How Adele helped me through my first heartbreak

Welcome to Formative Jukebox, a column exploring the personal relationships people have with music. Every week, a writer will tackle a song, album, show, or musical artist and their influence on our lives. Tune in every week for a brand new essay.

Since I first heard “Hometown Glory” on So You Think You Can Dance? when I was in elementary school, I’ve been enchanted by Adele’s voice, its richness and recklessness. But like most young teens, my younger self, attempting the belt “Rolling in the Deep” every time she was home alone, had no idea what Adele’s music was about. The closest thing to heartbreak I had ever experienced was losing a game of Super Mario Bros against my sister. It’s not like I didn’t know what her words meant; I just hadn’t experienced enough to know how those words felt. But in the year leading up to the release of 25, that changed.

I’ve always been perplexed by the concept of high school relationships. For me, the idea of dating was more complex than my calculus and physics classes… combined. But of course, all of that was tossed aside when I starting liking my best friend.

We’d met my sophomore year in high school and quickly became friends. By the end of my junior year, I was smitten, and little did I know at the time, but he actually felt the same way. I tried to hide my feelings from everyone and myself for months, but everyone (like even some of our teachers) knew how we both felt.

Another year passed with us both liking each other and not acknowledging it. Towards the end of our senior year, I somehow mustered up the courage to prompose to him, and, to my delight, he said, “Yes.” In the days leading up to prom, I couldn’t help but think of the future. We only had three months together before we headed off to college: 2,000 miles apart. I convinced myself that I had to tell him how I really felt.

Driven by desperation and sleep deprivation, I texted him the night after prom with all the things I’d wanted to say for the past two years. Looking back on it, I realize having this conversation through text wasn’t mature or efficient, but it was the only way I could get myself to say how I felt. To condense the dozens of texts that I’ve read too many times, he told me that he liked me too, but did not want to risk our friendship and wasn’t ready to commit to a relationship.

I was heartbroken… angry… torn. I put my heart on the line only to have it rejected. I felt like I had been through so much, but still somehow managed to end up worse than how I started. To make matters worse, the one person who was my go-to person to talk about my problems was the same person who made me feel this way. So I turned to music instead.

I delved into Adele’s albums and listened to more than what was just on the radio. While I was in middle school, I’d never had a crush, so I always skipped “First Love,” off of her album 19, whenever it came up on my MP3 playlist. (Wow, just saying “MP3” makes me feel old.) But now, having had a taste of first love, I heard the first three notes in a whole new way and felt like an idiot for never playing through the song before. Listening to it at that point of my life, I couldn’t decide whether I wanted to cry or laugh. Her words offered the perfect mix of wisdom and understanding:

I was naively trying to cling onto something that wasn’t happening, and I need the push to move on. “First Love” was that very push I needed.

The months went by, and we separated for college. We’re still best friends and call each other weekly, but the distance gave me the space I needed to heal. And when I heard Adele was coming out with 25, I preordered it as soon as my college budget allowed me.

Once I actually got the album, I listened to the whole thing nonstop. I was so glad to hear her voice again; it felt like a reunion with a long lost friend. But when I got to “All I Ask,” something was different. Once I heard the chorus, a wave of nostalgia rushed over me:

I was suddenly taken back to my prom night… the texts I sent that were so long you had to scroll just to read one message… the hope I had whenever I saw his gray ellipses pop up on my screen. The next thing I knew, I was bawling in my dorm room. The simplicity of her lyrics, the rawness of her voice. The feelings I struggled for years to say she sang in under five minutes. I felt like my sorrows from months before were heard without me ever having to say a word.

Now when I listen to Adele’s music, I don’t have to Google search the meaning of her songs like I did when I was little. I’ve finally lived enough to find my own meaning, my own connection, to her music. To use her words:

And Adele takes the things I’m too afraid to acknowledge and turns them into beautiful music. Through Adele’s voice, I found my own.

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Image courtesy of XL Recordings.

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