all I wished to see).

The Tortured Poet’s Department‘s 6 Stages of Love

I’ve been anxiously awaiting The Tortured Poets Department since its announcement on February 4, but it wasn’t until halfway through the first track (Fortnight featuring Post Malone) that I realized it was exactly what we all needed. This album, an anthology about leaving a safe-yet-prison-like relationship for a gossip-inducing, rumor-filled, high-profile fling, chronicles the universal stages of love and loss.

Admittedly, like so many of us, I was looking forward to an album that chronicled the end of Swift’s six-year relationship with Joe Alwyn, whose desire for privacy (while dating one of the biggest superstars on the planet) and inability to commit to taking the relationship to the next level seemed to cause its demise. However, as The Tortured Poets Department plays on, it becomes clear that this album is about so much more than the slow and dragged-out death of the relationship between two people who wanted different things; this album is about the chaos of blowing up your life for something that seemed like it was meant to be, only to realize that it was an illusion. It’s about change and loss and loneliness as the world continues to move around you, and because of Swift’s beautiful ability to articulate the human experience, there’s so much to relate to.

While each album that precedes The Tortured Poets Department has a theme all its own, what makes it so unique is how it chronicles not just the emotions she so perfectly captures in her songwriting but how they happen. While the album is not perfectly in chronological order (what fun would that be for Swifties?), it does tell the greater story of love, loss, promise, heartbreak, delusion, anger, and, ultimately, as Taylor always seems to find, the budding of a new romance. From longing through heartbreak and finally falling in love all over again, here’s how The Tortured Poets Department so beautifully showcases the six stages of love.


I remember being in elementary school and staring out the window of the back seat of my dad’s Jeep, longing for some boy in my class that I had never had so much as dared to speak to. I have always been this way: deeply romantic and full of fantasies of what could be. Longing is a unique feeling because it’s often done by imagination: a deep desire for what could have been, the images that we have created in our heads. In Fortnite, Swift describes the pain of having to coexist with someone who, for a short time, seemed like your forever.

And for a fortnight there, we were forever
Run into your sometimes, ask about the weather
Now you’re in my backyard, turned into good neighbors
Your wife waters flowers, I want to kill her

For anyone who has ever had to play nice while slowly dying inside, Swift sees you.

Another track on The Tortured Poet’s Department album with the perfect description of longing, desire, and heartache for another is Guilty as Sin? Swift’s main character longs for someone outside of her current relationship and asks the question of whether or not she can be “guilty as sin” just from the thought of someone else.

I keep recalling things we never did
Messy top-lip kiss, how I long for our trysts
Without ever touching his skin
How can I be guilty as sin?

This one, in particular, hits home for me. Swift’s description of a relationship, the “cage” of which at one time felt “just fine,” is a setting all too familiar for so many of us. The guilt associated with the simple fantasy of someone who might be everything you’ve ever wanted is enough to beg the question she so poignantly asks: Am I allowed to cry?


What’s love without a little insanity? In I Can Fix Him (No Really I Can), Swift is all of us at one point or another, positive that our love will be enough to break the evil curse that’s keeping the bad one bad. However, at the end of the track, the narrator comes to terms with the fact that she may not actually be able to fix him, which abruptly ends the song. Tale as old as time, Taylor.

And I could see it from a mile away
A perfect case for my certain skill set
He had a halo of the highest grade
He just hadn’t met me yet


Trust, perhaps the most important element in any relationship, is a delicate thing. Broken trust is often irreparable, and no one knows that quite as well as Swift.

In Down Bad, Swift compares being love-bombed to being abducted by aliens, telling iHeartRadio that it’s a metaphor for “when someone rocks your world and dazzles you and kind of abandons you.”

They’ll say I’m nuts if I talk about
The existence of you

Being in a situation that seems so promising, only to be hit with the whiplash of being ghosted or abandoned is a special kind of heartbreak.

In The Smallest Man Who Ever Lived, Swift has a moment of anger and brutality toward the person who has done this to her, giving us all an anthem for the smallest men in our lives.

​​I would’ve died for your sins
Instead I just died inside
And you deserve prison but you won’t get time

Isn’t it cruel how the people who have wronged us don’t ever quite receive a punishment that fits the crime? Isn’t it painful to imagine the person who broke your heart living without a care in the world while you tend to the mess of your own broken heart? Who captures this pain and brutality better than Taylor Swift?


Does anyone describe quintessential heartbreak quite like Taylor Swift? In loml, the narrator, left heartbroken by someone she had been entangled with once already, reflects on the promises she was made and how those promises were ultimately broken. In my listening to this song on The Tortured Poet’s Department, I took it to be about Swift’s brief fling with Matty Healy, whom she was linked to for a few weeks post-Joe Alwyn. Swifties have gathered that she left one situation that seemed to be at a dead end for one full of nice words and plans for the future, only to be ghosted in no time at all.

All those plot twists and dynamite
Mr. Steal Your Girl, then make her cry
You said I’m the love of your life
You talked me under the table
Talking rings and talking cradles
I wish I could un-recall
How we almost had it all

To love a person means to trust them with your heart and to take them at their word. Being betrayed by someone convincing enough to get you to flip your whole world upside down for them, only to take it all back shortly thereafter, is devastating. For anyone who has ever been let down by someone with nice words and big promises, this is a feeling you know all too well.

Saying Goodbye

Letting go of a relationship, romantic or otherwise, even one that doesn’t serve you, is hard. There are often many months or years of denial, bargaining, and contemplation before the end of the relationship, followed by sadness, anger, and wondering.

One of the more highly anticipated and devastating tracks on the album, So Long, London chronicles the end of Swift’s long-term relationship with Alwyn and seemingly functions as an answer to London Boy from the 2019 album Lover. What’s unique about this track, though, is that it’s one of the only ones on the album in which Swift functions as the one who leaves rather than the one who is left. The stark difference between choosing to end this relationship versus the relationship in which she is abandoned puts her in more control and allows her to explain why she needed to say goodbye. For anyone who has ever had to make a tough choice, this track speaks to the soul.

I stopped CPR, after all, it’s no use
The spirit was gone, we would never come to
And I’m pissed off you let me give you all that youth for free

For anyone who has given up their 20s and early 30s—years typically dedicated to the freedom of travel, dating, and partying—that line truly hits home. Giving your freest years to someone you thought you’d be with forever, only to end up reflecting on what you could have been doing with that time instead, is a tragedy in its own right. These aren’t game pieces but lives that are being played with, and with the added factor of a biological clock, it isn’t surprising that someone who feels that their time was wasted and their youth stolen by someone might be pissed off.

Falling in love

Longing, delusion, betrayal, heartbreak, saying goodbye, and falling in love once again—The Swift cycle of emotions throughout The Tortured Poet’s Department ends here. It’s unlikely that I need to describe the romance between Swift and Kansas City Chief’s tight end Travis Kelce—but in case you’ve made it this far and don’t know, Kelce is the star athlete whose public admittance of having a crush on Swift managed to land him in the superstar’s universe. They’ve been together ever since. He adores her, calls her “baby” in public, and admires her work, work ethic, and talent.

In The Alchemy, Swift describes the feeling of giving love another chance because it feels so right. She describes other men as benchwarmers and alludes to the embrace they shared during the trophy presentation after the Chief’s Superbowl victory.

These blokes warm the benches
We been on a winning streak
He jokes that it’s heroin but this time with an “E”
Cause the sign on your heart said it’s still reserved for me
Honestly, who are we to fight the alchemy?
Shirts off, and your friends lift you up over their heads
Beer sticking to the floor
Cheers chanted, cause they said
There was no chance, trying to be
The greatest in the league
Where’s the trophy?
He just comes running over to me

In So High School, Swift creates the nostalgia of being young, nervous, and hopeful about a new relationship, feelings even the most serious of adults resort back to when falling in love again.

Truth, dare, spin bottles
You know how to ball, I know Aristotle
Brand-new, full-throttle
Touch me while your bros play Grand Theft Auto
It’s true, swear, scouts honor
You knew what you wanted and, boy, you got her

Despite how low the depths of heartbreak can take us, new love can always manage to pull us back to the surface, full of promise and hope.

Final thoughts

Ultimately, no matter how much star power she has or how many screaming fans fill stadiums each night to see her, Taylor Swift is all of us. She is The Everygirl. Her music describes the universal desire to be loved, to have a partner she can depend on, to have someone to share her secrets with, and to be known for who she truly is, outside of her public persona. Whether you’re the world’s biggest pop star or a broke college student, who doesn’t relate to the trials and tribulations of finding the person who truly loves you for who you are?

If Elisabeth Kübler-Ross famously coined the five stages of grief in 1969, then Taylor Swift introduced the six stages of love in 2024 on her album The Tortured Poets Department. Through longing for someone who could never possibly live up to your idea of them, to the delusion of ignoring red flags, to the ultimate betrayal of your faith in them, the heartbreak of realizing it was never meant to be, finally saying goodbye and then falling in love with someone new all over again, Swift’s poetry describes what we’ve all been experiencing for millennia: Love is sad and beautiful and tragic. Her lyrics make her the voice of our generation or at least the voice of my lifetime, without whom I may never have had the courage to experience my cycle of loss and new love. Thank you, Taylor.