Breakup Survival Guide: 15 Songs for the Brokenhearted

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Certain things in life are inevitable. Buying a box of girl scout cookies to share, but accidentally eating all of them by yourself. Hitting the open bar at your cousin’s wedding a smidge too hard. Church giggles. And the coup de grace, having your heart yanked out of your chest and eaten with some fava beans and a nice chianti by that jerk you made mix-tapes for and shacked up with for a couple of years.

Humans have been screwing each other over romantically since the Paleolithic Age (it’s-not-you-it’s-me cave drawings some Neanderthal left for his sleeping partner will be found any day now). But one advantage we have over our less-evolved distant cousins is the therapeutic powers of music. Approximately 97.4 percent of songs are about matters of the broken heart (this is not a scientific estimate; I was a lit major), all of which can assist you in running the gauntlet of the grieving process. Denial, bargaining, anger, depression, acceptance: No one said this was going to be easy, but it sure will sound good!

DENIAL

Despite how realistic and level-headed you think you are, your first impulse after getting dumped is that this must be some sort of mistake. You don’t get kicked to the curb! You got a perfect verbal score on the SAT! You read a book a week and watch foreign films! You can tie a cherry stem with your tongue! Alas, it is so, but it’ll take some time for that to sink into your distressed brain. While you wait for that to happen, hang out with the following musicians who are also kidding themselves.

THE HUMAN LEAGUE: DON’T YOU WANT ME

If you’re going to be pitiful, you might as well do it to a good dance beat. The protagonist in “Don’t You Want Me” just can’t get it through his head: “You know I can’t believe it when I hear that you won’t see me.” Potential stalker alert! His ex then gives us her side of the story: “The five years we have had have been such good times. I still love you, but now I think it’s time I live my life on my own.” Despite her straightforward admission, he can’t help but repeatedly ask her: “Don’t you want me, baby?” Remember this dude next time you’re in the same position and intuit that the answer is: No, not really.

THE MAGNETIC FIELDS: I DON’T WANT TO GET OVER YOU

Few know more about love songs than Stephen Merritt, who wrote and recorded 69 of them for the Magnetic Fields’ wonderful 69 Love Songs album. In “I Don’t Want to Get Over You,” Merritt resists getting over love through Prozac, cloves, and Camus (you know it’s bad when that Frenchie shows up). Unfortunately, as much fun as that combo sounds, no amount of pills, smokes, or French absurdism can keep reality at bay.

FLIGHT OF THE CONCHORDS: NOT CRYING

Breaking up is a sad business, but that doesn’t mean it can’t occasionally be hilarious. In “Not Crying,” New Zealand comedy duo Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement, better known as Flight of the Conchords, sum up those moments when we let our pride deny the fact that we’re actually hurt, like when you fall on your face in public and immediately exclaim, “I’m fine! I’m OK!” while blood pours out of your ear. The boys try to cover up their tears with creative excuses: rain on the face, sweaty eyes, thoughts of a dying friend, the ever-popular dust in the eye, and, best for last, “just been cutting onions. I’m making a lasagna…for one.”

ANGER

So you’ve realized that this breakup isn’t an accident like getting someone else’s subscription to US Weekly (and keeping it). Now comes the rage! This is the entertaining part (for your friends, less so for your ex). You might slash a tire or shout charged epithets at their bedroom window or perhaps you just punch a pillow in the privacy of your own home (yeah, right). Whatever path you choose, these songs will help you feel better about your crazy eyes and that popping vein in your neck.

ALANIS MORISSETTE: YOU OUGHTA KNOW

This is the definitive song for spurned lovers everywhere. Alanis is pissed and won’t let her ex forget it, throwing barbed reminders like “You told me you’d hold me until you died, but you’re still alive!” And my favorite lyrical kick in the teeth: “Every time I scratch my nails down someone else’s back, I hope you feel it. Well, can you feel it?!” And to think that it was all inspired by Full House’s blundering Uncle Joey! Uncle Jesse would make a lot more sense (have mercy!).

FLEETWOOD MAC: GO YOUR OWN WAY

How do you pick just one breakup jam from the band most notorious for incestuous hook ups and messier splits? Go with the one with the highest play count in your iTunes of course! “Go Your Own Way” was the first single off of the incredibly successful/insanely good Rumours (recorded in Sausalito!) and is Lindsay Buckingham’s way of telling his lover of many years, Stevie Nicks, to take a hike. Which is more than a little awkward since they had to go on to perform the song for the next couple of decades. Don’t worry, Stevie got plenty of musical shots in herself.

ERYKAH BADU: TYRONE

Erykah has had enough of her freeloading boyfriend, who expects her to fund his antics, as well as those of his friends and even his cousin. She advises him to call one of his buddies named Tyrone to help him move his stuff. But he can’t use her phone. Boom. That’s how a kiss-off is done properly, ladies and gentlemen! Make sure to watch the performance above. Classic Badu sass.

BARGAINING

Oh, boy. This stage is the least flattering, like those weird toe shoes. You beg and you plead, anything to not have to be on your own. You really should gather some dignity and stop prostrating yourself in front of someone who’s just not that into you anymore, but that’s easier said than done. So, while you’re down there being pathetic, give these tracks a listen.

NINA SIMONE: NE ME QUITTE PAS

I always wondered where my minor in French would come in handy and now I have the answer: translating the lyrics to this song and then feeling really sad! Nina begs for her lover not to leave and offers overtures of reconciliation: “I will offer you pearls made of rain coming from countries where it never rains. I will work the earth until I die to cover your body with gold and light. I will create a kingdom for you.” That’s super sweet and all, but do it for someone who cares!

THE BEATLES: WE CAN WORK IT OUT

Cute British boys pleading again and again to work things out. They even get all existential when presenting their case: “Life is very short and there’s no time for fussing and fighting.” How anyone could deny a second go of things to any of these lads is beyond me. Just look at John’s darling smile and sideways glance in this video!

JACKSON 5: I WANT YOU BACK

Don’t be confused by the upbeat cheer of adorable tween Michael Jackson. This song is about blowing it with someone because you thought you could do better and living to regret it. Now all there is left to do is grovel for one more chance. Tough luck!

DEPRESSION

My best friend/mother in my head, Lorelai Gilmore, whom you might know from the best television show ever Gilmore Girls (don’t argue with me about this), once said: “Get back in your pajamas, go to bed, eat nothing but gallons of ice cream and tons of pizza. And just sit in the dark and watch a really sad movie and have a good long cry and just wallow. You need to wallow.” So do yourself a favor and take this chance to feel things and be a mess and do your best impersonation of Bridget Jones. This healthy approach will keep you from crying on crowded buses or by the copy machine at work. Put some of these gems on and let those tears flow.

SINEAD O’CONNOR: NOTHING COMPARES 2 U

Don’t get me wrong. I love me some Prince (as evidenced by my Halloween impersonation of him a few months ago), but Sinead O’Connor’s rendition of “Nothing Compares 2 U” is leagues ahead of his original. It’s gut-wrenching and raw and everything you need from a song when you’re down in the dumps and want to stay there. I’ve even taken to listening to it before I go out (my philosophy is to tear up the dance floor like she tore up that picture of the pope). It’s just that good.

LYKKE LI: SADNESS IS A BLESSING

Another woman who knows the benefit of a good wallow is Lykke Li. In this song she declares, “Sadness is my boyfriend. Oh, sadness, I’m your girl.” Sometimes it’s better to commit yourself to melancholia than some two-timing loser. And sometimes, as proven in the music video, you just need to drink your sorrows away and inappropriately dance in public places. No judgment.

ADELE: SOMEONE LIKE YOU

Do I even need to explain this one? There’s an entire SNL sketch devoted to this song making people uncontrollably blubber. Adele turned heartbreak into millions of dollars. Put those tears to good use!

ACCEPTANCE

It’s been a long arduous road, but here you are! You’ve finally reached the oasis in the desert. No longer a walking gushing wound, you have accepted your new singledom and are so over what’s-his/her-face and are moving on. This is the triumphant part you never thought would come. It’s like winning a gold medal in the sport of emotional stability! So step up to that podium and sing it loud!

LIZ PHAIR: DIVORCE SONG

Let’s forget about present-day rapping Liz Phair and time travel back to 1993, when her debut, Exile in Guyville, proved that she had it all figured out: from one night stands to love to the death of it. In “Divorce Song,” she paints a desolate picture of a marriage coming apart at the seams. “And the license said you had to stick around until I was dead, but, if you’re tired of looking at my face, I guess I already am.” Yikes! Phair doesn’t run from that cutting realization, she embraces it and sends her ex off with grace: “But you’ve never been a waste of my time, it’s never been a drag, so take a deep breath and count back from ten and maybe you’ll be all right.”

GLORIA GAYNOR: I WILL SURVIVE

It doesn’t get more empowering than this. “I Will Survive” describes the phases we covered above that led you to this place of strength and resilience. Breakups can teach you a lot of things, and so can this song. Let us count the ways: 1. you should probably change the locks after your ex breaks up with you. 2. going back to the one who “tried to hurt [you] with goodbye” is not an option. 3. only save all your lovin’ for someone who’s lovin’ you. 4. you can survive anything (with a little help from your friends and bottomless mimosas).

DOLLY PARTON: I WILL ALWAYS LOVE YOU

You’re tearing up just thinking about this song, aren’t you? Whitney gets a lot of the credit, but this beautiful ode of acceptance is all Dolly. She perfectly captures the place we all hope to reach: one where we accept that things are not meant to be and can find it within ourselves to truly wish our exes joy, happiness, and above all this, love. Once you’re capable of this, your grieving process is finally complete and it’s back to that battlefield we call love. May the odds be ever in your favor!

And because they don’t love you like I love you, I present this Spotify playlist of the songs above, as well as all the others I couldn’t fit in this space. You deserve it!

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Author

Emmanuel Hapsis

Emmanuel Hapsis studied creative writing at University of Maryland, College Park and went on to receive his MFA in the field from California College of the Arts. After a few years of odd jobs, he landed at KQED, where he worked his way up from an intern to being the lead producer of a literature podcast and then the creator and editor of KQED Pop. In his free time, he teaches yoga and sings his heart out at karaoke.

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