SONG STORIES: Don’t Make Me Choose

Posted by Ryann Fretschel Category: Musings

Honestly, Don’t Make Me Choose began with a set of chords I never meant to play. Somehow, they were just there in my hands one afternoon. A happy mistake, beautifully dissonant and comforting in their incompatibility. (I love that about music, by the way. So many rules and yet you still can do whatever you want.) And so in this collection of notes, I was drawn into a feeling of hopeful sadness that I wanted to explore a little more.

The first verse wrote itself, I suppose. I was still hazy on the big picture message that’s always a little hard to grasp in the beginning, but the words just tumbled out onto a melody, they rhymed in all the right places, and just fit the feeling somehow. I knew I wanted it to seem like a love song about heartbreak, but so far, none of my songs are actually love songs in the traditional sense. They’re more about experiencing and processing the chase of something bigger than me.  A reality that I’ve always known belongs to me but has always been just out of reach. So far. Some days are full of promise and potential and others are just a slap in the face. And this song is my attempt at addressing those slap-in-the-face days that make you want to say enough.  This song is a love song to the unsatisfied dream.

I guess it’s time to admit it
That I’ve had my heart set on you
But something deep down in my chest
Tells me this secret ain’t nothing new


Tomorrow I’m gonna say all of the right things
I’ll put on a brave face, pretend that I’m okay

This story isn’t new or unique. I’ve spent years fighting for a big, scary dream, and life hasn’t been super accommodating in realizing it. I have these grand plans for what I might accomplish, for who I intend to become, but no one tells you how hard it is to get there. I’ve learned it’s hard and long and requires flexibility and people. Lots of people. I think it was cathartic for me to simply admit that my reality today is not in agreement with the expectations I set for myself when I was blissfully ignorant of this dream’s requirements. And while I will ultimately do the right thing and fight for it again tomorrow, sometimes I need to stop and sit in my own disappointment. Just for a second.

Promises drifting in my head
Maybe I misread the cues
Your silence, a tide of indifference
Eroding this certain, little shore that I knew


Tomorrow I’m gonna say all of the right things
I’ll put on a brave face, pretend that I’m okay

In the second verse, I started to think about all the expectations I needed to make into absolutes just to keep going. Promises I made to myself. (Survival tip: create a mentality of when, not if, because there’s really no room for doubt in this business.) And last time I checked, those meager promises don’t have a ton of leverage in the music industry to date. So if I’m being completely honest about the moments that surface in the face of failure, I’m tempted to let myself wonder if I can ever make a real living as a singer/songwriter. Life doesn’t promise any of us ease or even success, and if I’m not careful, that unchecked doubt can eventually eat away at my will to keep trying. While this is not a place I can afford to stay in for long periods, it’s honest. I just have to remember to shut it down and move forward.

So don’t make me choose
Maybe it’s me or you, either way I’m gonna lose
So don’t make me choose
Baby, I’m begging you, don’t know if I’m able to choose
Don’t make me choose

The chorus is usually the last section I finish and the hardest to write. What have I learned? What is the big picture here? I’ve learned again and again that in any crisis of faith, you have to make a choice, and choosing one thing can sometimes mean losing another. Do I give up and move on or get up and keep fighting? (Either can be valid depending on the situation, by the way.) When I feel like I’m failing, I don’t want to have to choose anything. I’m tired. Either option feels like a lose-lose situation. Quitting? Hard. Continuing? Even harder. The message here ended up being pretty straight-forward: don’t make me choose.

Oh, my heart knows the ache that makes us scarred
But I don’t know what my chances are
What my chances are

Lastly, the bridge is really just a look at the uncertainty of it all and the effects—or scars—past failures can have on the decision-making process. I’d love to know if everything I’ve worked so hard for is going to pay off, but only time can tell me that. It’s a gamble, and that can be a little scary.

As I reflect on the writing process of Don’t Make Me Choose, which took a year to write, I’m reminded of the struggle it took to get here. To finish it. I honestly fought for it, and that’s interesting to me considering this whole song is kind of a pity party about avoiding action. I needed to say it, though. All of it. (Maybe I’ll listen to this song the next time I feel defeated and move on after 4 minutes and 16 seconds.) So I have to say, while it only explores the defeated moments I’ve experienced, it doesn’t address the next steps. When it comes to my dream, I know that there is nothing else I could possibly do. At the end of the day, nothing else will be as fulfilling, and choosing something else will ultimately only remind me of what I gave up. I already know what I’m going to choose every time, again and again and again. I’m going to fight for what’s mine. And I hope you do too. Because eventually, something’s got to give, right?

>> Buy Don’t Make Me Choose Here <<

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