Remember “The Winner Takes it All” by ABBA? It’s one of the most beautiful and cruelest pop songs ever written.
Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson penned the crushing ballad , and then Björn’s ex-wife-slash-bandmate Agnetha Fältskog sang the lead vocals. The lyrics were rumored to mirror their divorce, although Björn denied it was the basis for the song, saying it was about “the experience of a divorce, but it’s fiction. There wasn’t a winner or loser in our case. A lot of people think it’s straight out of reality, but it’s not.”
I don’t want to talk
About the things we’ve gone through
Though it’s hurting me
Now it’s history
I’ve played all my cards
And that’s what you’ve done too
Nothing more to say
No more ace to play
The winner takes it all
The loser standing small
Beside the victory
That’s her destiny
I was in your arms
Thinking I belonged there
I figured it made sense
Building me a fence
Building me a home
Thinking I’d be strong there
But I was a fool
Playing by the rules
With lyrics that raw, there’s no way I buy that they weren’t about the end of the nine-year marriage between Ulvaeus and Fältskog – and neither did Spin magazine writer Chuck Klosterman. He said “The Winner Takes it All” is the only pop song “that examines the self-aware guilt one feels when talking to a person who has humanely obliterated your heart.”
Not to mention that the song’s original title was said to be “The Story of My Life.” So the jig is up, Björn.
The gods may throw a dice
Their minds as cold as ice
And someone way down here
Loses someone dear
The winner takes it all
The loser has to fall
It’s simple and it’s plain
Why should I complain
Agnetha finally confirmed the truth in 2013 during an interview with the Daily Mail. “Björn wrote it about us after the breakdown of our marriage. The fact he wrote it exactly when we divorced is touching really. I didn’t mind. It was fantastic to do that song because I could put in such feeling.”
I’m not sure I would have been so gracious. Writing a song about your divorce and then making your ex-wife get up on stage and sing it every night in front of thousands of people sounds like torture, but hey, maybe that’s how they handle their grief in Sweden.
And what about Björn’s stance that there was no winner or loser in their divorce? I can’t quite swallow that pickled herring either. There is always a winner and a loser, as amicable as you may try to be. The winner is the leaver, the loser is the one left. The winner writes the song, the loser has to sing the tune.
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about winners and losers. Very few of us believe we come out on top after divorce. Ask a man if he thinks men get the short end of the stick in the divorce and they’ll emphatically agree; ask a woman if she thinks women get a raw deal in divorce and she’ll say yes for certain.
It’s really about perspective, which is subjective because it is colored by our personal life experiences. Once we form our perspective on something, it’s nearly impossible to change and everything we see and hear afterwards either supports our truth or is just plain wrong.
Both women and men form a belief that their gender gets screwed over by divorce but the truth is, neither are winners. The justice system ensures no one gets more than they deserve and yet, both sides believe they have given up too much. But when there are no clear winners, each side assumes that they must be the loser. Again, perspective.
In my case, one of us walked away from daily obligations, moved to a coastal city where temperatures rarely dip below light jacket weather, got promoted at work, took vacations we never used to be able to afford, and got engaged. The other got a six-figure mortgage attached to a 30-year-old house in need of paint and various repairs.
But I also have the kids seven days a week, so if we’re keeping score, that puts me ahead.
Although this house is still mostly owned by the bank and showing signs of age, it’s still home sweet home to us. It has pretty nice curb appeal and it keeps us safe and warm and (on most days) dry. Under this roof is where we share our nightly meals and our birthday cakes, put up the Christmas tree, and hunker down together to watch Swamp People. We work, create and study, we play, we sleep, and most of all, we love each other here. There is a true feeling of home.
When I tally up everything divorce has given me, I feel enormously grateful. I get to see and spend time with my kids seven days a week – admittedly, some of those days are harder than others, but as they are now young adults, I appreciate how precious our time together is before they spread their wings and leave the nest. I am in awe of the neat people they are and their existence continues to give me purpose and yes, perspective.
One of the best things I can do for my kids is show them how to pick yourself up again and live happily. While divorce lifted a weight off my shoulders and brought a surprising sense of peace and assurance that everything would be all right, it wasn’t until I met my partner that I realized how good things could get. I was happy, but meeting him turned up my inner pilot light from a flicker to a bigger, brighter flame. I remember thinking, “Oh, yes, this is how it’s supposed to be.”
For the first time ever, I feel like I am in charge of my life. I think that I can attribute that to having experienced a journey of personal growth and self-exploration that got cut short when I got married at 20. Although I had to mature very fast, it wasn’t until after age 40 that I was able to gain a healthy knowledge of who I am as an individual. I feel more confident than ever to successfully handle whatever might come my way next.
Most of all, I feel like in this second chapter of my life, I am living the truest version of myself. That’s what I call winning.