We don’t all share the same taste in music.
Or politics. Or religion. Or fashion.
We can be diverse in our backgrounds, in our choices, and in the way we see the world. But, there is always, always, always common ground. Somewhere, somehow, we all connect to one another.
I have never in my life heard anyone say that they don’t like music. Our genre and artist preferences may vary, but music resonates with us all. There are songs that transport us to another time, another feeling, just by hearing them. There are lyrics that make us smile and ones that make us cry. There are songs to soothe us, songs to rage along to, and songs we use when we need to cry ourselves to sleep.
Music encapsulates the human experience. It moves us all.
Recently, I was the silent witness to a breakup. Two mutual friends parted ways, and I watched the fall out on social media. And not in a voyeuristic way. As a former therapist, my training and instinct is to observe. Both parties dealt with the loss with great dignity and were even circumspect in what they posted on social media. But, still, I felt a wave of loss myself, reminded of my own past heartbreak.
Revisited by the ghosts of heartache I’ve experienced, I remembered my commitment to live my life by leaning in (instead of away) from my struggles.
And part of leaning is to accept what we’re feeling when we feel it—not to deny it, not to distract ourselves from it. Just to feel it. To be present in the moment with everything that we’re feeling in order to fully experience it. And by doing so, to heal from it.
Part of leaning in and experiencing our heartache is to allow ourselves the time and space to grieve. And what better way is there to grieve than to listen to all those brutal breakup songs that move us?
When we’re stuck in that place of grief and loss, these songs resonate with us. They give us all the feels because we know when we hear them that someone else has felt this way, too.
My taste in music may not be the same as every reader’s, but here are 19 brutal breakup songs to sit with when sitting with our loss is all we can manage:
1. “The Night We Met” by Lord Huron: Many of us heard this for the first time on the Netflix original series, “Thirteen Reasons Why.” It’s incredible and moving and wrenching.
“I had all and then most of you,
Some and now none of you.”
2. “Skinny Love” by Bon Iver or Birdy: The frustration and loss resonate with this one. This is the breakup song for the one still struggling with the mixed emotions that come with a breakup.
3. “Poison and Wine” by The Civil Wars: There are some breakups that, while inevitable, are gut-wrenching. We still love, but we know that moving on is all that’s left.
4. “Ashes and Wine” by A Fine Frenzy: Some relationships end, but we still wonder if the door could reopen. This is the song for that little glimmer of hope hiding in all that heartache.
5. “We Don’t Talk Anymore” by Charlie Puth and Selena Gomez: One of the worst parts of a failed relationship is the loss of the friendship of that person. The grief from losing our friend can be as crippling as the grief from losing our lover.
6. “Say Something” by A Great Big World: The end of some relationships seems inevitable, and yet we try to slow the momentum or stop the end from coming. Even when we know it’s a lot cause. This song is for grief like that.
7. “Bird of Sorrow” by Glen Hansard: Despite the name, this is the one song I could listen to in a breakup that actually made me feel like there’s a little hope out there. This is for the heartbroken who have nearly given up—don’t.
8. “Almost Lover” by A Fine Frenzy: Sometimes the most brutal breakups aren’t breakups at all. There’s nothing official to break, but we still feel the loss. Our hearts can still experience the pain that comes with saying goodbye to someone we’d hoped would stay.
9. “Back to Black” by Amy Winehouse: It’s tough to watch someone else move on when we’re still struggling to deal with the loss. There can be anger and despair mixed up in all that grief.
10. “I Hate U I Love U” by Gnash and Olivia O’Brien: This is the breakup song for the relationship in which we felt used, and yet still miss our partner who left. This is watching someone else move on while we’re stuck in grief. When we want to hate but only feel love, despite everything and against our will.
11. “Yesterday” by The Beatles: This song is filled with regret and longing. We can look back at the time before everything changed and remember what it was like. But the reality of heartache is that looking back won’t change the now.
12. “A Million Reasons” by Lady Gaga: Like “Say Something,” this song is filled with the longing for our lovers to do something to fix it before everything goes wrong, or to change the ending once it has fallen apart.
13. “Nothing Compares 2 U” by Sinead O’Connor: Is there anything more heartrending than this voice describing a heartache that just won’t heal and a love that just can’t be replaced?
14. “The Truth” by Kris Allen: This song is all about trying to keep a relationship going even when we know it’s falling apart. It’s when we’ve tried everything, and it’s all still going to end.
15. “Try Sleeping with a Broken Heart” by Alicia Keys: The song title says it all. This song is for those sleepless nights when the loss seems unbearable.
16. “Hello” by Adele: No breakup song list would be complete without Adele. Her soulful voice is the sound of our grief, and this song in particular tells of the fallout of a relationship and how we often leave things unsaid.
17. “The Scientist” by Coldplay: What wouldn’t we give to go back to the start when our hearts are broken? This song is lovely and resonant and a great balm to our grief when we’re processing the end of a relationship.
18. “Don’t Speak” by No Doubt: This one is for the relationships that are done, but we don’t want to admit it.
19. “I’d Do It All Again” by Corinne Bailey Rae: This song is for when we realize through our heartbreak that we’d still do it all again; we would experience all the hurt just for the happiness it gave us before it ended. This is when healing begins.
Hopefully, we can move beyond the breakup songs that help us connect with the deep ache of loss and move on to find something that heals us. Whether it’s a song, or a painting, or a conversation with someone who reminds us that the world doesn’t end when a relationship does.
Until then, we’ll just sit with the loss and let these songs sit with us.
Author: Crystal Jackson
Editor: Leah Sugerman
Copy Editor: Nicole Cameron
Social Editor: Yoli Ramazzina