How Romantic Relationships Alter Our Relationship to Music

We asked three music writers to explain how their romantic relationships alter their relationship to music.
Author:
Publish date:
Drake, 2019

Falling in love changes our outlook on life. Love has a shifting quality. But what happens when you fall in love with a person, having already been in love with a craft? I’m talking about the chemical reaction that occurs when you’re obsessed with music and writing, and you bring your latest obsession—your partner—into the mix, experiencing the sensation of sharing your passions with your partner and them sharing right back.

I’m talking about falling in love with a person when you’re already in love with music, and how that intersection informs both relationships. Speaking with music and culture writers Armon Sadler, Austin Williams, and Michell Clark, I endeavored to break down how our romantic relationships influence our musical relationships and vice versa. If love makes everything a touch better, then surely, listening to music while being in love is a euphoria of its own making.

For Sadler and Clark, their partners’ music taste was part of the allure. “She shared my love of Drake,” Sadler tells me. “We had a drunk, in-depth conversation about ‘Teenage Fever,’ ‘Sacrifices,’ and More Life.”

Sadler’s sentiments were echoed by Clark, who recalled: “One of the first conversations that my girlfriend, Duanecia, and I had was about JAY-Z’s 4:44 album, and how it could be a case study for how to properly make space for brand maturation. Many of our early conversations involved music or some form of broader cultural analysis or commentary.”

When looking to pursue a new relationship, establishing common ground and healthy conversation is one of the two critical factors in nurturing a budding romance. However, for Williams, musical taste was the furthest thing from a requirement. On the contrary, due to being burned in the past, Williams has grown to cherish his and his partner’s musical differences.

“My girlfriend and I are different in a lot of ways,” Williams explains. “The biggest difference being she’s a normal, non-obsessive person. Her interest in music pretty much begins and ends with Pandora radio and Apple Music playlists. She’s the type of person to always have music playing while she’s cooking or cleaning or typing, but mostly to drown out the silence. Also, she’s Guyanese and was raised in France until the age of 16. So her interest in a genre as American as hip-hop is minimal.”

Williams strikes an important nerve here, mentioning his girlfriend is “a normal, non-obsessive person.” For music writers, there’s often a bug in our brain, hounding us to dig and analyze until we glaze over for the day. There’s a deep and ever-expanding intensity to our relationship with music, which often makes it difficult for us to imagine feeling as deeply for anything as we do the art. In our chosen career paths, too, many sacrifices have to be made. This means we spend more nights in writing than we do showing face for our loved ones. Naturally, this makes it difficult to couple up.

All three writers have found a way to balance the intensity of the craft with the intensity of a relationship. The key, it seems, is to share that intensity with your partner, to involve them in your process in the little and big ways. We’ve built our lives around music, but that does not mean we’re unwelcoming.

“I rant [to my partner] multiple times a day,” Sadler explains. “But I do the best I can to be patient. I pitch my article ideas to her sometimes to make sure they make sense. She’s the first eyes on an article when it’s published.”

One of the crucial ways we let our partners into our lives and allow them to become part of our obsessions, then, is by sharing the music with them. “I try to be as mindful as possible when I share music with my girl,” Williams notes. “I know she doesn’t have the same appetite for new music that I do. I never send her music just for the sake of sharing.”

He continues: “I do this thing where each time we travel somewhere, I’ll wait until she falls asleep the night before we leave and put a playlist on her phone for her to listen to on the bus or the plane. The last playlist I made was dedicated to ‘firsts,’ because, as I wrote in the personalized description, this relationship feels like the first time I’ve ever been loved this thoughtfully, intentionally, and deeply.”

As romantic as this sounds, which it does, Williams’ vulnerability at this moment highlights the stakes of sharing music. That is, as music writers and enthusiasts, there is a natural pressure to share music with loved ones. We don’t want to waste anyone’s time. We don’t want to have our sharing rejected in some way, extending to a rejection of ourselves. Sharing music is just as much about opening up the self as it is sending a playlist. In a profession requiring us to put ourselves on display, however, the pressure of sharing music with a partner all but melts away. We’re more concerned with the love language of music than how we’ll be perceived.

“[Music]’s a way for me to communicate how I feel about her,” Sadler says. “I don’t ever feel pressure in expressing myself, so it’s a painless process.”

Clark echoes these thoughts, adding: “I don’t feel pressured, because [my partner and I] share music naturally, as part of daily conversations. Sharing playlists we’ve created to commemorate specific moments or to set the mood for moments together has been part of our relationship from the very beginning.”

With all this sharing, though, comes the question of taste. How do we account for our partner’s tastes and the potential of them clashing with ours? For Williams, this is a non-issue: “I only share things with her I’m confident she’ll like it. And she rarely ever sends me anything, because that’s not her thing. She’s more likely to bombard me with horror movie recommendations. That’s the real struggle—I hate horror movies.”

Sadler tells us a slightly different story: “I honestly will listen to anything with a fair ear. [My partner] has trouble connecting to certain pop or alternative songs I enjoy, but I appreciate her willingness to check them out and give honest feedback.”

Within this honest feedback, we find the best part of being in a relationship with someone while being a music head: They open us up to new music and fresh ways of thinking. “I listen to more Latino music because of her,” Sadler continues. “She’s Cuban and Argentine. She’s [also] helped reinforce looking back at things I used to like instead of getting caught up in all the new music dropping daily. She makes me feel okay being ‘late’ to something because she takes her time consuming new albums.”

Of course, our partners can open our minds to new experiences. Williams notes he’s more willing to listen to reggae and embrace West Indian culture as a result of his relationship: “Now that I’m a little older and a lot more cuffed, I find myself at home more often, which is great. My connection to West Indian culture is more firmly rooted in the old school reggae my girl plays around the apartment. It’s soothing. I could imagine raising children on this music.”

Austin Williams, 2019

Sadler’s first times seeing JAY-Z, Drake, and Migos were all with his partner. Music has been the foundation of so many of these writers’ relationship memories. That said, none of the writers I spoke with found sharing a love of music to be a requirement for the relationship. A plus, for sure, but not a make-or-break quality. For Williams, in particular, latching on to the sharing of music has dangerous implications.

“My last partner and I had more in common than I do with who I’m dating now,” he begins. “We obsessed over music together. We sent each other screenshots of our notes apps as we ranked our favorite songwriters. But she was a terrible partner. Never again will I make the mistake of placing any importance or emotional significance on the act of sharing music. It’s a nice thing to do, but at the end of the day, they’re just files and wavelengths.”

Even so, all three writers agreed that sharing and listening to music when in healthy and pure love is a beautiful thing. Clark describes it as an unfiltered “euphoria.” Sadler, adds: “I’ll always pick a night in with bae, some wine, and our Bluetooth speaker… It’s a place we can meet each other halfway and connect. It’s beautiful singing along together.”

As we fall in love and get “a lot more cuffed,” as Williams puts it, music takes on a new meaning. Music becomes yet another love language to tap into, navigate, and nurture. The art becomes an extension of an “I love you,” sometimes communicating more than the three words ever could. Sharing music will always be more than sharing music, but sharing music when in love? Now, that’s classic.

Related