Trying to figure out which of Swift’s songs are about which of her relationships has become a pop culture pastime. “When the guessing game starts, it’s really funny,” says the star, who always declines to name names (although Gyllenhaal is widely believed to be Red’s central, fiery inspiration). “It’s like, off to the races! I sit back and laugh and think, ‘They’ll never know.’”
Speculation aside, Swift’s songs confirm that she has repeatedly felt burned. Blame it on the bad boys she often seems drawn to. “There’s a really interesting charisma involved,” she says of the allure. “They usually have a lot to say, and even if they don’t, they know how to look at you to say it all. I think every girl’s dream is to find a bad boy at the right time, when he wants to not be bad anymore.”
She’s the first to admit that her romances tend to develop—and end—rather swiftly. “I don’t think there’s an option for me to fall in love slowly, or at medium speed. I either do or I don’t,” says the chart topper, who calculates that her longest relationship to date lasted six months. “I don’t think it through, really, which is a good thing and a bad thing. You don’t look before you leap, which is like, ‘Yay, this is awesome! Let’s not think twice!’ And then you’re like, ‘We used to be flying. Now we’re falling. What’s happening?’” It comes with the territory when life moves as fast as it does for her, she adds. “I’m never in the same place for more than, like, three days at a time. Things can change from one minute to the next.”
Not everything happens at warp speed, though: “I don’t get over people fast,” she says. Nor does she expect to settle down anytime soon. “People think I want to get married really young—I don’t know why. I’m a romantic person, but that doesn’t mean I want to miss out on being in my young 20s.”
That includes making time for fun and snacks while writing songs. According to British musician Ed Sheeran, who cowrote Red’s “Everything Has Changed” with Swift, a trampoline was central to the creative process. “We would take breaks in between lines of the song to bounce around and think of more ideas,” he recalls. “Afterward she baked an apple pie. It was wicked.”
For the most part, Swift has handled her first six years in the spotlight with a preternatural grace. In August, though, she hit a rare public relations speed bump—that Kennedy wedding incident, which she won’t discuss (“It’s been talked about enough”)—and while she claims she doesn’t read gossip about herself, she’s now all too aware that everyone else does. “I don’t know necessarily how much privacy I’m entitled to,” she says when asked about the difficulty of living in the public eye, “but I know I don’t get much of it. At the same time, I asked for this. I could be playing in a coffeehouse—I’d be happy doing that, [but] not as happy, probably. Knowing that people are going to hear the music I make is the most amazing feeling. Knowing that there are dudes waiting outside my house with cameras, hiding in bushes, is a less awesome feeling.”
No one would accuse Swift, whose parents moved the family from Wyomissing, Pa., to Nashville when she was 14 so she could pursue a music career, of being ungrateful for her success. The loss of privacy, she notes, is “a small price to pay for getting to play stadiums.” Still, there are days when she’d rather not deal with all that being Taylor Swift now entails. She travels with one or two security guards at all times because, as she puts it, “I have some crazies that are after me.” As a result, she can’t remember the last time she went anywhere by herself.
“I have some days where I get frustrated,” she admits. “I kind of give myself this pep talk, like, ‘Are you in the mood for lots of social situations and pictures? If the answer’s no, stay inside.’”
Sometimes, just hanging at home with a little Chinese food and some crime-solving TV is exactly what she needs. “It’s just like this sense of”—she exhales deeply—“no one is watching me, no one is asking me anything. It’s calming.”
Maybe one of these days Swift will get around to taking an extended break—although the mere thought turns the volume in her head up to 11. “If I took a break, would I stop writing songs so much?” she wonders.
Or maybe she’d wind up having even more to write about. Who knows? She doesn’t—not yet. “I have so much to learn about life,” she says. “I know nothing compared to what I’m going to know someday.”
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Photos: Taylor Swift's Star Style