Taylor Swift in Wonderland

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The place is immaculate, and there's no sign that any other living thing – besides her unusually friendly Scottish fold cat, Meredith (named after a favorite Grey's Anatomy character) – has been here recently. But a gossip item circulating that morning suggests otherwise: As the story goes, she missed her boyfriend, 18-year-old Conor Kennedy – an incoming prep-school senior – so she "kidnapped" him, via private jet, flying him to Nashville.

Taylor Swift: A History in Photos

Swift stopped reading her own press after the Grammy incident, and instituted a self-Googling ban. "What did I do? Don't tell me! Is it bad?" she says, clutching a pale-blue knitted pillow and curling her mile-long legs beneath her on a swiveling love seat. She's barefoot, wearing a V-neck white blouse and high-waisted, vintage-y floral shorts. Her knees have some fresh white scars on them ("I fell on rocks on the beach, and I fell during volleyball. Kind of eight-year-old-child injuries"). When she hears the day's gossip, her eyes widen under feline makeup. She looks faintly nauseated: "How did I kidnap him? You can't kidnap a grown man! These are serious accusations, now!"

She laughs, but she's swiveling furiously in the chair, like it might move her away from this topic. "It's an interesting way to spin something into a story," she says. "See, this is why I don't read stuff."

So is Conor chained to something upstairs, then? "What? God!"

She is aware of another recent rumor: that she and Kennedy crashed his cousin's wedding, then flatly refused to leave. "I have no idea what happened there," she says, spinning again, fidgeting with some chipped nail polish on her index finger. "I think that story was based on the biggest misunderstanding, 'cause I would never knowingly show up somewhere that I thought I wasn't invited to. And I would never want to upstage anybody."

She's come to grips, sort of, with the fact that her days of exclusively good press are over. "I just gotta take it day by day," she says. "I don't think anyone is ever truly viewed as only one thing, as only good, as only well-behaved, as only respectful. In the beginning, when there would be a tiny news story about something that wasn't true, I thought that meant my fans weren't gonna show up to my next concert. But now, knock on wood – where's wood? I need to knock on wood – I feel like my fans have my back and I have theirs."

And she knows that she can't always be the good guy. "It's just part of the dynamics of a good story," she says. "Everybody is a complicated character."

It's somehow not surprising to learn that Swift had her first drink ever on her 21st birthday. "I knew I couldn't get away with it until then," she says the night before, sipping a Diet Coke through a little red straw that matches her lipstick. We made it into the restaurant without fuss, except for a pigtailed little girl who gaped with I-just-saw-the-Easter-Bunny joy. "I didn't really care to know what I was missing, and I knew it was illegal, and that my luck would be that I'd get caught. And then you think about all the moms and little girls who would have thought less of me. I'm still not much of a drinker, but I'll have a glass of wine every once in a while." And has she gotten drunk? "I'm not gonna talk about that! No one wants to picture that!"

It can't be easy, living like this. Gomez recalls going out to dinner with Swift when she noticed another patron eavesdropping. "She got startled that they were listening," Gomez says, "and she got nervous, and then the person left and she felt awful. She was like, 'I hope he didn't leave because of me. I hope he doesn't think I'm mean. Do you think he's going to tell everyone I'm mean?' She cares so much."

Swift has recurring anxiety dreams, and, predictably enough, one of them involves being arrested for something she didn't do. "I keep trying to tell them that I didn't do anything," she says, "and they won't listen, or my voice doesn't work."

Another one is quite vivid. "I'll be in a room with piles of clothes all over the floor, and I can't clean it. And no matter what, they keep piling up and I can't move. It freaks me out! It makes me wish I could clean it, 'cause I love cleaning. But the piles get bigger, or there's piles on the ceiling, and I don't even know how that's possible."

She knows what that one's about. "I think I have a big fear of things spiraling out of control," she says. "Out of control and dangerous and reckless and thoughtless scares me, because people get hurt. When you say 'control freak' and 'OCD' and 'organized,' that suggests someone who's cold in nature, and I'm just not. Like, I'm really open when it comes to letting people in. But I just like my house to be neat, and I don't like to make big messes that would hurt people. . . . I don't want to let people down, or let myself down, or have a lot of people that I know I wronged."

Swift has never seen a therapist. "I just feel very sane," she says.

It takes only a cursory listen to Swift's songs – or a visit to TMZ – to figure out the one part of her life where she allows messiness to reign. "The way I look at love is you have to follow it," she says, "and fall hard, if you fall hard. You have to forget about what everyone else thinks. It has to be an us-against-the-world mentality. You have to make it work by prioritizing it, and by falling in love really fast, without thinking too hard. If I think too hard about a relationship I'll talk myself out of it."

And why would she go from dating men in their 30s – John Mayer, Jake Gyllenhaal – to her current, SAT-prepping guy? "I have rules for a lot of areas of my life," she says. "Love is not going to be one of them."

Before she got together with Conor, she was publicly touting her interest in the Kennedy family's history, and had mentioned reading a 960-page book called The Kennedy Women. "Weird," she says. "Oh, my God, I know. It's like – things happen in my life in coincidental ways that are weird."

But it does look funny. . . . "You're telling me," she says. She looks comically aghast at the idea of Elvis superfan Nicolas Cage marrying Lisa Marie Presley – he got the ultimate collectible. "That's not what's happening," she practically yells, sending her eyes skyward.

It may also help that a friend did it first. Ask fellow minicougar Gomez if Swift got the idea from her relationship with Bieber (who's almost two years younger), and her answer is quick and cheerful: "Probably!"

Swift has written some of her generation's most seductively romantic songs – she may be the world's leading proponent of kissing in the rain. "I love the ending of a movie where two people end up together," says Swift, who further explores this theme on a new collaboration with Snow Patrol. "Preferably if there's rain and an airport or running or a confession of love."

She's also written breakup tunes that, in their own way, rival "Idiot Wind" for mercilessness. "Dear John," 2010's presumed John Mayer evisceration, may be the most brutal: "Don't you think nineteen's too young to be played by your dark, twisted games?" But the new album's "Trouble" comes close: "You never loved me or her or anyone," she sings.

"In every one of my relationships," she says, "I've been good and fair. What happens after they take that for granted is not my problem. Chances are if they're being written about in a way they don't like, it's because they hurt me really badly. Telling a story only works if you have characters in it. I don't think it's mean. I think it's mean to hurt someone in a relationship."

Mayer told Rolling Stone that "Dear John" "really humiliated" him, and accused Swift of "cheap songwriting." When I first try to ask her about that over dinner, she literally presses her hands against her ears, saying, "Be kind, and don't tell me."

The next day, I'm unkind enough to relay Mayer's quotes, and she turns steely. "I didn't write his first and last name in the song! So that's him taking it on – when he had an album to promote."

But didn't she use his first name? "I didn't say anything about the person's identity. 'Dear John' is a well-known concept."

And why not just pick up the phone and tell these guys off directly? She looks at me like I'm insane. "What's the fun in that?" ("She's so tough," says Gomez. "Sometimes she'll tell me, like, 'You should be a little mean sometimes.' ")

In addition to heavy rom-com viewing (Love Actually is her favorite), Swift's daunting ideal of love comes from her maternal grandparents, who were married for 51 years, and died a week apart. "They were still madly in love with each other in their eighties," she says.

There are no mere hookups in Swift-land. "No," she says, nose wrinkling. "Where's the romance? Where's the magic in that? I'm just not that girl." And by the way, hackers shouldn't bother with her cellphone: "There's interesting things on there, like text messages," she says. "But you wouldn't find any naked pictures."

She's uncomfortable discussing a line from her new album – "I'll do anything you say if you say it with your hands" – that seems to break new ground. "I don't know if I'm interested in writing about, um, blatantly sexual things out of the context of how it affects a relationship," she says, then pauses. "Oh, I should just totally say that Dan thought of it," she adds, meaning co-writer Dan Wilson. "I could get myself off the hook so quick!"

Swift loves the idea of long relationships, though she's never really had one. "It usually lasts four and a half months, and then it all just disintegrates. Then I spend, like, a year and a half mourning the loss of it."

Eventually, she would like to have a lot of kids: "Like, minimum, four," she says. "My fantasy has always been having a bunch of kids running around. I would love to become as dedicated a mom as my mom was." Which brings her to another recurring nightmare. "I have a kid and the paparazzi is taking pictures, and it's scaring my baby. And I know that I caused it, and I can't figure out how to stop it."

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