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Why are people comparing Taylor Swift’s ‘situationship’ with Matty Healy to a manic episode?

Why are people comparing Taylor Swift's ‘situationship’ with Matty Healy to a manic episode?

Let's unpack this…

Ahead of the release of her new book, The Truth About Slutshaming & What We Can Do To Fight It, writer Beth Ashley explores why Taylor Swift’s fans are keen to moralise and pathologise her sexual behaviour.

Taylor Swift has just dropped her 11th studio album, The Tortured Poets Department, and the fallout from her fans has been completely on brand – with as much conclusion-jumping and offensive assumptions as there is lyric analysis and theory sharing.

Most of the time, theories about who Swift is talking about in her songs and what might have happened to inspire them are fairly harmless and, of course, expected from such a dedicated fan base for a singer who waxes lyrical about her personal relationships all the time.

But following rumours that The Tortured Poets Department is, in part, about her brief relationship with The 1975 frontman Matty Healy, Twitter and TikTok is packed with damaging theories that do nothing but bring Swift – and anyone who ever dilly-dally in a situationship – shame and degradation.

“Taylor Swift once again defining the complexities of girlhood: feeling freed, but actually losing your mind over the ending of a long-term relationship followed by a one-month fling that is actually a manic episode," writes one fan on X (formerly Twitter).

If that wasn’t bad enough, another wrote: “I could literally tell Taylor Swift was manic ending a six year relationship for a fling,” referring to her breakup with actor Joe Alwyn and relationship with Healy soon after.

Over on TikTok, similar sentiments are echoed. "Taylor Swift having a fling had to have been a manic episode,” one commenter says, with another jesting that: "Taylor Swift having casual flings during a manic episode is me AF."

This theory appears to be linked to a handwritten poem that comes along with the album. According to The Independent, in this poem – titled In Summation – Swift defends a recent romance that was “not a love affair” but a “mutual manic phase… self-harm… house then cardiac arrest”.

Swift has not said this is about Matty Healy, that she believes she left a six-year relationship to get in a situationship as a result of mania, nor has she shared that she has bipolar disorder, manic depression, postpartum psychosis or schizoaffective disorder or any other mental health problems manic episodes are unique to. But, of course, her fans are rolling with this theory anyway. And sharing it en masse.

Some fans are claiming Taylor Swift was mentally ill while dating Healy as a comment on him, which is its own brand of problematic, but others are claiming Swift must have been mentally ill to engage in a fling in general. This is odd, as Swift has partaken in plenty of casual relationships throughout her very public career, so this isn’t exactly odd behaviour for the star, and it should go without saying that it’s incredibly offensive – but this is Twitter and TikTok, after all.

This assumption that casual dating behaviour is demonstrative of mental illness or a cry for help is connected to archaic ideologies that moralise sexual behaviour and hierarchise types of relationships in society.

There’s a widespread belief that committed relationships like Swift and Alwyn’s, no matter how unhappy they might be, are better and more respectable than casual relationships, flings, or situations like the one Swift and Healy had.

When we see women in casual relationships, we tend to believe that she isn’t there by choice – that she’s a victim of circumstance, that she must not have properly identified and responded to red flags or that she’s committing an act of self-hatred.

This idea is, to put it bluntly, sexist. To suggest a woman would have to be manic to leave a committed relationship and opt for a more carefree one comes from our gender roles: the cultural scripts assigned to our genders. The narrative women have been sold since girlhood is one that demonises anything casual. We must look for love and hold onto it when it happens. Anything casual would be a waste of time.

Of course, men don’t receive the same pressure. And we learn those rules when we’re just children. Boys get to be loud, messy, and dirty when they are playing. Girls, however, are encouraged to not take up space and remain quiet, clean, and feminine without asking for anything. As we come of age, this translates to the relationships we aspire to, and to sex.

Men can be experimental, messy, chasing multiple relationships or quick flings where feelings aren’t necessarily the goal. Meanwhile, women need to be ‘wife’ material rather than brand themselves a ‘slut’.

But flings can provide an opportunity for commitment-free sex which, like it or not, is appealing to a lot of women. They’re also a source of expression, identity building, and fun. New YouGov research found that 50% of people aged 18 to 34 have been in a situationship. It’s unlikely that half of women in a casual relationship are experiencing mental illness, right?

No matter how forthcoming she is in her lyrics and what clues she lays out for fans, we can never truly know what Swift’s love life entails and what reasons she has for being in a particular relationship, nor leaving one.

Making out that Swift is manic for exploring a new kind of relationship is not only offensive to her, but everyone who has also been in a fling (a lot of people). Not to mention those who really do experience mania as part of an ongoing mental health problem. Throwing around these words so frivolously minimises the experiences of those who truly suffer.

It is slut-shaming, plain and simple, to suggest Swift must have been experiencing insanity to “throw away” a long-term relationship for a casual thing, and she’s had enough slut-shaming thrown her way as it is. How ironic that the same fans who come to her defence when she’s routinely degraded for having multiple relationships in the spotlight would suggest she’s manic for giving this one a go.