Love & Sex

Love Song Yearbook: Ten Songs That Shaped My Idea of Love

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“He was my real-life version of John Cusack from High Fidelity…”

The music we like when we're young shapes us in a lot of ways. It might give you a lifelong disrespect for The Man, or it might make you a hopeless romantic. In Love Song Yearbook, we're interested in what songs shaped your idea of love at different ages. Want to submit your own Love Song Yearbook? Email with "Love Song Yearbook" in the subject line.

1. Age five – “Crazy,” Patsy Cline
My father was a good ol’ boy from Oklahoma, and my mom was an immigrant from Korea, but one thing that brought them together was their love of classic country music. They would often listen to tapes of Loretta Lynn, Johnny Cash, and Patsy Cline while driving in our blue station wagon or preparing dinner. I apparently knew every word to “Crazy,” when I was young, and would sing it proudly in front of my family in preparation for my career as a famous singer. The singing career didn’t work out, and neither did my parents' marriage. Looking back, the lyrics “Crazy for trying and crazy for crying / And I'm crazy for loving you” were the perfect reflection of my parent’s complicated marriage, and my earliest conception of love.


2. Age nine – “Just a Friend,” Biz Markie
I started listening to hip-hop when we moved from Pusan, Korea to Newport News, Virginia. When I saw the video for Biz Markie’s “Just a Friend,” I felt an instant connection. Not only was he singing about the same heartache I felt, but he was an odd-looking fellow who didn’t seem to fit in with the crowd. I felt that way in fourth grade, being the half-white/half-Korean new girl with an oversized, Hawaiian-themed JanSport backpack and abnormally long hair. I was crushed that my first love S never knew I existed, but happy that artists like the Biz existed to make those of us in the “just friends” camp feel less alone.


3. Age thirteen – “Passin’ Me By,” The Pharcyde
In seventh grade, I was a huge nerd who wore Coke-bottle glasses, wrote poetry about my dog, and worked on my homework feverishly on Friday nights. My brother Eddie was two years older than me; he was the cool, popular kid in school who hung out late and got into trouble. The only things we had in common were our love of kimchi and hip-hop groups like Black Sheep, Digable Planets, and A Tribe Called Quest. I remember sitting in his room and watching him sing the lyrics to The Pharcyde’s “Passin’ Me By,” thinking it was the anthem to my nonexistent love life. Why did boys keep passing me by in the halls, and “Why does the apple of my eye / Overlook and disregard my feelings no matter how much I try?”


4. Age eighteen – “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You,” Lauryn Hill
After an awkward four years of high school with no real boyfriend, I packed up and went to college three hours away. Homesick, my only comforts were Outkast’s Aquemini and Lauryn Hill’s The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. That changed when I met my English 101 professor. His name was Dr. C, and although I wasn’t physically attracted to him, his knowledge of Tennessee Williams (and literature in general) made him my first-ever college crush. As he talked about English composition, I’d hear “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You” in my head, because he was just too good to be true. I realize now that I thought of him more like a father figure, but even to this day, the affection still exists.


5. Age twenty – “El Scorcho,” Weezer
By the end of my freshman year, I had started hanging out with a group of guys in a neighboring dorm who shared my crude sense of humor, but not my taste in hip-hop. One of these guys was T, and despite our opposite tastes in music, we were both just awkward enough to "get" each other. T gave me Weezer’s Pinkerton on my twentieth birthday. The more I listened to it, the more I loved it, especially “El Scorcho,” with its lyrics, “I’ll bring home the turkey / if you bring home the bacon.” That was the epitome of true love for me at that point: bringing home bacon. T was my first true love, and although we dated for less than two years, I took a newfound love of indie rock from our relationship.

6. Age twenty-one – “I Believe (When I Fall in Love It Will Be Forever),” Stevie Wonder
K was my second true love. When I met him, he was wearing a ragged t-shirt under a dirty flannel, which I took as a dead giveaway to his amazing taste in music and massive CD collection. He was my real-life version of John Cusack from High Fidelity, a snob whose elitism came from a deep love of music, and I reveled in his limitless knowledge. Whenever I hear Stevie Wonder’s “I Believe (When I Fall In Love It Will Be Forever)” from that film’s soundtrack, I think of him. I thought that we would get married and live in musical bliss forever, but then we broke up. The realization that I would never get his musical input again hit me like a ton of bricks.


7. Age twenty-five – “Those to Come,” The Shins
After K, I decided to take some time off and date the only thing that still mattered to me: music. I listened to old-school ‘90s hip-hop and a lot of sappy indie-rock love songs like “Those to Come.” I constantly replayed the latter as I wallowed in my small, lonely Baltimore apartment. Every time I heard the lyrics “They are cold / Still / Waiting in the ether to / Form / Feel / Kill / Propagate / Only to die,” I would tear up and have to turn on something distracting like The Evil Dead. I didn’t feel like falling in love and didn’t want to think of “those dates to come.” I just wanted to finish grad school and not have my car broken into again.


8. Age twenty-six – “I’m A Cuckoo,” Belle & Sebastian
In 2006, after an eight-month hiatus away from men and many a romantic night with a YouTube playlist, I finally found my forever-partner in Phil. We talked online for nine months, and after our first date went well, we continued to spend time together. I found out that we both appreciated Run DMC and Jay-Z, but could also have a blast at a Belle and Sebastian concert, which turned out to be our first show together. I remember sitting on the lawn, still new to the relationship and awkward with each other, when they played  “I’m A Cuckoo." I instantly felt like they were singing about me; I felt cuckoo for Phil, but didn’t want to be so obvious. The feeling must have been mutual, because we ended up moving in together after nine months of dating.


9. Age thirty-one – “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” Joy Division
Although Phil and I were textbook opposites (I was quiet, he was loud; I liked horror movies, he liked Bio-Dome), our love of music kept us connected. We watched the Joy Division biopic, Control, one night on Netflix, and shortly after, had a huge fight because I felt like our life was boring and monotonous. He packed a bag and was ready to leave, but after two hours of arguing and crying, we made up. Still, for weeks after, whenever I thought of the fight, all I could hear in my head was “Love Will Tear Us Apart." The lyrics “When routine bites hard / And ambitions are low / And resentment rides high / But emotions grow” are especially poignant; I still love the song, but every time I hear it, I think about how its title nearly came true for Phil and I.


10. Age thirty-two – “Is This Love,” Bob Marley
After six years together (and an uneventful proposal — I think I'd just filed my taxes a moment beforehand), I realized Phil was the man I wanted to marry.  I knew I made the right decision when we agreed to have Bob Marley’s “Is This Love” as the first track on our wedding CD. I played that CD every day for four months leading up to our wedding, and every day after for at least three months. It’s still in my car for whenever I need a pick-me-up. Phil and I have been married for eight months now, and we still live by the lyrics, “I wanna love you and treat you right / I wanna love you every day and every night.”