We all cope with breakups in different ways. Some of us drown our sorrows in pints of Ben & Jerry’s. Others cry it out to Frank Ocean on repeat. We indulge and isolate and perhaps do a little too much therapeutic swiping on Tinder. Then, there’s Luke Howard, the 34-year-old man who played the piano non-stop for his ex in a park in the UK. While Howard may have thought the very public display of (unrequited) affection romantic, the internet decidedly did not.
According to the Bristol Post, Howard had a piano delivered to Bristol’s College Green after he was dumped by his girlfriend of four months. While leaving her unnamed, Howard only referred to ex as “Rapunzel” — you know, the literal damsel in distress. Mashable reports that Howard also set up Facebook and Instagram accounts dedicated to getting the word out, making some people question if the whole stunt was a personal marketing ploy. Those accounts have since been deleted.
Howard’s piano pining got attention after he spoke to the Bristol Post. “I fell in love with a really amazing girl,” Howard said, “It was going wonderfully and then it kind of fell apart. So rather than just give up I thought I'd come here and just play, and I'll play if it rains, if it snows, if I fall over or if I get arrested.” I mean, you literally can’t play if you get arrested on account of, um, being arrested but yeah, sure, okay, Luke. Howard said he chose this particular form of expression as he “didn’t know what else do to.”
Luke, my dude, have you not heard of eating Nutella or watching Legally Blonde or staring at puppy pictures or taking a walk or calling a friend or writing a sad song but privately or literally any other form of post-break-up therapy that doesn’t come across as entitled and obsessive?
Some initial coverage of the story touted Howard’s actions as “romantic” or “heart-breaking” and “lovelorn.” The Bristol Post added #dedication when they shared the piece on Twitter. However, much of the internet was not having it, with many people responding to the Post’s story on Twitter by calling the act stalker-like and abusive. People, like Grace Dent for Independent, were also quick to point out the gender double-standard in the coverage of the story: pining ex-boyfriends are sensitive romantics while pining ex-girlfriends are clingy, obsessive stalkers.
Writer and activist Ijeoma Oluo wrote a Facebook post perfectly articulating why Howard’s stunt is problematic. As Oluo states in her post, “Women are not your property. You are not entitled to our company. We do not exist to make you better, or happier, or more complete. We are allowed to leave you. We don't need a reason. You will be okay without us.”
In an effort to clarify his intent, Howard said his actions were misrepresented. “It was reported that I said ‘I will stay here for as long as it takes until she comes back to me’ but that is NOT what I said at all," he said, according to Mashable. “All I wanted to do was send a message because I felt like perhaps she might not have realized how much I cared. I never took the stance that I would sit there until we were back together again like a spoilt child, that was a journalism mistake which put out the message I wasn't going to take no for an answer.”
The notion that Howard's actions were only intended to let her know “how much he cared” is naive a best and romanticizing harassment at worst. It's one thing to create art inspired by a breakup, even to put that art on display seems like natural desire. It's another thing entirely to use art as an excuse to be manipulative, to do something with the intention that the other person can't ignore it, to “get the word out” to a person who very clearly has already heard what she's had to hear.
Howard has since stopped played after getting punched in the head at 4 a.m. on Sunday. He continued playing until Monday.