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.
I was eight years old when I first saw No Doubt’s “Just a Girl” music video on MTV. I was immediately obsessed: I loved all the colors in the video, how badass Gwen Stefani seemed, and how much this song about how complicated it is being a girl spoke to my young self. I would go on to purchase No Doubt’s Tragic Kingdom album with my allowance, and the whole album would open the door for my new musical taste for ska/rock music. (I was only listening to 90’s R&B, Mariah Carey and Janet & Michael Jackson at the time.)
Fast forward to the Y2K. Gwen Stefani had pink hair, No Doubt released their underrated album Return of Saturn, and I became a hardcore No Doubt fan. There was no way I was turning my back on them now. But even though I’d loved the majority of the songs on the album, at 13, I had no idea what any of the songs truly meant. Heck, even at 18, I still didn’t truly listen to the lyrics that Gwen was yearning for us to hear. But then it all clicked once I entered my Saturn return.
Return of Saturn is more than just an album title: It’s a reference to an astrological transit, where the planet Saturn returns to the exact same place in the sky as it existed in the moment of a person’s birth. It usually occurs in your late twenties, specifically around 29 and 30; it’s a crossroads of sorts, when life-altering decisions are made. This is where you start making long-term adjustments in your career, taking your finances seriously, and of course reevaluating your romantic life.
During most of my 20s, I was single. And to be honest, I enjoyed my freedom. I loved going out dancing with my girlfriends, having movie dates by myself, and randomly going on vacation to someplace new on my own. But like most people, I yearned for companionship and started seeking it through numerous dating sites, yet nothing seemed to stick for me.
When I turned 27, I decided to move in with my sister in Cleveland, leaving everything I knew behind me. A few months later, I met a really sweet guy at a restaurant I worked. A night out together turned into a date and a month later we changed our Facebook relationship status to “in a relationship.” I no longer was the carefree single girl my friends back home had known, and I now had to adapt to making decisions for Us instead of Me.
Throughout our time dating, one thing that stood out for us was how insanely different we were. It wasn’t just our seven-year age gap, but our backgrounds, how we grew up, our interests. And there was always one lyric that stood out whenever I would listen to Return of Saturn that applied perfectly of our unlikely coupling: “We always were in trouble, odds stacked against us and trouble what we are,” from “Suspension Without Suspense.” Although we love each other, our differences seem to always cause a rift between us. He likes jam bands (I didn’t even know they existed before we met), I like pop music and hip-hop, he loves affection, I prefer to express my feelings through emojis and GIFs, and the list goes on. Yet it seemed as though Gwen was dealing with the same complications when it came to her blossoming relationship with Gavin Rossdale, who was the main muse of the album.
Our differences have made us a stronger couple, but for a while, it was truly difficult for us to understand one another. One of our biggest fights was simply because we couldn’t comprehend that we both communicate differently, and how to adjust to each other. And personally, I couldn’t let go of my independence and selfish ways, but I wanted to be with him and love him, yet was so confused as to how to balance the two.
In the song, “Artificial Sweetener,” Gwen too is conflicted by her desire for freedom yet her dependence within the relationship. “Can’t seem to give it up, so selfish. I’m showing off the worst in me,” she sings. A few lines later, she expresses, “You really deserve love, I want to love you but I can’t seem to find myself… I’m only sure that I’m not sure.” I had to figure out that leaving my independence didn’t mean I was letting go of who I am. It wasn’t until I really started to love myself and what path I wanted to take professionally that I was able to truly be the girlfriend my boyfriend saw in me.
Now that my boyfriend and I have been dating for close to two years and 30 is coming up soon, these big questions seem to pop up more often than not: “Are you two talking about marriage?” “When will you two have kids?” “Do you two live with each other?” Every time I hear them, I become a side-eye emoji. I do want to get married, have kids, and move in with him (trust me, I have the Pinterest boards to prove it), but emotionally, I’m not ready for that big step yet.
When I first heard the song “Marry Me,” I thought Gwen was begging Gavin to pop the question, but now I realize it’s the complete opposite. She very much wants to get married and have a family, yet isn’t quite sure if it has to happen right now. One lyric goes, “I’m more indecisive than ever. And who believes in forever?” Marriage is a huge deal. Yes, you might want the beautiful wedding and fairy tale marriage, but marriage isn’t a cakewalk. (To say nothing about the divorce rate.)
In “Six Feet Under,” Gwen discusses how your body can be telling you, IT’S TIME TO HAVE A BABY; she also realizes it’s her birthday. She’s a year older and her desire to have kids is increasing, yet she’s taking birth control to prevent just that from happening. I always thought the term “biological clock” was a joke, but every second you get closer to 30, it’s like a light switch, and these weird desires to have kids come a lot more than you had the moment before. Personally, I’m still debating if I want kids or not (they are a lifetime commitment, and I barely can stick with a cereal longer than three months). However, my body is all about babies right now. I’m not ready for kids but then again, who is prepared to be a parent even when the time comes?
After Gwen exited out of her Saturn return phase, she and Gavin got married and had three kids together. After thirteen years of marriage, the two divorced. So… that answers her question if they would last forever.
Next year, I will turn 30 and slowly exit out of my Saturn return. I wonder what my next era will bring. Will I become domestic? Get married and start a family? Or will I continue dating? Will I make a drastic career move? Who knows, but I’m just glad Gwen allowed herself to be honest about her personal experiences; now that I’m here too, it’s nice not to feel alone.