posttitle = The Courage To Leave (original song) titleClass =title-long len =36

The Courage To Leave (original song)

In addition to writing blog posts, now and then I write songs. Here’s my latest. It’s a deep reflection on the most challenging decision I’ve ever made in my life—to end the 5 year relationship I’ve had with Sarah. There’s a lot I could write about that, and I’m sure I will, but for now I mostly want to let the song speak for itself, and then reflect on why I wrote it and why I’m sharing it.


[verse 1]
there’s a tiny note of sadness, every time I hear a love song
I’ve been trying not to notice but it’s getting kinda hard to ignore
and the more the song resonates with what I want, the more something in me feels wrong
I look towards the future… what am I in for?

it’s been hard, but it’ll always be hard they say
how hard is too hard? it’s been all work and no play
with a sense that something better is waiting ever just around the bend
so it never feels like the moment to end

[chorus 1]
I’m finding the courage to leave
I’m learning to listen to myself, and go slow
after years of being proud, that I had the courage to say “yes”
I’m finding the courage to say “no”

[verse 2]
we doubled down and tried harder, every time the going got tough
our friends admire how we’ve stuck it through
but it seems to me now: no amount of fighting ourselves, was ever gonna make us feel like enough
I can’t accept myself not accepting you… what do I do?

[chorus 2]
I’m finding the courage to leave
I’m learning to listen to myself, and go slow
after years of thinking that I had it all figured out
I’m finding the courage to say “I don’t know”

[suspiciously familiar instrumental interlude] [verse 3]
my heart swelled with determination, every time I sang “I Won’t Give Up”
yeah that song truly helped me face a whole lot of my fears
but I sang so loud I drowned out the voices saying “hey, I never signed up for this”
I rushed into it—where am I?—what am I doing here?

[chorus 3 & 4]
I’m finding the courage to leave
I’m learning to listen to myself, and go slow
after years of being proud, that I had the courage to stay
I’m finding the courage to go

I’m finding the courage to leave
I’m learning to listen to myself, and take time
after years of trying to become someone who could fulfill all your dreams
I’m finding the courage to own mine

Background context: Mraz & Prettyman

Coincidentally, I found out while in the process of separating from Sarah that Jason Mraz’s song I Won’t Give Up, a favorite of mine for a decade, was almost certainly written about Tristan Prettyman, who he suddenly broke up with while they were engaged.

Sounds surprising, but we might ask… why did he need to write that song?

My sense is that one writes a song called I Won’t Give Up when one is faced with the seriously possibility of, well, giving up. Now, all relationships have their challenging moments, but some have a lot more precariousness than others.

I’m about to talk about other people’s relationships, and I want to note that even though these people have wikipedia pages, I feel in some sense I’m relating to them as fellow singer-songwriters, writers about love & relationship, & journeyers of the human spirit. Not as celebrities.

Turns out Tristan’s album Cedar+Gold is almost entirely about the breakup with Mraz. Glass Jar in particular reflects on their engagement. I think they were both in denial about the fragility of their relationship, in different ways. The wind doesn’t just “shift”. Something must have felt off in the background.

I’m starin’ at this ring
An infinite circle
Thought nothin’ could break the foundation we built on
And just like that
The wind shifts it’s way
How could somethin’ so sacred ever come to be replaced

lyrics of Glass Jar by Tristan Prettyman

But, regardless, this 2nd excerpt (from the same song!) aptly calls Mraz out—his whole 2012 album doesn’t acknowledge the breakup of mid-2011 whatsoever.

And now everything’s as if nothing ever happened
The version of your story isn’t really matchin’ up
You gave up on us
You’ve got the whole world watchin’ and everyone’s attention
You turn your head and you never even mention us
You gave up on love

That album (Love Is A Four-Letter Word) is one of my all-time favorites, and has a lot of beautiful stuff on it. It’s got I Won’t Give Up . What it doesn’t have is Listen To Yourself If Something Feels Off or If It’s Almost A Fit It’s Not A Fit or The Courage to Leave.

I have heard… but not verified… that Mraz didn’t intend to release I Won’t Give Up, but did so after this video of a live performance of it went viral (this performance would have been after the breakup). In the bridge, he sings “and in the end, you’re still my friend”, which does imply… something… about a relationshift? Maybe?

My best guess is that the bridge was written (or changed) after the breakup, because the message of the song still feels overwhelmingly like one of doubling down on staying together, not of recognizing the need to move on.

Anyway, over the next few years Tristan got married, had a kid, then a divorce, & wrote a fascinating blog post about that (as I said, fellow writers about love & relationships!)

That said…we will always be a family, our vows remain true now and forever. We are moving forward as best friends, co-parents, and with our hearts full of love. This relationship has allowed us both so much space to explore, learn, and grow, but most of all expand our capacity to love. I am a better human, and mother because of the last 5 years with Bill, and for that, i will always be grateful.

“Love is not a relationship, love is a commitment… to love. So that if the relationship ends, the love can still remain.”

She concludes:

maybe somewhere, someone will read this and feel a little less alone, a little less scared, or a bit more brave to speak up for what their heart is telling them.

It’s easier to talk about what’s working than what’s not working. But it makes such a huge difference to share what’s not working too. We need both.

The Courage To Leave

And that’s why 3 days after I wrote the twitter thread a couple months ago that became the previous section, I started writing The Courage To Leave myself, and why in the midst of packing to travel the globe for a few months to get some perspective, I recorded it and shared it with the world. Because… maybe somewhere, someone will hear it and feel a little less alone, a little less scared, or a bit more brave to speak up for what their heart is telling them.

My song can be understood, like Prettyman’s Glass Jar, as a response to Mraz’s I Won’t Give Up:

Wtf dude, how did you write a song that helped encourage me to stay but not one about your own journey of realizing you needed to leave? Not that I blame him—my choices are mine—but… various friends have heard me reflect over the years that Mraz could take credit for my persistence, so!

Another way to understand The Courage To Leave is as the very song I wish Mraz had written and included on Love Is A Four-Letter Word. I imagined his heart swelling with determination when he sang I Won’t Give Up, and him later realizing some voices were being drowned out.

Who knows?

I don’t know what was going on for Mraz. I always write from my own vantage point. But songs have a context-transcending magic, and just as I was able to resonate so deeply with I Won’t Give Up, maybe others will see their own reflections in The Courage To Leave.

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About Malcolm

Constantly consciously expanding the boundaries of thoughtspace and actionspace. Creator of Intend, a system for improvisationally & creatively staying in touch with what's most important to you, and taking action towards it.

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