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Man plays piano non-stop after breakup, triggers debate on emotional blackmail


Luke Howard is a 34-year-old piano player who was dumped by his girlfriend of four months. Instead of crying out his grief into a pillow and gorging on Nutella and peanut butter while binge-watching on Netflix, he decided to put on a spectacular, public display. 

He bought a piano, had it delivered to College Green, a sprawling ground in Bristol, and started playing. 

“I’m here to play piano ’cause I didn’t know what else to do,” he told the Bristol Post

“I fell in love with a really amazing girl, 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 will be here, as long as I have to be here, hopefully the girl, and she knows who she is, will come talk to me and maybe we could give it another go.” 

Howard, from Bath, said he and the woman — who he referred to as his “Rapunzel” (seriously) — split up after a four-month relationship. He also set up Facebook and Instagram pages — called “@ForLove2017” — to help get the word out (the pages have since been deleted). 

“I wanted to do something that she might see, to let her know how much I loved her, that she can see and then take it or leave it,” he added. 

Bristol Post shared the story on Twitter with the prompt “This man is playing piano on College Green. And he won’t stop until he gets girlfriend back” and the hashtag “#dedication”. 

As you can imagine, it didn’t exactly go down well. Sian Norris, the founder of Bristol Women’s Literary Festival, summed up the backlash that followed:

“Men, women are allowed to leave you. You are not entitled to a girlfriend. Media, stop romanticising controlling, stalker behaviour.”

The overwhelming negative reactions focused on Howard’s red flag behaviour, his sense of entitlement after being dumped and use of a public performance to pressure someone who’s already said no. 

For many, it’s also about the lingering dangers of romanticising harassment.   

A look at some of the headlines for the initial story — ““Heartbreaking reason this lovelorn man has vowed to play the piano non-stop in public”, “Hopeless romantic isn’t going to stop playing the piano until his true love takes him back” — reveals exactly how pervasive this sentiment is. 

Activist and writer Ijeoma Oluo penned a powerful Facebook post lashing out against Howard’s stunt.

“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,” she wrote. “We are allowed to leave you. We don’t need a reason. You will be okay without us.”

Following the online backlash over the weekend, Howard decided to stop playing. He told Mashable someone hit him in the head with “something that felt like a baseball hat”, then kicked him half a dozen times when he fell down. The incident was reported to police.

Howard says he had no intention of applying pressure to his ex-girlfriend and claims the Bristol Post journalist misquoted him. 

“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, quoting his words on the Bristol Post video. 

“All I wanted to do was send a message because I felt like perhaps she might not have realised 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.”

“This just isn’t true, I simply wanted her, naively maybe, to see how deeply I felt. I wanted to show her but never to force or blackmail.”  

The piano man says he’s not trying to escape responsibility as he knew that he could get burned from the whole operation, but reiterates that he’s been misunderstood. 

Here’s what he had to say about their break-up:

Because of the manner in which we parted I was very confused and upset about it all. I wasn’t even sure if this girl actually knew truly how deeply I really felt.

I wanted to show her so I set up the [Facebook and Instagram] pages in that way to try and portray that. I thought if a few hundred people liked what I was doing it might possibly get back to her that I was trying to show her something (I didn’t feel it was right to send loads of texts and call a lot) and then it would maybe be something that she could truly believe. 

I never expected this whole thing to go viral, and it only did so because of the enormous hate of what they thought I was tying to do.  

[…]

I never wanted to force her to do anything, I said in my statement that she would not be swayed in that way anyway because of the way she is. I only wanted he to see how much I cared. 

Howard has also said that his actions were not a PR stunt. 

You can judge for yourself on whether the whole thing is extremely naive or extremely creepy. 



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