My musical tastes don’t really match my worldview. Even as a teenager in the ’90s, my Walkman presets and cassette tape mixes were likely to be playing Motown and similar R&B from the ’70s, a genre that is predominated with unresolved heartbreak and the undying pursuit of perfect love.
Despite my disinterest in a long-term romantic relationship, despite not having someone to whom I want to direct such emotions, I still get lost in my feelings when I hear someone like Teddy Pendergrass or Deniece Williams sing about the heart. A friend and I went to a party that was hosted by my job last Saturday, and afterward we stopped by a Kroger that was playing Atlantic Starr’s “Always” over its sound system.
It’s a little humbling to realize how my emotional development has been profoundly influenced by about 90 percent of the muzak that plays in grocery stores and Five Guys, but for the next three days I was singing the chorus of “Always” to myself.
“Ooh you’re like the sun/ chasing all of the rain away/ When you come around/ you bring brighter days,” I sang with involuntary optimism pumping in my chest. “You’re the perfect one/ for me and you forever will be/ and I will love you so/ for always.”
This earworm was skewing my serotonin levels the following Monday when my boss approached my desk and asked about my guest at the party.
“Oh, that’s my friend, Karim,” I said, turning my head to notice that our office manager had floated toward my desk, also hoping for exciting news.
“Uh huh, Karim,” my boss said playfully. “And a friend, that’s it?”
“That’s it,” I said, my words weighted with their disappointment.
“C’mon, Ryan,” my boss teased. “We gotta find someone to make an honest man out of you, especially now that you’re a family man.”
I’m used to folks encouraging me to find love; one of my closest friend’s boyfriend devotes much of the time we spend in clubs to spotting potential partners and asking, “How about that guy? What about him? Is he your type?” While I sometimes feel like I’m being initiated into an arranged marriage, I know folks are cheering for me to find Mr. Right for the right reasons.
I trust that my friends and co-workers adore me, and believe I deserve to be adored by someone in a special way. I believe they think I am “worth” a relationship.
However, I don’t feel like I am squandering any of my “worth” via extended, committed singledom, and I don’t see how my quality of life improves by submitting to a romantic structure of which I am suspicious. I remain open to establishing a solid, loving companionship with a man that doesn’t match most love songs, but I currently enjoy being single enough to resist Atlantic Starr being stuck in my head, matchmaking friends and co-workers, and the onset of cuffing season, when folks find someone to share body heat with during the colder months.
Part of the distance between my emotions and the music I like might be attributable to a continuing sleight that LGBT people endure in love music: how we must tweak pronouns and imagine a freedom of affection to make popular songs reflect our hearts. While the romantic ballads of the ’70s forever will be the muzak playing on loop in my head, there’s always been something that made me think these songs weren’t written for me.