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I am a rational woman. I am pragmatic and level-headed; I have a mortgage, I have two teenagers, two dogs, and honestly, though this article may prove otherwise, I am pretty emotionally balanced. And yet last weekend, like seemingly 90% of anyone who had access to social media, I was glued to my screen the night that Taylor Swift changed the lyrics to "Karma" — Karma is the guy on the Chiefs — (squeal!!), then I nearly dropped dead as she ran straight into Travis Kelce’s arms after her show in Argentina. Not only was I glued to my screen, I was addicted. I lost hours of time on TikTok, I rewatched the "Karma" video and the kiss video … oh, who knows how many times but enough that the number should embarrass me. My teen daughter, who was mad at me over details I won’t bore you with and who had stopped speaking to me earlier that afternoon, broke our stand-off by texting me a series of frantic TikToks, and I, in turn, communicated right back to her with even more TikToks until it was well past midnight in Los Angeles, and she and I had forgotten what we were fighting about because we were flying high on Swelce love. Indeed, from Instagram to Threads to TikTok, it seemed as if the rest of the world was as manic for Tayvis as my daughter and I were.
I took my now 16-year-old to her first Taylor show in 2013, the "Red Tour" at the L.A. Staples Center. In 2015, we hit up "1989" at the same arena and then in 2017, I anointed myself mom-of-the-year after trekking to the Rose Bowl for "Reputation" (if you saw the parking, you’d understand why I was looking around for my trophy). These were still the years when people dragged Taylor for being young or dumb or not-really-that-talented or pitchy or cringy or in-it-for-PR or more famous than she deserved. Whatever the insult was, someone surely said it publicly. For many years, was uncool to be a Taylor Swift fan because, even she would admit, she was not that cool. She was the girl on the bleachers in sneakers, not in high heels, not in short skirts. When people asked me incredulously if I genuinely liked her songs, I would say two things: that yes, yes I did, and also my admiration of Swift went way behind her musicality — I thought she was an exceptional role model for both her peers and the next generation of young women, like my daughter, coming up behind her. She opened up about her vulnerabilities, she opened up about her heartbreaks, she opened up about a lot of things that made critics write her off at the time but ultimately made her the most successful musician of her generation. Because her uncoolness was her fans's uncoolness as well. All of us were the girls on the bleachers.
Like many women, including me, Taylor has dated her share of unworthy men. Men who she made herself smaller for, men who gave themselves to her in half measures. We play her breakup songs on repeat because they are our breakup songs too. You kept me like a secret but I kept you like an oath. I’ve been married for a very long time, and yet when I heard this line, my stomach bottomed out. I was 21 years old or 24 years old or 26 years old, and I’d allowed my then-boyfriends to convince me that their 65% percent was actually 100% and that the reasons they didn’t love me enough or that I wanted more from them had nothing to do with them and everything to do with me. Taylor, also, dimmed her star for the men she dated because in order to get their 65%, they had to see her in half-light too. Joe Alwyn didn't speak about her in interviews, rarely appeared in public with her and seemed, honestly, not to get the memo that he was dating a legendary genius. And maybe along the way, he convinced Taylor that she was less of a legendary genius than she was as well. (That’s a projection based on my own experience of slowly diminishing my own legendary genius for some of my exes.) As both a middle-aged gal and a mother, I’d never want any of this for my daughter or any woman and yet dating unworthy men is so common that it almost feels like a rite of passage. We all do it, amirite?
I’d allowed my then-boyfriends to convince me that their 65% percent was actually 100% and that the reasons they didn’t love me enough or that I wanted more from them had nothing to do with them and everything to do with me.
And then comes Travis Kelce. The man who publicly announced that he couldn’t land a date with her and that didn’t seem to ding his ego one bit. Green flag! The man who did land a date with her and then gazed up at her in his stadium box with moon-pie eyes like he couldn’t believe his goddamn luck. Green flag! The man who clutched her hand like it was the winning Super Bowl catch and shooed her bodyguard out of the way so he could open the car door for her all while her red lipstick was smeared on his face. Green flag! (Also: super hot.) The man who — and this is where we all really started to collectively lose our minds — showed up for her after a long haul flight on his bye week and wore the light-up bracelet like every other fan and sang every single song like every other fan and when the crowd started cheering “Travis!,” he directed them back to Taylor because he was there as her plus one. FULL STOP. Not to make it about him, not to ask her in any way to cater to his needs. He was there for her. When she shouted him out during "Karma," he clutched his cheeks like he honestly was going to pass out from giddiness and when he waited for her after the show, he looked like a nervous teen who could not believe the turn of events that led him to date the girl of his dreams. And the kiss! Do we even need to talk about the kiss? We could but I could go on about that kiss forever.
The granular truth about all of this and why, I think, so many of us have been swept up in this cultural inflection point, is that knowingly or not, Taylor is now teaching generations of women — from Z to X — what it looks like to have a partner who shows up for you and Travis is demonstrating how to be that partner. What’s even more remarkable — and relatable — is that Taylor may be learning this lesson for herself as well: that for many years, she has seemingly tolerated men who weren’t secure enough to stand outside of her spotlight and thus required that she dial down her radiance when what she needed to be doing all along was finding a partner who made her light shine even brighter. I watch this, my daughter watches this, millions of women watch this and think: oh yes, that is what it’s supposed to look like, a partnership. I suspect that Taylor watches it and thinks the same.
Taylor is now teaching generations of women — from Z to X — what it looks like to have a partner who shows up for you and Travis is demonstrating how to be that partner.
After I took my daughter to our very first Taylor show, I could not shut up about it, how hard she worked, how her tenacity and professionalism and kindness and thoughtfulness were amazing examples of how to be a good human. It’s not that I think my daughter needs a pop culture idol to learn how to be a good human or even find a good partner, but there is something so inherently black and white about this situation — how Taylor was diminished in the past and how she is standing even taller now — that it still serves as an excellent example. If Taylor Swift shows my daughter how to choose a partner who shows up for her literally and emotionally, it only reinforces the lessons that I hope she’s learning at home. I can think of very few things about Swift that I don’t admire — from pursuing her sexual assault case because it was the right thing to do to refusing to allow someone else to own the rights to her work to being unafraid of admitting that she’s vulnerable and fragile like the rest of us. I know that my daughter admires all of these things too.
It’s no surprise that Taylor’s fans are now rejoicing — literally feverishly rejoicing — that she has found a partner who is happy not to ask her to make herself smaller to fit into his world but is instead, asking how he can fit into hers. And the simplicity of this does not mean that it isn’t revolutionary all the same, not just for Taylor but for all of us who have accepted 65% when we deserved 100%.
It turns out that karma is a boyfriend who shows up, and now, we see this all too well.