Merry Swiftmas ... or, the year of the woman

When I was 15, I fell hard for a guy who also happened to be my friend. We talked nearly daily and spent a lot of time together, in school and out. He didn’t seem to notice I was crazy about him and saw him as far more than a friend. He was dating somebody else at the time.

I vividly remember spending the majority of a high school dance in the bathroom crying, wondering why he couldn’t see we were perfect for each other, before drying my eyes and putting on a fake smile to show the world. Such is the nature of teen love I suppose.

Some years later, I fell hard for another guy. We dated for several months and it’s not an exaggeration to say much of that time was magical. Wildly romantic. Intoxicating. Until suddenly it wasn’t. Things turned ugly. He grew cold. The relationship ended. Heartbroken, I found myself questioning everything and wondering how he could seemingly move on so easily and act as though the beauty I remembered had never happened at all.

Fast forward a few more years and, you guessed, it, I fell hard again, for another friend. This time the feelings were reciprocated, everything fell into place, and the story has a happy ending. In fact, everything fell into place so well that I found myself reflecting on our long friendship and noticing all the curious little coincidences and ways our lives had been intertwined for years and wondering how I’d missed them all that time.

What do these stories have in common, other than being true vignettes from my love life? I’ve been thinking of them often this year as I’ve fallen hard again. Not for a guy, but for the music of global phenomenon Taylor Swift. I’ve been a casual fan for as long as she’s been producing music, but this year I quit viewing it as an almost guilty pleasure and completely jumped into the fandom with both feet.

Swift is inescapable this year, to the delight of many and the chagrin of others. She’s in the midst of what is expected to be the largest concert tour of all time. She seems to weekly break records for music streaming and album sales — often the records she breaks are her own.

According to multiple sources, she’s now joined the ranks of the world’s billionaires. She was just named Time magazine’s Person of the Year. And thanks to her new relationship with quarterback Travis Kelce, she’s even become part of NFL chatter.

My love for her has nothing to do with any of those things. Rather, my affection is deeply personal and is because so much of my own life is reflected in her words. My relationships. My frustration and drive related to feeling as though I have to work harder to succeed because I’m a woman. My frustration with being asked questions and subjected to comments that wouldn’t happen if I were a man. My episodes of self-doubt and imposter syndrome.

I’m 52 years old, yet I can listen to her songs and remember exactly what it felt like to be 15 and pining for someone who didn’t feel the same. All the emotions I felt wondering where the magic went, or if I’d imagined the whole thing, come flooding back.

I may be years past all those experiences, but that doesn’t mean the girl who felt all those things is gone. Instead, she’s part of the person I am now, and I can sometimes find myself in tears all over again, not for the me of now but for the girl I used to be.

“I’ll show you every version of yourself tonight,” Swift sings in “Mirrorball.” She’s a master songwriter who does exactly that, in a way that obviously resonates with millions of people.

I was fortunate enough to snag tickets to her blockbuster Eras tour. It’s been nearly five months since, and I’m still riding the high of that experience.

In a stadium of nearly 80,000 people, she found a way to make it seem as though she was singing to each and every person individually. I’m a music lover and attending concerts is a treasured pastime. I’ve attended 147 thus far, with artists across the musical spectrum.

Far too often, I find myself wishing I had danced more and not worried about the people around me, not been so inhibited. That wasn’t the case with the Swift show. I didn’t care what the people around me thought and, besides, they were all dancing and singing their hearts out too.

Perhaps the biggest factor in my decision to enter the ranks of the Swifties is my teen daughter. Since the moment I became a girl mom, I’ve worried about horror stories coming to fruition. Was she going to hate me when she became a teen? Was she going to spend all her time in her room refusing to talk to me?

I’d heard so many tales about the trials and tribulations of being a mother to a teen girl. Thankfully, none of them have come true. We’re incredibly close, and Swift is part of that. We sing in the car, finding just the right song to fit the good days and the bad. We dance around the kitchen. We dissect lyrics and discuss the ones that seem to just fit.

She attended the Eras show with me and that made the experience all the more powerful. Though it may have meant something different to each of us, the fact that we shared it has strengthened our bond in ways I couldn’t have anticipated.

One of my all-time favorite photographs is of her that night, basking in an avalanche of emotions. Emotions that were all hers, yet somehow tens of thousands of other people’s too. She tells me that concert was the best night of her life, and I can honestly say it was one of mine as well.

Here’s the thing. I’ve been to 147 concerts, and 20 of them have been women artists. Only 20. We live in a world where popular culture, and our history itself, has been dominated by men. Superhero flicks and fantasy adventure movies. Literature. Music.

Perhaps the reason so many women relate to Swift (and artists like Beyonce and the summer blockbuster “Barbie”) is that we’re hearing our stories told, from our perspective, with all the accompanying emotions, frustrations, complications and even contradictions. 

Our stories. They’re real and true and meaningful. As is evidenced by the overwhelming success of Swift, Beyonce, and “Barbie” to name just a few, women are obviously willing to spend money to hear them and see them reflected.

There’s a sense of power that women have too often been denied, all throughout history, that comes with knowing the blockbusters of the year were driven by women — women storytellers, women artists, women fans, and women supporting one another. Along with a sense of, “It’s about time.”

All this to say, I am proud to be something I never imagined I’d be a devoted Swiftie. I’ve shared the friendship bracelets and spent my hard-earned dollars on the merchandise. I’m obviously not alone.

Swift is a megastar for a great many reasons. I firmly believe she is and will be remembered as one of the greatest songwriters ever. She may write her songs about her own experiences, but those experiences are familiar to so many of us. And I guess that’s the point. When you get right down to it, it’s not about just Taylor Swift. It’s about women in general. It’s about my daughter. It’s about me and all the versions of myself that I’ve been able to embrace — with joy and immense gratitude — this year.