Framing a personal struggle around a song is tacky. I hate when writers do that.
But Lorde’s latest release, a stirring piano ballad called “Liability,” puts into words a form of uncertainty I could never articulate. The 20-year-old songstress has peeled back her angsty exterior to reveal an underlying paradox I know all too well: genuine confidence coupled with a perpetual feeling of loneliness.
Her words spill unevenly over a subdued chord progression, revealing her confusion in feeling a mixture of pride and withdrawal. “So I guess I’ll go home / Into the arms of the girl that I love / The only love I haven’t screwed up,” she sings flatly. “She’s so hard to please / But she’s a forest fire.” Soon enough, listeners get the gist: Lorde’s only consistent source of affection comes from within herself. It doesn’t feel tacky anymore — “Liability” is the story of the unnamed instability that plagues the lonely extrovert.
If we’ve ever met, you’re probably laughing right now. What do I, a boisterous, curly-haired lump of charisma (that’s what you all call me, don’t hide it), know about loneliness? I’m generally surrounded by various groups of wonderful people who share my interests, and when I’m not, I appear to be enjoying my solitude. I tweet about self-love, and I get plenty of likes on my Instagram posts. My outfit is wild, and I’m dancing like Carlton Banks sans-cardigan, so I must be enjoying the empty corner of the party, right?
Though this train of logic makes enough sense, I’d ask you to consider this: How would you feel if a Solo cup full of chaser (orange pop, and nothing but orange pop) was the only companion you felt entirely comfortable around?
“But what about me, Tess? I thought I was your friend.”
There it is, in black and white: The worst thing you could ever say to a lonely extrovert.
Of course we are friends. Of course I love you and appreciate all that our relationship has offered the both of us. I think you’re wonderful, and I know you think I’m wonderful. But feeling lonely has nothing to do with whether or not one is actually alone. This is an internal battle, one that is mine to overcome. If you want to help, ask me if there’s anything you can do — granted, there probably isn’t, but I’ll always appreciate your concern. If you don’t want to help, don’t say a thing! All I ask is that you do not make my struggle about you.
I have no shortage of surface-level friends, but what I do lack is a sense of emotional security in our relationships.
Being strong-willed and independent is a beautiful thing. It’s what made me comfortable traveling to New York for my first internship at 16, what kept me calm when I was denied access into an event for which I was hired. Yet with my go-getter lifestyle comes a caveat few have addressed: The fear of being seen as a spectacle rather than a peer.
Though I’m happy to humble-brag about my selfie with Gigi Hadid (not sorry) or tell someone why I wore my green-and-gold trench coat to class, I can’t help but feel othered by those who ask only about the shallow. It’s as though actually getting to know me is not worth their time, but they still want all the gossip from my time at New York Fashion Week. In an atmosphere as competitive as the University of Michigan’s, I am never sure whether people want me around for real reasons or if they only want to know what Kylie Jenner’s lips look like in real life (great, by the way).
I’m not trying to complain about the support I receive from those around me, nor do I want to make light of the incredible luck I have had in securing work opportunities. What I do want is to make a distinction between praising the glamorous parts of someone and actually appreciating them. I’ve become so suspicious of the first that I rarely recognize the latter, even when it’s standing right in front of me.
When I do find people who want me around for more than tabloid-y small talk, I doubt everything I do. I’m too loud, surely they’ll become sick of me soon enough. I talk about myself too much some days, and ask too many questions on others. A piece of me is convinced that I’m bound to mess up anything that brings me fulfillment, and so I pull back, for I would hate to bother the people I care about.
I often feel like those I interact with know something I don’t, an outsider in my own life. I soldier on in outspoken solitude because I love who I am.
“They’re gonna watch me disappear into the sun,” Lorde’s voice quivers at the end of “Liability.” “You’re all gonna watch me disappear into the sun.”
It’s tacky, yes, but if you need me, at least you know where I’ll be.