A Playlist for When You Break Up In Autumn

As an 11-year relationship ended and the dust settled around me a couple weeks ago, I realized something: I needed music, I needed someone in my ear telling me everything I’m feeling and seeing wasn’t new and unknowable, that this was A Thing That Happens.

And wouldn’t you know it — so many other people were going through the very same Thing, all stemming from breakups that happened right around the total solar eclipse (or, as I like to think of it, the total eclipse of sooooo many hearts, wow).

Autostraddle writer and resident astrologer Corina Dross had some thoughts on the eclipse, and it makes a lot of sense:

Eclipses are a time when the regular cycles of our lives skip a beat. It’s like you’re walking normally and then you trip over something. You want to know what it was that tripped you—maybe you discover your shoes are untied, or there’s a crack in the sidewalk or a plastic bag on the steps. Essentially, eclipses unsettle us and as we’re unsettled we start looking more carefully around us to figure out why, and what we need to fix.
In relationships, you might become much more aware of patterns you need to change—and sometimes the whole relationship needs to change. These revelations can sneak up on us in eclipse season—and the hard thing is that while there are seeds of truth in them, they can also be kind of distorted! Like we might just need to tie our shoes, and not clean out the entire basement and never bring plastic bags into the house again, y’know?
Anyway, last month’s eclipses happened in the signs of Leo and Aquarius, which are both about love—personal and universal love. So we were all a little extra focused on our relationships, and how loved we felt and how much love we had to give.

I feel very strongly that the end of summer is the worst time of year for a breakup, because it’s fall. It’s cuddle season, it’s cuffing season, it’s let’s-match-in-flannel-and-pick-out-pumpkins-together-and-giggle season. It’s horrible, but also great, because I look forward to fall every year. So in the spirit of not letting this break up break me, here’s a playlist of songs to go with a veritable cornucopia of autumn-inspired activities, to get me through it, and maybe you if you need it.

The Scene: Fire crackling in the fireplace as the wind outside takes on a chilly edge and the sun is dipping lower earlier in the day, its shadows are cold for the first time in months; a vegetarian creation simmers on the stove. Wine is poured and friends gather in the ever-creeping darkness to ward off the impending winter with chats about summer adventures.

The Song: “Lost On You,” by LP

The Reason: This song is entirely feelings, from the first somber notes to LP’s incredible vocal range warbling vibrato all over my heart. It’s about loss and what it means to invest in someone and then have that investment just not pay off. It’s mourning but it’s beautiful, and the melancholy is unnoticeable unless you’re listening to her sing. Otherwise, it’s gorgeous background music.

The Scene: Freshly picked apples on the counter, and the oven preheating to Perfect Apple Pie degrees. There’s probably an apron on someone, also probably a dog looking for scraps before he wanders outside to sit in the waning heat of the fall sun. Wafting scents of cider float on sunbeams.

The Song: “Get Yourself Another Fool,” Patty Griffin

The Reason: This song meanders like a fall day, sweet and slow and easy, something you’d rock back and forth to without realizing it. You’ll start singing along, but then you’ll realize it’s about NOT getting back together with that ex, the one who knows if they call you, you’ll probably give in and cuddle with them because it’s fall and people want to snuggle without strings attached. No, this is about standing up to that ex and saying, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, that’s because I’m weak and you’re hot. But I’m NOT WEAK. Today, at least.”

The Scene: Feeling the first shift in weather, seeing the hints of yellows and oranges and reds in the trees, and bundling your sweater closer around your neck, not necessarily out of coldness but out of snuggling into yourself.

The Song: “My Heart Got Caught On Your Sleeve,” by Lucius

The Reason: It’s a beautifully simple song, just the piano complementing the lead singers’ incredible harmonies. Great for sight-seeing if you don’t listen to it too hard, and if you do, you’ll want to cry because it’s so pure and visceral. You’ve taken my heart and I want it back, safe under my ribs and autumnal sweater. It’s not so much to ask.

The Scene: Walking along a waterfront or a trail with plenty of trees and the chance to fill your lungs with fresh air. You have on a thin vest over a T-shirt and that’s probably warm enough, though as you’re moving you wonder if a hat would’ve been a good idea. Gloves will take the place of handholding in your life, and you smile grimly.

The Song: “Hurts,” by Emeli Sandé

The Reason: This song has a kicky beat and a lot of sound from the brass and percussion sections, so it’s a great motivator for activity (cleaning the house counts!). It’s about how sometimes we’re hurt in relationships and the other person doesn’t seem to care or notice, which is a really neat feeling that contributes to high self-esteem (jk it’s the opposite). This song is cathartic. Sing it while walking. Who cares if anyone hears you.

The Scene: Pre-winter preparations have begun! The house is opened up to air it out one last time before the freeze, and you’re bustling about, either canning local fruits and vegetables or chopping wood into a pile or cleaning the house to get ready to nest for months.

The Song: “Save Up All Your Tears,” Cher

The Reason: Oh, this one is a motivator all right. Cher is amazingly resilient, and we could all learn from her. This song is kickass rock, and Cher is all of us at our most self-confident post-breakup: I look really good and I’m such a good catch and you’re an idiot for leaving and I can see that but you don’t yet, so even though you’re not crying now, you will be. What a legend. There are also TWO key changes. TWO.

The Scene: It’s time: Flannel season is upon you, and it’s the magic moment in which you go into your closet and pull out the soft, plaid best friend you’ve been hiding for a while now. You put it on and shrug into the sleeves, popping the collar back down as you catch your reflection in the mirror – looking good!

The Song: “Sorry Not Sorry,” by Demi Lovato

The Reason: You look good — and you’re not apologizing for that. Your ex is going to feel so sad when they see how flannelly and cuddly and cute you look, and even though you don’t love thinking about them, it gives you some satisfaction to know you’d crush it right now were they to see you a few stalls over at the farmers markets.

The Scene: Snow is dusting the mountains, and you’ve wrapped a blanket around your shoulders as you sip on a warm drink, one that heats your body and soul. You take stock of your life, a rich collection of successes and failures, and start to plot your winter cocoon season, after which you’ll emerge like a goddamn butterfly. Would it be nice to cuddle? Sure. But do you need it? Nope, you’ve got a blanket and a drink and the knowledge that the one who broke up with you is the loser here.

The Song: “Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole,” by Martha Wainwright

The Reason: This is the ultimate breakup song, in that Martha holds nothing back. “I will not pretend/ I will not put on a smile/ I will not say I’m all right for you.” This is the part of a breakup I hate: When they pity you because it’s hard on you and easier on them because they’re the one who did the breaking. My impulse is to say everything’s good so they’ll leave me alone, but sometimes the truth of the matter – that they’re an actual asshole who you don’t recognize anymore due to said asshole behavior – is better to say out loud. Plus, it’s a pretty tune.

The Scene: You’re pumpkin carving and you look down to see you’ve sliced a sad face into your gourd. It’s OK. It’s time to take a break. You head to your car or to a quiet place to sit and think without that damn pumpkin judging you.

The Song: “Crying (Roy Orbison cover),” by k.d. lang

The Reason: Hi, it’s k.d. lang and I don’t think we need more of a reason, do we? Her dulcet voice mixed with the drama from Orbison’s song is a perfect crying-catharsis song, and no one would judge you if they heard or saw. This song is actually the crying equivalent of watching someone yawn, and you yawn, and if you don’t, people think you might have antisocial tendencies.

The Scene: The smell of hay bales and open fields hits your nose as you wander the corn maze, lost in your thoughts and trying to avoid all the happy families and couples also maneuvering through the maize. The sun is out and your sunglasses are on, so you pop in your headphones to give yourself a soundtrack.

The Song: “You Oughta Know,” Alanis Morisette

The Reason: I’d be remiss if I didn’t include Alanis, especially because I’m half Canadian and these words basically run through my blood. This one is so good, it’s so mad, it’s so vengeful and raw. It’s a lovely complement to the seemingly perfect scenery around you, a nice juxtaposition of idealism and reality all in one place. Bonus: The lyrics are deliciously vicious, slicing as cleanly as Julia Childs learning about cutting onions. You’ll cry like it too, but that’s what the sunglasses are for.

The Scene: You’re at the Harvest Festival in your flannel best, and a cutie catches your eye. You think about all the ways you’d stuff that turkey, but then about how exhausting that sounds. You consider hibernating for the winter, and look into how bears get away with it.

The Song: “High by the Beach,” Lana Del Rey

The Reason: This is a song for exasperation, when you’ve reached your emotional limit and nothing, not even the good cuties of the world, can pull you out of it. It’s time for escape, and unless you’ve got the cash to buy last-minute plane tickets (and if you do, call me) Lana is perfect for this. She just wants to be high by the beach, where her ex can’t bother her anymore and she can be at peace with the ocean, which will never leave her. The ocean doesn’t care about exes or anything human – it continues to flow with the tides, and you will, too.

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Molly Priddy

Molly Priddy is a writer and editor in Northwest Montana. Follow her on Twitter: @mollypriddy

Molly has written 50 articles for us.


  1. I feel you Molly. Fall feels like a terrible time for the dust to be settling. I am barely coming out of the fog myself and can’t help but think of cozy winter activities and holidays. Like, where is “home for the holidays” if the place I have called home for years is now gone from me? Ugh. Thanks for the playlist.

    • oh i’ll add my full 35-song playlist to the bottom of this for you. i’m sorry you’re also going through it. solidarity!

      • true story, one year at camp a cabinmate fell asleep after some drinks and we started debating with each other about whether we needed consent to take off her shoes for her

  2. Aw, Molly. <3 I love fall for all the same reasons (cuddling! pumpkins! sharing hot apple cider!). I hope you find lots of ways to still enjoy the season.

    And thank you for these music recs. A 10-year relationship ended for me at the beginning of this year, and normally I turn to music in hard times. But the trouble is most of my favorite songs were things I'd found in the last 10 years … so they remind me of my ex. I'm still looking for the music to build a new favorites library.

    Big hugs to you.

    • oh my god this is so real. music is like an instant memory for me. find new artists, and go back to the artists you loved before the relationship. they sound familiar and different at the same time.

  3. My breakup started in springtime but the dust finally settles as the last of the paperwork is signed and notarized this week bc property transfer takes forever y’all. Thanks for the tunes!

  4. Firstly, I’m sorry to hear about your break up. And secondly, music is SO GODDAMN IMPORTANT during this time I can’t even begin to tell you how much I agree with your sentiment here.

    I also want to say that Alanis, on many occasions, has held my hand (while the other was in my pocket, of course) and taken me to where I needed to go. I am 100% Canadian, and I approve of your endorsement.

  5. This is way too relevant right now. And I was literally listening to my version of this playlist, specifically “Total Eclipse of the Heart” as I read this. So SAME, MOLLY, SAME. Except my relationship is 10 years younger than yours, but we are engaged. Or were. Or who the fuck knows.

  6. This hit me right where I need it today, THANK YOU.

    And also thank you for introducing me to LP – with that VOICE and that sexy, badass persona, how is it I haven’t heard of her until now? How is this woman not a LEGEND?

  7. Where was this playlist when my fiancee left me a year ago?!

    Bookmarking this for future reference. And sending all kinds of warm fall hugs to you.

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