Maggie Rogers, “Light On”

1 Maybe the scariest thing about abandonment is how comfortable we are with it.

2 I can’t prove it, of course, but “Light On” sounds an awful lot like two people ghosting each other and calling it a relationship.

3 It’s such a difficult notion to wrap one’s head around, despite the fact a number of us have done “ghosting-like” or “ghosting-lite” things. It’s so difficult to understand despite the fact we see it every day.

4 What makes ghosting singularly awful is the way shutting down all communication is used. Two people share their deepest concerns and vulnerabilities. Then one just disappears with everything that was said, refusing to reach out, listen, or respond. You’re stuck. You wonder at the betrayal—could you be worth so little you’re not worth hearing? You ransack every memory and thought you ever had, searching for whatever least thing made you unlovable.

5 I must confess I’ve cut off or neglected communication myself. I will say it was abundantly clear in those situations I wasn’t worth spit. There are more ways of belittling and bullying than those which resemble ghosting. Still, my experience rebounds: the dehumanization involved in ghosting is all too obvious and terrifying to me.

6 “Terror.” It’s a weird word to use absent physical violence. It needs to be explored and given its proper context. People who aren’t monsters do horrible things to each other.

7 Would you believe me now / If I told you I got caught up in a wave? I can’t imagine having a partner and being so distrustful of them that their feelings of dislocation and lacking control simply do not get heard. I don’t understand why anyone would want a partner if they didn’t want to practice any sensitivity. That’s where this song starts, though. And it’s real and relatable enough. Would you hear me out / If I told you I was terrified for days?

8 “Terror.” A not insignificant number of people have partners, but no friends or ability to make friends. They understand the people around them primarily in terms of utility. To be sure, friendship is a difficult, uncertain enterprise, with emotions involved not unlike a relationship.

A not insignificant number of people can’t make the least sense of their own family, and haven’t realized that a partner… well.

9 A failing, miserable relationship feels terrible to most of us. Your feelings aren’t acknowledged—how long were you never really there? Thought I was gonna break / Oh, I couldn’t stop it / Tried to slow it all down / Crying in the bathroom. All that’s left is to save face. Had to figure it out / With everyone around me saying / “You must be so happy now.” If you can present the appearance you’re happy, maybe others will know you’re lovable. Maybe things will get better.

10 The preceding has primarily focused on one half of the relationship. How is the other feeling and faring? The chorus indicates that a horrible cycle has been occurring for a while: If you keep reaching out / Then I’ll keep coming back. The other is certainly acting in an awful manner, but things are complicated. Someone in this dynamic gets frustrated with not being heard, leaves, then comes back. This happens regularly, so much so it seems inevitable: If you leave the light on / Then I’ll leave the light on / And I am finding out / There’s just no other way. It’s not just a dysfunctional cycle, but one centered around a false stoicism: If you’re gone for good / Then I’m okay with that. I don’t know much, but I know you can’t develop emotionally around fake strength.

11 Should we treat both halves of the relationship as equally culpable, given the chorus? That question doesn’t seem to have a good answer. A better starting point is probably this: Maybe the scariest thing about abandonment is how comfortable we are with it.

12 Lyrics beyond the chorus: And do you believe me now / That I always had the best intentions, babe? / Always wanted to stay. Abandonment is a misguided attempt to prove ourselves to each other. It’s a terrible language, dependent on exploiting each other’s vulnerabilities. Can you feel me now / That I’m vulnerable in oh-so many ways? Someone outside this cycle might be quick to judge everyone within it. They might dismiss the feelings involved, saying they’re not established upon anything real. That judgment would be very wrong: all the feelings and needs are most certainly real. But how do you teach–how do you learn–that appreciation, not abuse, of our vulnerabilities makes us human? That you’re not more human because you can hide your feelings and pretend someone else doesn’t exist?

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