Florence + the Machine’s “The Bomb”

I loved one who desired another. It was a punishing thing, but I didn’t quite understand the complexity of that pain until I heard “The Bomb,” from Florence + the Machine’s new album Dance Fever.

My now ex-boyfriend was involved with a married woman when I first met him. You might call it polyamory, but he really only fixated on that one relationship. You might call it ethical non-monogamy, but the secrets she kept from her husband would call into question the very nature of that understanding. Either way, I should’ve known to keep walking, but he felt like the kindred spirit I’d been waiting for. I listened when he said there was a time limit with her, that he wanted something more.

He wanted her and got me is what it often felt like. I wanted him but got the full reality of this other arrangement. When I learned about their past together—the jagged details that sustained their feelings over two years and countless hurts—it seeped into my brain like an overturned glass of red wine. I started thinking about it and then found I couldn’t stop. I didn’t understand why he kept going back.

“The Bomb” may venture a guess. The short song tells the story of a woman in love with someone outside her relationship. It starts quietly—Florence utters a deep sigh before soft piano, acoustic guitar, and drum brush build behind her. It’s as though the weight of what she’s going through still feels too heavy to express. Her exhale is a bracing act.

The restriction keeping them from one another proves to be the driving force behind their connection. “If I was free to love you/ You wouldn’t want me would you?” Florence sings, her voice shifting into a vibrato that quavers with angst. “Unavailability is the only thing that turns you on,” she adds, countering with a charged follow-up, “I’m here, baby, tell me that I’m wrong.” Listening to the track, I couldn’t help thinking back to what my partner told me early on—how he knew it would never work with her in a real sense. If allowed to be together, they would implode.

Eventually, he agreed to stop seeing her, but she didn’t fade quietly. The moment that sticks out in my mind like some broken shard insistent on catching the light is the Christmas I spent with him. Ever the poet, he gave me a wildly beautiful card detailing how he never thought he’d find anyone like me and how excited he was to keep building something together. That sentiment soured when, the very next day, he sat on my couch and broke down about how much he still desired her and how difficult letting her go had turned out to be. It was so painful to see him hurting—and also to feel like I was drowning in an impossible situation. He wanted her and me. Alone, I wasn’t enough.

The danger of loving someone who doesn’t just want fireworks but the full force of their explosion is that you’re bound to get hurt. And I did. “I don’t love you, I just love the bomb,” Florence sings, and it’s as close to any truth I’ve found about what I went through. The forbidden nature of their time together, the sheer drama of it, must have been intoxicating. “Buildings fall and it’s the only thing that turns me on,” Florence sings with resignation.

What hurts the most is how much I participated in my own destruction. Although I tried to walk away once, a slew of promises and the sense that we fit hand-in-glove drew me back, so I stayed and hoped it would get better. I hoped we could survive the fallout once he stopped seeing her. Suddenly, near the end of “The Bomb,” I could hear myself—a distant third watching the dangerous game taking place between the central two. The lyric felt frighteningly, pertinently applicable: “And I’m in ruins, but is it what I wanted all along?”