It’s hard to love, and hard to be loved. Romantic love in particular is famously hard. This Valentine’s Day, two of my friends are going through divorces; other friends are wondering whether they should give up on their romantic relationships, or whether they have in fact already given up; one friend is worrying whether their asexuality means they’ll never find a romantic relationship in the first place; many of us are exhausted by the mere idea of online dating, let alone the practice of it; and one person (me) is still trying to live down the awkwardness of buying a drink for a stranger at my local bar right before his girlfriend showed up.
What I’m saying is: You may need a Hard to Love playlist this Valentine’s Day. I got you.
1: For When You’ve Been in a Bad Relationship for a Long Time, and You’re Finally at the Point Where You’re Ready to Say All the Things You’ve Been too Scared to Say in Couple’s Therapy, So You Decide to Yell Them at the Top of Your Lungs and then Drop the Mic
* Etta James, “I Don’t Want It”
2: For When You Really Like the Person You’re Dating, and You’ve Been Together for a While, but You’re Just not Ready to Cohabitate for Reasons You Don’t Fully Understand and Can’t Adequately Articulate
For When No One Can Understand What You See in this Person, Not Even You, but the Sex is Good
For When You Have Serious Insomnia Which You Kind of Bring Upon Yourself because of Your Unhealthy Caffeination Habits, but It’s Also the Fault of Your Terrible Romantic Situation
* Peggy Lee, “Black Coffee”
(Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, and Rosemary Clooney also have good versions. Melody by the great Mary Lou Williams!)
For When You’re Realizing that It’s Time to Break Up With Your Boyfriend Because You’re Actually Into Women
* Bananarama, “Na Na Hey Hey”
For When You’re Trying to Mask Your Aching, Full-Body Loneliness as Insouciance
* Barbara Cook, “Nobody’s Heart Belongs to Me”
For When You’re Trying Your Damndest to Sublimate
* Leroy Anderson, “The Typewriter”
For When You Feel So Funny, and You Feel So Sad, So You Decide to Head to Your Local Bar and Buy a Drink for a Stranger and Hope He Doesn’t Have a Girlfriend Who’s Just About to Show Up
* Nina Simone, “I Want a Little Sugar in My Bowl”
For When You Realize the Depth of Your Resistance to Certain Kinds of Vulnerability, and Wonder if You’re Too Old to Change
For When You’re So Overwhelmed You Can Barely Summon the Strength to Open the Spotify App, but You Desperately Need to Listen to Some Kind of Soaring Soul Anthem that Will Repeatedly Remind You to Call a Friend
* Bill Withers, “Lean on Me”
For more about breakups, online dating, “Lean on Me,” and “Black Coffee,” read my new book, Hard to Love: Essays and Confessions, out this month.
Briallen Hopper: Raised by well-intentioned wolves.