Taylor Swift’s ex-boyfriends get a bad rap, and for good reason. Joe Jonas broke up with her on a 25-second phone call. John Mayer took advantage of her when she was 19. Jake Gyllenhaal was toxic. And Matty Healy, well, there aren’t enough words to describe all the problematic things he’s done.
The list goes on for men who have wronged Taylor, but if there’s one ex who’s been unfairly villainized, it’s her most recent long-term relationship: Joe Alwyn. Taylor and Joe dated from 2016 to 2023. He’s her longest public relationship, and there were rumors that they were secretly engaged and even married. She’s written dozens of love songs about him (Lover was pretty much an ode to their relationship), and he’s even co-written some of her most popular tracks, making him her only boyfriend to date to hold such an honor. Joe, for the most part, was well-liked by Swifties. That all changed when she started dating her current romance: Kansas City Chiefs tight end, Travis Kelce.
Joe and Travis, at least in regards to their relationships with Taylor, are complete opposites. Joe was private. He dodged press questions about her like they were landmines, and it took almost a year before they were photographed together—albeit in grainy shots with their hoods up headed to Taylor’s private jet. In their almost-seven years together, Joe gave maybe five comments about Taylor, no more than a couple sentences each, and he never acknowledged her by name. They were so intensely private that there were once rumors that they wore hot pink wigs to disguise themselves in New York, though those reports have since been debunked.
Travis is the antithesis of Joe. He tried to ask her out with his number on a friendship bracelet at one of her concerts and wasn’t quiet about it. Since they were first linked a month ago, Travis has talked about Taylor in almost each episode of his podcast, and the two have been photographed no less than six times together. They appeared in the same Saturday Night Live episode, though in different scenes, and there are even reports that he bought a $6 million mansion so they could have a bigger space together.
Where Joe is quiet and private, Travis is loud and proud. The stark difference between them has led to thousands of tweets and TikToks comparing their relationships with Taylor—from how they leave a restaurant (Joe rushes her to the car, while Travis takes his time) to how they hold hands (Joe grips her palm like a handshake, while Travis interlaces their fingers.) There are accusations that Joe never opened the car door for Taylor, stole the booth from her at restaurants, and didn’t let her be bejeweled, a term Taylor popularized with her 2022 song from Midnights, in which she sings about someone who didn’t let her shine.
There’s no denying that Joe was private, but that choice wasn’t only his. Taylor and Joe started dating in the summer of 2016, around the time Kim Kardashian leaked her infamous phone call with Kanye West and Taylor disappeared from the public eye completely. It was the lowest point in her career and Joe was there for her, a dynamic she wrote several songs about on her album Reputation, which chronicled Taylor’s journey to love during one of the darkest times in her life. “My reputation’s never been worse, so you must like me for me,” Taylor sang in “Delicate.”
Taylor and Joe were private, and at that moment in her life, that was exactly what she needed. It was a mutual decision to protect their relationship amid the chaos of the media trying to tear her apart. “We decided together we wanted our relationship to be private,” Taylor said in her 2020 Netflix documentary Miss Americana. “I was happy. But I wasn’t happy in the way I was trained to be happy. It was happiness without anyone else’s input. We were just happy.”
Joe represented the normalcy Taylor needed in her life at that time, something she wrote about in the song “Peace” from Folklore. “’Peace’ is actually more rooted in my personal life,” she told Paul McCartney for Rolling Stone in 2020. She continued, “The idea of privacy feels so strange to try to explain, but it’s really just trying to find bits of normalcy. That’s what that song ‘Peace’ is talking about. Like, would it be enough if I could never fully achieve the normalcy that we both crave?”
Joe’s relationship with Taylor was the safe haven she no longer needed after their breakup. She was back on top and lightyears away from her reputation as Public Enemy Number One during her drama with Kim and Kanye. She’s sold out stadiums across the world, reformed her squad, and no longer has a reason to hide from the public. Taylor’s relationships with Joe and Travis are different because she was in a different time in her life with each of them. Joe didn’t force Taylor to be private. It’s what she wanted. And now that she no longer has the same need, her relationship with Travis looks completely different.
We may never know why Taylor and Joe broke up, but it’s clear that Taylor can make her own decisions. She wouldn’t be with someone for more than six years if she didn’t know what was good for her. Taylor is one of the most famous pop stars in the world, so fans would be remiss to think that Joe, an unknown actor at the time they met, was the one who masterminded and controlled their relationship. Joe was private, while Travis is public. Neither is worse or better than the other. They were just different relationships at different times. You can support one without villainizing the other. So please, leave Joe Alwyn alone.