The Grand Delusion of Taylor Swift’s Storybook Romance

It’s the perfect pairing. Except for one thing.

Travis Kelce and Taylor Swift kiss on the field amid a crowd after the Super Bowl.

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

“Delusional,” as a colloquial concept, got a makeover last year. Like they are wont to do with crop tops, Gen Z–ers slashed it into a shorter, cheekier version of itself: being “delulu,” unlike its predecessor, isn’t always a bad thing, several publications eagerly explained. It can simply mean believing in yourself, despite all evidence to the contrary. If you hold fast and want something hard enough, the delulu doctrine states, it might just happen for you.

While “delulu” is a delighligh neologism, if you’ll indulge a brief solluluquy from me, as a life philosophy I’ve often found it wanting. Related ideas include manifesting and faking it till you make it. This is at odds with my view that the way through is usually to be realistic and do the work. (I’m not saying I always do the work, but I believe in the idea of doing it.) Take the TikTok creator who told HuffPost a few months ago that being delulu was the secret to building up his following of hundreds of thousands: Even though his early videos got barely any views, he believed in himself and eventually the numbers followed. To me, that doesn’t sound like being delusional at all—it sounds like working hard and sticking with it. Though I admit that’s a lot less fun to say.

Taylor Swift, however, throws a huge wrench into my commitment to pragmatism. (The wrench is bejeweled with Swarovski crystals.) The past year of Taylor Swift’s life essentially functions as a permission slip to be completely delulu. Her romance with football player Travis Kelce has played out like some kind of rom-com–meets–inspirational sports documentary from the very start, and it all culminated this past weekend with Kelce and Swift kissing on the field after his team won the Super Bowl.

So much of adult life, especially for women, is about resetting expectations and retraining your brain not to buy what Hollywood brainwashed you into thinking love and romance were supposed to look like. You tell yourself that there’s no such thing as love at first sight and that people running through airports to confess their love are a screenwriter-invented fiction. But what is the rational mind to do when confronted with photos and videos of Swift and Kelce embracing after the big game?

For much of her career, Swift’s reputation was that of someone who’s struggled in love. (She knows this—hence naming her upcoming album The Tortured Poets Department.) When she was a teenager, she used to sing about white horses and marriage proposals, but she grew up, and her more recent output has reflected that she is now in her 30s and questioning whether she even wants to be somebody’s wife. Though we can’t know what their relationship is like from the inside, pop culture observers and fans largely interpret Kelce as a guy who’s worthy of her—who really appreciates her. For her to have this fairy-tale, Americana romance when she used to write about fairy tales and Americana is very hard to take for, again, someone really trying not to succumb to rom-com-inflected delusions.

Is the lesson for us normal people some crap about how it’s only when you let go of your wildest dreams that they will come true? That “love will find you when you least expect it” song and dance? Of course, there’s always the possibility that we shouldn’t be looking for life lessons in the story of a billionaire who, despite her fondness for playing the underdog, was always going to wind up on top. My delulu and her delulu are not the same, by orders of magnitude.

Weirdly, the thing that’s bringing me comfort is the light speculation that’s going on about whether Swift and Kelce are going to get engaged now. It shows that even when you have a seemingly perfect, fairy-tale “ending,” there’s always going to be someone asking about the next thing. Swift and Kelce might get engaged, but they also might break up, and all the hullaballoo surrounding them creates a lot of pressure around their relationship. When you’re daydreaming about the life you want, you never really think about how if you do manage to get the very thing that you’re manifesting, well, then what? (Unless you’re manifesting dying happily of old age, which maybe more people should.)

Life never simply arrives at perfect bliss and freezes there. It might instead bring you a whole new set of problems to deal with, like random people and media outlets whispering about when you’re gonna get married. In other words, even when your delulu comes trululu, happiness may prove elulu.

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