As some readers of this space may know, I happen to be a big fan of Michelle Branch, and I have been at least since her major label debut . It has been seven years since the release of the EP Everything Comes And Goes and during that time two of her album releases have been cancelled. This time, though, she has an album that is supposed to drop in April that focuses on relationships, their end, and how one gets over it. To be sure, this is not earth-shattering or original of a theme, but as someone who spends a lot of my own writing wrestling with the tension between fear and longing, and the wreckage of broken relationships, it’s certainly the sort of theme I can relate to very well. I’m looking forward to seeing if there is more than this catchy and somewhat moody single from the album, but I’m getting a similar mood here to much of the material on her Hotel Paper album, which was a fantastic album, with updated dance-influenced music. That’s music I can definitely get behind, and so I am excited to hear some original material and look forward to hearing more.
The song itself reminds me a lot of Taylor Swift’s “Widest Dreams,” but there are differences and those differences generally favor Michelle Branch’s take on the situation of a doomed relationship. Both Swift and Branch frame the song as being a situation where they know that nothing good will come of their relationship, but while “Wildest Dreams” focuses on the irresistible nature of what is wrong, “Hopeless Romantic” focuses on internal factors. Branch realizes that it is her own longings for love, her own desire for mystery, that lead her astray. She certainly recognizes the danger of her partner, but at the same time she also recognizes her own vulnerability, and it is that recognition that is the first step to overcoming the problem. So long as as we are in denial about our own vulnerabilities, and we all have them, we will continue to fall into the same traps over and over again. With her recognition of her own longing for love that compels her to seek out what ends up being damaging to her, Branch has made an advance on the scale of morality from vicious (that is doing evil and enjoying it) to incontinent (wanting to do what is right, or not wanting to do what is wrong, but being too weak to overcome their nature). This advance is not one that should be viewed lightly, as any gains in one’s moral development are often hard-fought.
Like many people, I have often viewed my longings as a source of frequent trouble and difficulty in my life. I too recognize that I am a hopeless romantic whose longings for intimacy and whose simultaneous extreme awkwardness in matters of the heart combine to make my personal life deeply unsatisfying and frequently embarrassing . It is deeply unsatisfying to be a hopeless romantic, because one’s longings for love and intimacy are combined with total failure, and yet the longing remains despite the carnage that results from our errors and follies. The simultaneous presence of a longing that refuses to be unsatisfied with the immense difficulty, if not impossibility, of fulfilling that longing in ways that are in accordance with the laws of God and man and the standards of those around us provides the opportunity for a great deal of tragedy in our own lives and the lives of those around us, even those we are drawn to and long for. The capacity to both suffer and inflict pain is truly staggering in this mortal coil.
And yet we should not blame our longings for this. No longings exist in us that do not point us towards some good. The longing for intimacy taken in the abstract, is what ties human beings together with others. Our marriages and relationships and even our friendships often come about because of our longings with intimacy on some level, or several levels at once. It is this longing that allows life to preserve and that induces people to come together despite the many factors that would lead us all to become total misanthropes. To be sure, the context of our longings goes awry in many ways–we long for the wrong things, the wrong sort of people, and so on, but these are corruptions and perversions of what is a good thing in itself. If our longings are bent and problematic, and they often are, it is not because the longing itself is evil but that we are fallen beings in a world that has been twisted and deformed by evil, evil which we suffer from greatly and which we contribute to through our own wickedness. We suffer because of the wrongs others have done to us, and in our folly or thoughtlessness or compulsions we wrong others, carrying the cycle forward.
Is this state truly hopeless, though? It is hopeless if we consider our lives to be a closed system, certainly. If all we have to draw upon is the love and affection of fellow fallen beings like ourselves, we have no chance of improving our state. As we are all imperfect, we will all hurt people, and ourselves, through our inevitable shortcomings, and we will all find no suitable direction to pour out the love that rests inside us that has no productive outlet. It is nearly unbearable torment to long for what one cannot have, and it should therefore come as little surprise that beings created for love should love in catastrophically unsuccessful ways because the alternative of not loving at all and having all of that longing building up internal stress and pressure is so unappealing. If there is to be hope at all for those of us who are romantics despite our own self-awareness of our own deep struggles in building lasting and deep relationships with others, we must find the answers from another place, outside the system of failure in which we are enmeshed. Without this help, we are truly in a hopeless situation, with no one to cry out to except for other people struggling in the same darkness that overtakes us.
 See, for example:
 See, for example: