17 February 2013

Jolene, If He Wants to Go, You May Keep My Man

When talking intimate relationships, all sorts of stuff is relevant; who, what, how, when, is it even the right person? And much prose and music has been made about just about every aspect of all of this mess (no, really, it can be a mess, I'm sure you agree). One thing to worry about, or that people worry about whether they ought to or not, is: will that special someone stick around? Will somebody come and whisk away your someone?

Let's start this one with a good old-fashioned catchy tune.

Dolly Parton sings, heartbreakingly some might say, to Jolene, asking – no, begging her – to leave her man alone, to not take him away, as apparently that's what Jolene just does on any average day:
I'm begging of you please don't take my man [...]
Please don't take him just because you can
 We all have our own ways of dealing with things. Okay. But there is more:
He talks about you in his sleep
There's nothing I can do to keep
From crying when he calls your name
The I is in a relationship with someone who talks about other women in his sleep, and it's breaking her heart and makes her cry. Does she talk to him about this? No, she addresses Jolene:
I had to have this talk with you
My happiness depends on you
And whatever you decide to do
What Jolene decides to do, not Man, obviously. His decision power seems irrelevant in this case.

I think that's enough to make a certain point for now: This woman is crushed because her Man is apparently at the point of leaving her for someone else, and she takes due action by contacting that other woman. Not by talking to the person who's actually leaving her. It's unclear whether Jolene ever did anything apart from being attractive, but that is apparently enough to warrant her all responsibility. You better not be too pretty, 'cause someone will just be attracted to you, and then it's your fault!

'Man' here is an individual devoid of agency who only follows his urges and cannot resist a beautiful woman, because personality, wits, such things, are not important to him. Thus, the ladies must make out his fate on his behalf, I guess. Woohoo, girl power?

Why, singing I, would you want to stay in a relationship with someone who'll leave you for the first pretty girl that passes by? He can't care that much about you in the first place, since he's seemingly ready to jump off without regards to your feelings. The lyrics explain: 
I could never love again
He's the only one for me
Aw. Love hurts, it's hard to imagine life without someone important to you. But, dear 'I', I really don't think so. Life is long, many things happen, we change and move and people around us change and move, and humans are capable of dealing with a lot of stuff. I sincerely believe most of us would be able to love again (hopefully next time, it might even be a person who's not behaving like a dumb-ass!) If you don't believe the books and songs and movies, believe me and all the other people around you who had their hearts broken and got over it at some point.

Now, that point isn't really that new. I'm sure lots has been written on Jolene out on the internets, and most people should be able to work it out for themselves, the lyrics aren't rocket science. So I'll offer some of my takes on it, and we'll see how goes!

First of all: yes, it's a song, but the things concerned are real world things too. I can easily imagine someone having their heart broken by their special someone wanting to leave for someone else; I can even imagine it would also be tempting to do anything to make that person stay, including seeking out the new potential partner and begging him/her to basically back off. (The Beatles even warns their friend to watch out; “that girl is mine!”) But perhaps the “Jolene” way of dealing with things isn't the best advice when you're 16 and in love for the first time and shit goes down and you don't know how to deal with it?

Another point, which I have briefly insinuated above, is: why would you want to stay with such a guy? He dreams about another woman, and presumably he wants to leave you for her. Is it really worth it to stay with someone who doesn't value you enough to realise you're the most special and precious person in the whole wide world and that he would never find anyone like you ever again?
My personal answer would be: Hell, no. If he prefers Jolene, he can go get her, and I'm not going to bother any more. My heart might be broken tomorrow, but at least I won't be miserable in five years when I managed to make him stay at all costs and have to cling to him every day just to make sure he stays. Not to speak of the trust issues – I would prefer being able to trust the other person, not constantly worrying about his leaving me. And even if Jolene backs off, after this serious and heartbreaking conversation, and Man stays, due to Jolene no longer being available, how would I know it won't happen again? (To people saying “but we learn from our mistakes”, absolutely, and everything depends on the situation. But for someone it might be a deal-breaker, and that's okay, too. I don't see the point of arguing about it.) It just doesn't seem worth all the stress, really.

Point three, which might be stating the obvious: the 'I' is quite probably jealous. Jealousy at the bottom of it all is fear of losing, I think, and that's what she is. What if she's making it all up in her head? People speaking in their sleep in my experience are rather incoherent, so you could make anything of the sounds they make, as just one possible counter-argument. The lyrics give no other evidence of Man wanting to leave than the sleepy talk. Once again, I strongly support the tactic of asking Man before begging on your knees to Jolene.
And finally – it seems to me like this whole story at the bottom of it all illustrates the assumption of ownership over another person. That we somehow have any right to decide on their beings and doings and behavings. I get the point of possessive pronouns on a general level, but even so there's a difference between “my boyfriend” as an indication of relation to self and “the boy is mine!” (emphasis not really added) as a way of marking off your property. Should we just start peeing on people like dogs do? That's bound to keep others away from them in an effective way...
Even if you're in a monogamous relationship with someone, that hardly gives you property rights on that person. They still get to choose for themselves. Jolene is just one of many examples of a mainstream culture reinforcement of the opposite, that people's agreeing to go exclusive with you somehow is also an agreement to be yours forever and ever and you get to decide what they do.
Another example, a bit out of nowhere, is a Danish children's song, which admittedly only began to make sense to me a few years ago (old-fashioned words and such), but take it away:
Tyv, ja, tyv, det skal du være,
for du stjal min lille ven
Basically meaning:
A thief, yes, a thief is what you shall be
because you stole my little friend
Note that 'friend' is what old people used to say to indicate boy- or girlfriend, and you'll see how we're talking about significant others as something that can be “stolen”, not as someone who may choose to leave. Is that really how we want to see each other, and how we want others to treat us?

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