Romance: the Quicksand of Adulthood

“I always thought that quicksand was going to be a much bigger problem than it turned out to be. Because if you watch cartoons, quicksand is like the third biggest thing you have to worry about in adult life…” is part of John Mulaney’s intro in his comedy special New in Town.

For me, romance is what my childhood and adolescence billed as one of the most essential aspects of an adult life. According to all the media I consumed, romance was a crucial, critical, life-changing, recurring phenomenon. Since as a hormonal teen you’re already obsessing about your dating life or non-dating life, the external reinforcement of this fixation doesn’t help.

I voraciously read the entirety of the church’s library, which as any other church-going woman knows, is dedicated to Christian couples finding love. Sure, they find God along the way, but the plot ends with romantic culmination. God’s part of the journey, sure, but romantic fulfillment is the happily ever after God promises, or whatever.

Maybe it would have been different if outside my fictional favorites this concept hadn’t been reinforced by friends and adults throughout these years. It’s a concept we (as a culture) start enforcing at a very young age. Pairing toddlers up as “boyfriend and girlfriend”, teasing girls about cooties, asking pre-teens who their boyfriends or girlfriends are, obsessing over when you’ll get your first kiss, the fear of looking like a loser if you don’t have a boyfriend or girlfriend.

When you’re a teenager questions about your love life are as ubiquitous as questions about the weather, and almost as interchangeable in terms of how they affect you: either ruining your day or transforming it miraculously.

I spent hours of my life, in class, creating wedding dresses with my immature artistic talent. Hours planning weddings with doves flying and the appropriate number of bridesmaids. I spent probably decades of life doodling new signatures with different boys’ last names. I wrote notes to friends, we made hasty stupid calls to boys we liked, and came up with every excuse under the sun to get cute boys to talk to us. My friends even organized dances in our small Dutch town (gasp!) to get some decent flirting opportunities in.

It’s hard not to be boy crazy when your entire environment supports this perspective. The scholastic calendar year resolves around three things: the Tolo dance in fall, the Junior and Senior Banquet in spring, and then summer vacation where you are free to obsess about how to get boys to notice you next year. Maybe by tanning, or if you’re lucky, growing bigger boobs over those months.

And yet, I find that as an adult, 99% of my life has nothing to do with romance. The 1% that does have something to do with romance is probably dedicated to watching Pride and Prejudice and When Harry Met Sally once every year. I actually spend most of my time trying to be a functioning human being, holding down a paying job, and being a decent friend and family member.

It’s weird to me now that I expected something from life that turned out to be utterly absent from my life. It’s like discovering quicksand probably won’t be a real life concern I have to deal with. It’s almost shocking how much of life I’ve handled and experienced without romantic love to cloud the scenery. It’s remarkable how much life I’ve managed to enjoy without romance guiding the way.

Every so often it dawns on me that I’m short a romantic sub-plot, and it catches me off guard because how can I be missing something that “great”? Where’s the obvious gap in my life where romance is supposed to go? Even in a TV show like ER romance was a prominent subplot. If it’s not inescapable for busy medical professionals, how is it possible I’ve got such a dearth of it?

The way I figure it is like this: I realized at some point that marriage wasn’t a guarantee for me. I don’t know what the odds are on my successful romancing, but since I knew it wasn’t going to be a sure thing I decided pretty early that I was going to put my energy to the things that mattered for me.

Hell, maybe that’s even the arthritis talking. I have a finite amount of energy anyway, I can’t afford to waste any of it on “I hope something magical happens.”

It’s surprising the sides of yourself you can discover when you’re not worried about landing a male lead in your life. Although the female Indiana Jones of archaeology dream has died, I’ve had the chance to supplant others in its place.

The pursuit of marriage isn’t bad, don’t get me wrong. It’s the pursuit of romance I’ve had to wean myself from. You know in the 31 years I’ve been alive, almost all of the people I haven’t been romantically interested in have been the best people I’ve ever met.

Or put another way, I’ve met more great friends than I have romantic futures.

I know a lot of people desire romance, desire a romance that leads to marriage, and I’m not trying to knock romantic literature (that’s for another blog post) or romance movies (again, another post), but I am trying to say that it’s good to every once in awhile remove ourselves from environments that saturate our minds with romantic fantasies.  It’s important to remember that the bulk of your life is lived outside of romance,

Don’t let pining for romance take away the value of the life you’ve got.  Because in this case, romance is like adult quicksand. Don’t get sucked into the void that fiction can promise.

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The Review No One Wanted

This goes out to the two people who asked me why I hated La La Land so much. I’m sure you’re regretting that now.

I’ve loved musicals since I saw Singin’ in the Rain the first time as a kid. The singing, the dancing, the sets, the costumes, the actors. I loved everything about musicals and I’ve watched them feverishly since then. Bollywood’s enhanced dramatics are just as irresistible. So when La La Land came out naturally the assumption was that I would love this movie.

Modern singing, dancing, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, what could be there to dislike?

Let me just roll up my sleeves and start at the beginning, the beginning that comes out of nowhere and includes no principal leads. It’s a nice number that tells you absolutely nothing about what you’re going to watch.

Then we meet the two most unlikable leads in a long time. Ryan Gosling is condescending, a know-it-all, and never able to admit defeat or error. What he finds to like in Emma Stone is baffling. It also seems like a role he’s tailor made for. He embodies it too naturally and is so awful that I felt surely he’s familiar with the personality type.

Emma Stone plays an aspiring actress. Despite the fact that obviously at one point in her career she didn’t have to play this role, she embodied this role, it’s tough to see her as the mousey, timid, self-doubter that she plays in this movie. She has several genuine moments of sparkle that remind me of why she’s so likable in all her other movies, but here the spark is only shown as an anecdotal and random trait.

Neither can sing or dance and while the film tries to use these rough edges in a charming way, what happens is parody shtick of all the great classic charming moments of the old classics. The banter in their dances feels forced given the speaking tenor of their relationship, and the romance of their singing and the sets employed feels trite next to the rough, uneven and unremarkable dialogue of their meet-cute and subsequent falling out.

The concept of a modern day jazz pianist rescuing jazz from itself to bring back to dark night clubs would also be charming, if not for the insufferable, arrogant lead. I was so against our hero that I was actively rooting for John Legend’s character who is half-heartedly played as a “villain”. Naturally, in a movie like this the only villains are the leads themselves, but he must of course play the negative catalyst, trying to do something unique with jazz music which makes it an abomination to jazz in general. Naturally.

There are no other side-characters of import or note. None with speaking roles, no good cameos, nothing to distract us from these two ill-suited individuals who we’re just waiting to break up for the entire length of the movie.

There is one charming scene, and that’s it’s ending. It’s a fast montage of what might have been and it gives us a fresh tempo, something to get the heart beating again, and for a moment there’s a small amount of regret that they’ll never be able to have this idealized world they could never have held onto. And it passes and the credits roll.

The costumes were lovely, the sets were creative, the colors were memorable. I’d like to forget all the rest.

I realize that musicals are rare these days, which means that for the most part we’re content with a musical existing and demand no more from it than that. It doesn’t have to be good it just has to remind us of the good movies we watched before, or could have watched if we could stand to go all the way through a movie made before our birth year.

If i want to see an arrogant, insufferable know-it-all fall in love with an ingenue, struggling actress trying to make it in Hollywood, I’ll watch Singin’ in the Rain again.

So thank you, La La Land for reminding me through tepid call backs and shoddy footwork of a true classic, thanks for getting me back to Singin’ in the Rain.

For Love of the Cubs

I’m not a sports person. I don’t play them, I don’t watch them, I don’t understand what the big deal is. Except for one sport and one team.

When you grow up the daughter of a Cubs’ fan, in a long line of Cubs’ fans, you are a Cubs’ fan. My great-grandmother memorized and recited Cubs’ player stats to my Dad. His enthusiasm for the team led him to ditch school and bum enough money to catch a ride on the “L” downtown to the game where he’d get a hot dog and peanuts and hang out for an afternoon. He raised me on stories of Ernie Banks. And when I got old enough, he’d take me and my sister out of school for Cubs games too.

Sanctioned school skipping is a guaranteed way to become a fan for life. But if that wasn’t enough, I’ll never forget the first time I saw Wrigley Field. You come out of the tunnels, up on to the field and there it is all laid out before you, and I’d never seen anything more beautiful in my life. I loved the spring days we’d spend there. Shivering in the nosebleed section, peeling peanuts with icicle fingers. I love the sunny afternoons in the bleachers, sweating in the sun and watching for fly balls.

I haven’t been a good fan over the years, haven’t stuck with the sport enough to know what’s going on. I shared my dad’s paranoia that the more invested you got the more you doomed them to failure. I loved them from afar.

But there is something to being a Cubs’ fan in a line of Cubs’ fans that sinks in to your life, even day to day.

“Next year.”

Cubs’ fans have hope like you can’t explain. Some years the disappointment almost chokes them when they say it. But they believe “next year” just might be the year. I’ve heard my Dad call them “bums” and every other old-timey insult under the sun, but even though they’ve lost all of his 60+ years on earth, there is a glint in his eye, and an excited tapping of his foot when he says “next year.”

Despite over a hundred years of losing, Cubs’ fans have hope. It’s not romantic, it’s not cynical, it’s just hope. It’s a simple, clean expression of their love. These fans are patient, they are long-suffering, they are eternally hopeful, and impossibly loyal.

I’ve never been embarrassed about being a Cubs’ fan, or being related to a fanatical Cubs’ fan. It’s a badge of honor believing in the unbelievable and hoping for the impossible. I’ve always been proud that my Dad rooted for the ultimate underdogs. I’ve been proud of that legacy he gave me.

And for once in my life the Cubs winning the World Series on November 3, 2016 is the one and only time I can truly understand what the big deal is.

This was the “next year”.

Saps and Cynics

That guy is either the dumbest, stupidest, most imbecilic idiot in the world, or else he’s the grandest thing alive. I can’t make him out.

— Babe from Mr. Deeds Goes to Town

Mr. Deeds Goes to Town is the most recent Frank Capra movie I’ve had the pleasure to view. And despite stiff competition, it’s now my favorite.

For anyone unfamiliar with the story (this does include those who have seen Adam Sandler’s Deeds), Mr. Deeds Goes to Town is the story of a simple, small-town man who inherits millions and moves to a big city where he is quickly swarmed by greedy vultures eager to take advantage of his backwoods ways. This includes a scheming, quick-witted, jaded reporter, unfortunately named “Babe”, (Jean Arthur) who finds herself won over by his kind, open, earnest perspective.

What happens when Longfellow Deeds realizes he’s just out to be had? Will Deeds be just another victim of the greedy? Or is it possible he can turn the entire system on its head, changing hearts and minds in the process?

I’m sure that for a lot of people it qualifies as Norman Rockwell schmaltz. And indeed, I could accuse Mr. Capra of a lot of sentimental drivel, but to do so would be undercutting the story and the performers.

I didn’t root for Longfellow Deeds because the camera shot his profile well, but because of the way he turned a snob on his head. I rooted for him because he’s curious and joyous and compassionate.

I didn’t fall in love with Deeds because the music swelled when he spoke, I fell in love with him when he slid down the banister in his mansion and tickled his finger along the instep of the statue at the bottom. I very much fell in love with Gary Cooper.

I didn’t cry when Babe read Deed’s poem because the poem was exceptional, but because Jean Arthur was exceptional.

Perhaps I’m a sap and always have been, but what Capra gets right over and over and over again, is that the saps who seem like easy prey to the world are the strongest of champions in the world. It’s the truest of paradoxes, the weak things of this world overcoming the strong, the humble Davids overcoming the world’s Goliaths.

Which is not to say we should forget the cynics. No, Capra found a use for them and so do I. We need cynics. We need those people of critical intellect who devote huge portions of time to ferreting out those who are fake, vile, who are hypocrisy themselves. It’s these cynics who live in the soot and darkness of public spheres who serve the purpose of refining the rough diamonds.

In two of Capra’s movies it’s Jean Arthur who does the dirty work of putting the diamond under a bit of pressure. She’s so used to the double talk and the false advertising that she doesn’t see a gem when she’s in front of one.

But look what she does when she steps back and sees the thing for what it is, after all her abuses (intended or accidental) begin to reveal the quality of what is underneath rather than crushing it. It’s the cynics who must rally the troops, marshal the masses, encourage (how preposterous!) the reluctant, and fight for the saps.

It’s a brilliant and unbeatable combination. Saps and cynics, unlikely friends as they should be, manage to bring out the good in each other. For it’s these two unlikely heroes who both expect the best from the world, and will fight most passionately to make it so.

Small Screen Supporting Sirens

Dedicated to the “sidekicks” who refuse to be sidekicks. To the women on the small screen that don’t have time to acknowledge they’re “only on TV” and probably believe the show should revolve around their character. And by and large, they’re right. They bring serious entertainment value and incredible sparkle to their shows.

This isn’t a comprehensive list, just my personal favorites from some favorite, probably nostalgia inclined, shows.

In a side note, I’m contemplating having a daughter so I can name her “Donna”. Clearly that’d be a win.

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…”Be more like a character from a TV show?” Is that not allowed?

“I’m not into you. I’m Donna.”

Donna (Suits) played by Sarah Rafferty

Suits is presumably about two hotshot lawyers and their cases. In reality it’s about how awesome Donna is at being Donna. She may be “only an assistant” but as the show progresses,and she continues to chip away at egos and be fabulous without trying, I find I’m mostly interested in what Donna’s going to say and do next.


“I’ve got all the advantages of marriage: I got a tea kettle that whistles, a parrot that talks too much and a cat that stays out all night. Who needs a husband?”

Sally (The Dick Van Dyke Show) played by Rose Marie

Sally is a third of a comedic writing team for a sketch comedy show in the black and white era. Her other two counterparts are male, but that doesn’t hold Sally back from being a witty, cutting, clever woman. She’s not out to prove a woman can make it in a man’s world, she just does.


“Do I look like I drink water?”

Donna (Parks and Recreation) played by Retta

No one throws shade better than Donna. Just a glance puts you right in your place. She knows what she’s about and she goes out to get it. She’s got her priorities right where she wants them and doesn’t apologize for living the life she enjoys. Man or no man.


“You’re having a lousy streak. I happen to be having a terrific streak. Soon the world will be back to normal. Tomorrow you will meet a crown head of Europe and marry. I will have a fat attack, eat 3000 peanut butter cups and die.”

Rhoda (The Mary Tyler Moore Show) played by Valerie Harper

Rhoda didn’t really ever enjoy being single, or most of what was happening in her life. But despite the disappointments, she kept on trying and managed to be upbeat even when totally depressed. She was the perfect cynical-yet hopeful-counterweight to the perennial Pollyanna in Mary.


“If you hurt my best friend again, one day, in the future, anthropologists will find your skeleton in an unmarked grave with a massive, massive, life ending blow to your head, by a totally awesome chick that rhymes with frenzy.”

Kenzi (Lost Girl) played by Ksenia Solo

Kenzi is undeniably Bo’s sidekick, but she prefers being there because it lets her kick ass. She’s a one-of-a-kind original and refuses to let anyone keep her down. She’s all about defying the odds and building her own community through fierce loyalty and fight.


“Why can’t these aliens ever get in trouble somewhere decent? Like Graceland or Tahoe or New Orleans. No, Utah. Mormons and mountains.”

Maria (Roswell) played by Majandra Delfino

Maria was 100% done with aliens as soon as she found out there were aliens. Three seasons of Maria living life normally in spite of alien absurdity. Sure, she had her meltdowns, and her crying fests, but mostly because her alien boyfriend was being a very human tool. She thrives in the midst of chaos and carves her own path even when the drama gets drama-ier.


“Get in there and bust up her date. Show her you care. Ruin her night.”

Rosa (Brooklyn Nine-Nine) played by Stephanie Beatriz

She’s infinitely quotable, infinitely stoic, and infinitely having none of your shit. She doesn’t know how to relate with emotions and prefers to speak the language of practicality and violence. She’s wry, she’s tough, and she understands the practical value of an ax.


“Ah, come on Sam, you know my philosophy. If you can’t say something nice, say it about Diane.”

Carla (Cheers) played by Rhea Perlman

Carla may have been a low-brow, usually single, uneducated mother of six (and counting?) but that didn’t mean she’d just take it when other people got her down. Her fights with the always prissy and pretentious Diane were half the reason to watch the show. Carla’s always got a glib retort or biting comment that let anyone in the bar know that even if she is pint-sized, she’s definitely got a fearsome bark, and bite!


Just so we’re clear on this, all the women on this list are mostly single in the shows they’re on. They’re strong, fabulous women who have more personality than anyone knows what to do with. And they all spend more time living their life than worrying about a man (except maybe Rhoda). If they DO get married, they do so without settling and without changing their best qualities.

More than that, on shows that don’t keep them in limelight, they manage to steal it more than once and prove that even if you’re not the hero of the moment, you can still be the best thing about the moment.

Christian Mingle Toward Jesus

I watched Christian Mingle over the weekend because I write a blog, love movies, and hate Christian kitsch. And it was streaming on Netflix. But I’m not going to review this two year old movie in full because that’s silly, we all know it’s not great film making. But I’d like to chronicle what I believe the film’s greatest flaws are. Not an exhaustive list, but a list of the major offenses as I see them.

Do Note: I am not an unbiased observer. I wholeheartedly disagree with the cultish “Christian” approach toward marriage, I am willing to find fault wherever I want, and I dislike “Christian media” of any variety because I feel its “safety” and “Christianness” are just a quicksand trap to avoid critical thinking in all areas of your life.

Second note: Any time I use quotes from here on out it’s me actually quoting real lines from the movie. I say this because you may find that hard to believe.

Brief synopsis: A non-Christian woman wants to find a “decent guy” so she joins a Christian website and tries to fake being a Christian to put a ring on it.

To be honest, the title should give most of that plot away. So well done title.

Here’s where we start to go wrong:

  1. Mission Trips Help White People — Sure, yeah, and the ethnic group they’re “ministering to” but that’s secondary. Mostly let’s use the natives to further the plot, drive home some good Jesus points, and definitely let the locals simple Christianity propel our heroine to Jesus. Plus who needs character development when you know our hero’s a Christian because he wants to put a bell in a church?
  2. Christian women are bitches — Our heroine is a liar, for starters, but with good intentions so let’s leave her be. Both the mother and the only viable single Christian girl in the movie are delightful windows into how awful Christians can be to someone they view as either a threat or competition. When it comes to our hero Paul, “the last of the good ones that’s for sure” (i.e. the last single Christian bachelor around, apparently — seriously the guy has no male friends), it’s really important to rigorously vet any prospective romantic partner’s spirituality, make them feel uncomfortable and unwelcome, and definitely stress that you want nothing to do with them and think they’re awful because they saw a guy they liked and went for it. More importantly, once you discover she’s not a Christian, let her know that you want nothing to do with her. Totally what Jesus would want you to do.
  3. Finding a  good Christian guy on a Christian dating website is easey peasey –The movie may show our heroine filling out her dating profile, but by no means does it show the process she went through before finding Paul Wood. According to this hour and a half long advert for Christian Mingle it really is THAT EASY. The commercials they feature in the movie (because movies should be more like TV shows) mentioned “hundreds of Christians in your area!” But then alarmingly the movie later describes our hero as “the last” and as he has no single male friends, I’m wondering where the rest of these guys are hiding. I did a quick google search of “Christian dating website horror stories” and in the first five results found two articles where women encountered either a rapist or a “monster” via online Christian dating. No search results about women duplicitously conning good Christian men into dates. I guess one man’s horror is not a woman’s horror.
  4. God and marriage have equal importance — “Jesus is there for us. All we have to do is call his name. And Mr. Right? He’s there too. You just have to reach into your heart and discover what’s true.” You hear that single ladies? God has a man out there for every woman. You just have to grossly reach into your own heart somehow. In your heart is the truth and Mr. Right. Supes easy women, don’t know why you’re still single. But actually it is probably your fault by not having a good enough relationship with God.

I like romantic comedies as much as the next girl. I’ve probably watched more of them than the next girl, actually. And I don’t mind secular society shilling this ooey-gooey, lovey-dovey, sugar-coated romance to the world. Because it’s false and I know it. But let’s not sell this tripe to Christian women. Christian women should be feasting on more substantial fare than this grossly marketed website built to woo Christian women into valuing marriage as the holy grail of relationships.

The only thing the movie got right is that the most important relationship in your life is the one with God. Good. Sold. End film there. But don’t pander to me that because I’m close to God “Mr. Right” is now around the corner. God is enough. And God will be enough for the rest of my life.

Roll end credits.

Love Songs that Make Me Hate You

Every now and again I come across a popular “love” song that makes me want to stab a pencil in my ear. I’ll grant you not all of these are what I consider love songs, but they are songs supposedly about things I associate with love. And how to easily ruin them. And because I never suffer in silence, here they are, some of my least favorite, for your listening displeasure.

Even this shell plays better music
I clearly have excellent taste in music
  • I’m Comin’ Over” by Chris Young — Ignoring that this is the worst possible song to listen to if you’re trying to move on from someone toxic, I really, really just hate the line “I’m all alone but you’re on my phone.” As if your mother isn’t also on your phone. Or a bro-buddy. And then he tops it with, “why put out a fire when it’s still burning”. But it does raise a whole host of additional questions. Like, why put on a sweater when it’s still cold? Why eat when you’re going to get hungry again? Why stop listening to bro-country when your ears are already bleeding?

 

  • Honey I’m Good.” by Andy Grammer“So nah, nah, honey I’m good/I could have another but I probably should not/I’ve got somebody at home,/and if I stay I might not leave alone.” Ah, the old romantic story of a man who goes to a bar, brags about his willpower in not having the one last drink that will result in him sleeping with someone, and then boasts to his woman later about how faithful he was while she was presumably, what? Bathing the children at home, or folding his laundry? That’s definitely the kind of man a woman wants.

 

  • Color My World” by Chicago — This is the most boring, depressing love song with the happiest of lyrics. I have no idea how someone can make “Color my world with your love” into something that sounds more like “You left me and so my life is over.”  Reportedly, this was the slow song for my Dad’s prom back in the day. I can only suppose that when it finished hundreds of couples broke up and the gym was filled with crying.

 

  • Stay with Me” by Sam Smith — I’m probably being too literal, but the whole premise of this song annoys me. “I’m not good at a one night stand/but I still need love ’cause I’m just a man”. Is basically translated to “Men need sex.” Gee, how could anyone refuse such a grunted offer? “This ain’t love, it’s clear to see/but darling, stay with me”. I personally can’t think of a more compelling reason to leave.

 

  • Every Night” by Imagine Dragons — It starts off really well. “I’m coming home to you every night, every night, every night, every night“. Well that’s a win for a relationship. Until you realize what exactly is coming home to you. “The colorless sunrise that’s never good enough”, “the wind that’s in your hair that ruffles you up”. They may as well have just said they’re your little brother who constantly pokes you and asks “does this bug you?” because it’s that same level of romance.

 

  • Marry You” by Bruno Mars — It still boggles my mind that actual real people have used this song to propose to their significant other. It’s like they picked it for the title alone and didn’t listen to any of the words before creating a choreographed routine with ten of their reluctant family members. The song literally starts with “We’re looking for something dumb to do” and then follows it with “I think I wanna marry you”. Which is the kind of confident decision-making you’d expect for a lifetime commitment. Bruno can’t decide if it’s because his girl’s eyes are sparkly or he’s drunk, but “who cares if we’re trashed”. To be honest with you, the song actually gets worse, but I’m too depressed to keep going.

 

  • When Did You Fall” by Chris Rice — Ahh, romance for narcissists. That’s a group that was in desperate need of a love song. Apparently “You’re So Vain” just wasn’t cutting it any more. After all, Warren Beatty called dibs. “When did you fall in love with me?” is just a great start because you get the romantic high ground here. And to really drive that home, “Have you been waiting long?” Because I really didn’t notice you at all. For…like a long time! Ha ha! But hey, now that I know, totally. Let’s do it.

 

  • Like the Woman I Love by Jason Mraz — Mraz makes a classic blunder here. Never use the thing you’re describing to describe the thing you’re describing. “I’m going to love you like the woman I love” like I love you like the woman I love like…oh dear God, it’s the never ending love song that gets you nowhere. I hope you enjoy having that line stuck in your head on repeat as much as I do.

Honorable Mentions:

Thinking Out Loud” by Ed Sheeran — Was I the only one grossed out by “Place your head on my beating heart”? When I first heard that lyric all I could imagine was some macabre serial-killer scene. Romance, bloody romance.

Tearin Up My Heart” by ‘NSync — This is an honorable mention because I can’t justify putting an old boy band up to critical lyric standards. But with the basic plot line of “when I’m with you it sucks and when I’m not with you it sucks” I think it’s fair to say that our poor little boy band is just plain confused with all the new emotions of their post-teen years.