If there’s one thing that Brooklyn-based Sarah Dooley’s new single “Only Child” isn’t, it isn’t vague. Straight to the point, Dooley warns of the dangers of dating an only child. A cautionary tale, she raises the alarm, “never fall for the only child / he doesn’t care if you live or die.”
“I wrote ‘Only Child’ a few years ago about a real person, an only child, who broke my heart,” she explains. “I wanted it to be a warning, a pep talk to yourself: don’t fall for someone who doesn’t treat you right.”
In a Washington Post article last year that examined the rise of the single-child family, it characterized the stereotype of the kids without siblings as “spoiled brats, troubled misfits, social aberrations; they’re attention-craving showboats, but also, somehow, reclusive weirdos.” Dooley feels this… hard.
“The lyrics feature slightly cheeky generalizations about people who are only children–that they don’t know how to share, they don’t know how to need another person, they’re so self-involved they can’t even keep a potted plant alive,” she laughs, in lockstep with that article.
A comedian and a singer-songwriter, she captures the winsome, meh-ness of a millennial still stuck in the dating world on her upcoming new album Is This Heartbreak?. Navigating through archetypes and common manchild tropes through the tracks, the only child is the latest target for the arrows in her quiver on this song.
For many, it’s a very easy target, the bullseye basically being the whole length of their body. But for Dooley, she needles into the slightest details that are both minutely specific but exasperatingly universal. “In the night, the only child doesn’t know how to share a bed / and in the night, the only child is all elbows into my head,” she intones, relaying the indiscriminate and subconsciously self-interested habit of sleeping with one of them. It’s hyper-specific but also hilariously and generically mundane.
“I often use humor to cope and wanted it to be a funny, fun song about real feelings,” she confesses. “At the time when I was writing [‘Only Child’], I didn’t anticipate that the themes and messages from the album would continue to speak to me in my present. The fact that a song about an only child who broke my heart is coming out right now, on the heels of my extremely recent break-up with another only child who broke my heart, is eerie.”
Coupled with the release of “Only Child,” she has released a short film that runs alongside the song’s storyline. She asks her partner who is making breakfast just for himself, she asks him if he ever gets lonely… to which he replies, quite appropriately, “I don’t know what not being lonely feels like.” It’s that moment when the frustration of his unknowing self-centered existence mutates from sad to obliviously absurd… which, again, is the point of her song.
“I wrote the short to serve as a backstory–to turn my real experience into a funnier, more exaggerated version so people could connect even more deeply to the song,” she explains. Like the other songs on Is This Heartbreak? in which she itemizes her many experiences as a young woman getting her heart broken in New York City, she has become no stranger to the ill-fated dating world. But, she says, “It reminds me that I am resilient, that I’ll always be there for myself and I can get through anything.”
Putting a pause on swiping left and right, she’s focused on her music for now. “I’ve always processed my life through my music and feel grateful that I have such an outlet,” she concludes. “I now think of heartbreak as a dear collaborator. With this new album coming out at this specific time in my life, it appears she and I are going on the road together.”