Beginning in my early 20s, my experience of love became largely unrequited for a significant stretch of time. It seemed as though either I consistently had feelings for someone who didn’t return them in kind, or I kept finding short-lived connections that didn’t go the distance because there ended up being someone else they liked more. The trend morphed into a rut for nearly a decade, but if I’m being honest, my pump was likely primed for ceaseless pining as far back as the crushes I harbored in middle school. Even then, I seemed to enjoy spending large periods of time dreaming about the person whose mere acknowledgment would’ve cued a gauzy movie montage. This was, after all, the early aughts, when visions of romantic teen comedies like 10 Things I Hate About You and charged teen dramas like Dawson’s Creek filled my head.
But in grad school, those early days of light-hearted longing grew complicated when the affection I felt for one of my friends deepened over time and moved beyond the electrifying thrill of a harmless crush into the weighted yearning of unrequited desire. He didn’t like me in a romantic sense, but whenever we’d go out drinking together—which was often, this being an English master’s program and we the sotted few who aspired to live up to the reputations of yore—he’d change his tune. Suddenly, he’d grow affectionate and attentive, leading me to believe that he felt something too. But that something always faded in the sharp light of sobriety.
This dance went on for two years and many were the times when I thought, “Finally, he sees it!” But alas he did not. And rather than admit that I didn’t like the endless push-and-pull our dynamic had become, I continued to accept his treatment, spending afternoons with him at local coffee shops discussing big ideas, and nights going out for drinks with our friend group where I’d await the moment his fondness turned flirty.
It took some deeper introspection, and the beginning of some long overdue work on myself, to realize that I’ve long been telling myself a story about needing to earn someone’s regard. For a long time, it all seemed perfectly natural to think that it might take one person a bit longer to awaken to the depth of their feelings. I heard that message in one of my favorite songs from that time, Land of Talk’s “It’s Okay.” It registered the dispirited resignation I often felt alongside the sudden flare of hope—how dizzying, how intoxicating it could be to shift from fumes into a full fire.
I first came across the Canadian indie rock band when they opened for Dinosaur Jr. at The Moon in Tallahassee sometime in 2008. Clutching a beer, I stood in the midst of that music venue as the audience filtered in and became enamored with Elizabeth Powell’s drowsy singing and the burnished electric guitar that brushed up against her voice. Somewhere in the band’s quick set, Powell sang “It’s Okay” from their 2008 album Some Are Lakes (produced by Justin Vernon, no less), and I remember floating away into a dark ether because it all felt so familiar.
The song details a faltered romance, beginning on a guitar sustain before a drum beat structures that looser thought. Powell never details the reason for the relationship’s end—only its aftermath. “It’s okay/ I don’t even cry/ All I think about/ Is a memory/ In a dream/ When you kiss my arm,” she sings, her voice fighting off an emotional heaviness to land somewhere closer to a strained acceptance.
I most heard myself on the chorus, when Powell’s voice mirrors the hope she sings about—so enthralled with the image in her head. “That maybe when I die/ I’ll get to be a car/ Driving in the night/ Lighting up the dark,” she sings, while an electric guitar paces rhythmically underneath her vocals. “Something in your voice/ It sparks a little hope/ I’ll wait up for that noise/ Your voice becomes my home.” Halfway through the song, Powell’s electric guitar picks up the lingering ellipses of the chorus to build the most cathartic instrumental solo from it.
After Powell and her band exited the stage that night, I purchased Some Are Lakes and collected her signature at the merch table. I took the newest addition of my burgeoning record collection home, where I immediately played through it again and again, sinking into “It’s Okay” each time I landed on the B-side. By the end of my time in Tallahassee, it felt like a well-worn stone.
Now, as I reach the end of 2023 and emerge from a two-month thing that started with such promise—inside jokes on the first date, enthralling playfulness on the second, and the kind of easy connection that could easily be mistaken for an answer to the questions you’ve been asking—but ended once again with my working hard to prove myself to someone who liked me but ultimately “felt like something was missing,” I can see the long stretch of time feeding into this worn pattern. The underlying wound may not have started with that early grad school friendship, but what I accepted over the course of those two years and the subsequent relationships that followed have only deepened the hurt—and the story emerging from it.
Hope is a beguiling force. Rather than train it on a person who doesn’t deserve it—hoping to one day feel the home of their voice by becoming worthy of it, as Powell illustrates on the track—I’m choosing instead to find it in myself. As a new year beckons, I’m invested in constructing a new song—one that sheds the refrain I’ve been singing for so many years. Now, that’s a noise worth waiting up for.