In Bon Iver’s “Skinny Love”, the artist is attempting to convince his significant other to hold on to a relationship that is seemingly fading away. The song makes the argument that while one of the lovers is making a tremendous effort to keep their relationship alive, the other has no interest at all in putting any more energy into it. This argument is rather pessimistic, which is evident in the lyrics of the song.
We all have one love in our lives that we believe in to be the only and last love that we will have. In “Skinny Love”, the artist seems to have an endless sense of hope, despite the fact that clearly his relationship is growing dim. He encourages his partner to hold on, and give their love a chance to see what the future may hold. Essentially, the artist is trying to convince his significant other that perhaps with time, circumstances may improve within their relationship. For example, the first lyrics of the song are, “Come on skinny love just last the year”. Here, the artist is essentially begging for his significant other to remain in a relationship with him, in hopes that as the year progresses, their situation will improve. However, the artist’s begging tone in this line reveals that perhaps he knows that their relationship is coming to an end and rotting away, the deeper that they go. Anytime in which someone has to beg for another’s love and affection, the relationship or bond between the two is as good as gone.
The artist realizes that the relationship is reaching its demise, but he is not ready to accept that. However, his partner is giving no effort at all to try to save their relationship. Ultimately, the artist is not someone that gives up and is arguing that his significant other should not give up either. The artist also hints at a conflict that the couple recently experienced, that could be feeding the depressing times in their relationship. The artist addresses the situation by saying, “Pour a little salt we were never here / Staring at the sink of blood and crushed veneer”.
When one has sustained a wound that is opened and vulnerable, they may pour salt on it to assist it in the healing process. The artist is attempting to make amends for perhaps recent events in their relationship that could be contributing to their “skinny love” by trying to heal it and move along as if nothing ever happened, as though they were “never here”.
In my opinion, this could be a wound that never heals and the artist may even be feeling guilt for recent events that are deteriorating the relationship he has with this person. He wants to pretend that everything is okay and that nothing has gone wrong with the relationship. In addition, the artist described “staring at the sink of blood and crushed veneer. The blood could represent all of the pain and hardships that have been felt by both individuals that is not going away, and thus, the sink is not draining like sinks are supposed to do. It is a constant reminder of their dwindling love. “Veneer” means to cover something to make it look better or more appealing. In this case, the veneer, which may have been covering up the bad segments of the relationship is now crushed, and they are fully exposed, just like an open wound that would need salt to heal. There is no hiding from the problems and hard times that this couple has endured due to the fact that they can no longer be covered up. Instead of addressing issues directly, the artist and his significant other put a bandage on them and even though they were able to be ignored and covered up, the veneer is now crushed and there is no escaping the issues that they now face as their skinny love becomes even more slender. Eventually in the song, the artist becomes more aggressive and pushy towards his significant other.
The artist gets very frustrated with his significant other, which is evident when he says, “And I told you to be patient / And I told you to be fine / And I told you to be balanced / And I told you to be kind”. Here, the artist is reflecting on when he urged his lover to stay the course and let their relationship continue forward, ultimately with patience and positivity. His frustration is quite evident, due to the fact that he told his love to bear with him, but obviously she did not. If she would have, the artist is convinced that their circumstances would be better and perhaps that would not be going through perilous times in their relationship with one another. The artist wants us to see that his significant other gave up on their relationship, despite his efforts to sustain the relationship. In my view, however, the artist may have been blind to the fact that despite his exhaustive efforts, he really never had a chance at convincing his counterpart to stay with him. If you have to beg someone to love you and to stay with you, the chances are that they most likely do not have the same feelings. This is extremely difficult for the artist to comprehend, and he does not understand why she did not listen to him. Nobody can control anyone’s feelings, for they are something embedded in the very core of each of us. Love must be felt from the heart and soul, and the artist is not able to get through to his significant other on this level any longer, and it clearly frustrates him. The artist may even feel guilt for trying to control the emotions of this person. In addition, the fact that he asks this individual to be “fine” and “kind” suggests that this person may no longer even have civil feelings towards the artist any longer. It is as if the relationship has corrupted the basic inner feelings that every relationship should have. A mutual kindness between two lovers is obviously essential for any relationship to function smoothly.
I believe that this person and this relationship is too far gone to be saved now, and that the artist realizes this, but cannot seem to come to terms with it. Towards the end of the song, the artist begins to realize that, in fact, the relationship has reached its end. However, just because it has come to an end, does not mean that it was a mutual decision. While one heart had moved on, the other had not. In this case, the artist is the one who still had an emotional connection.
Now, though, he begins to feel very emotional, seemingly doubting himself when he says, “And now all your love is wasted / And then who the hell was I? / And I’m breaking at the britches / And at the end of all your lines”. The artist believes that because the relationship has come to an end, all the love, and ultimately, time, that the couple shared is now wasted. He believes that now that it is all over, it was all just a huge waste. It is easy to look back on things after they are over and have regret. The artist is questioning how it could be so quick and so effortless for his partner to just give up and throw away their love. Ultimately, it makes him feel worthless and unimportant. This is the dagger in the heart, and gives us complete assurance that his partner has decided to go a separate way, which she completely decided on her own. Despite his attempts to try to get her to stick around, she is not giving him any chance at all. It is evident that the artist is breaking down and watching his whole world fall apart, when he says that he is “breaking at the britches”.
It can also be concluded that the woman does not want anything to do with the artist following their breakup, which is clear when the artist claims that he is “at the end of all your lines”. In my opinion, this means that he is the last thing on her mind right now and that she wants to forget about him and their relationship in order to move on and get on with her life. This is extremely difficult for him to accept, due to the fact that he held the love that they once shared in such high regard, and yet, he gets no effort back at all. Although the women has given up and is moving on, the artist still cannot let go because his heart was still truly in the relationship and attracted to her. The artist is very attached to this person and will take a long period of time to heal after this split that they have experienced.
Overall, it may be said that the romantic loss described in Bon Iver’s “Skinny Love” is heartbreaking. An individual so invested in another person is terribly unrecognized and ultimately shut down after all of the effort and love that he gave. It is a pessimistic series of events that is felt deeply for one, but for the other, has no apparent effect at all. A love that was perhaps once so wide, was withered down to nothing at all.