Browne's relationship with actress Daryl Hannah came to an end about a year before this song was released, and she's clearly an inspiration on the lyric, which covers a range of emotions, including severe longing:
You're the hidden cost and the thing that's lost
In everything I do
Yeah and I'll never stop looking for you
In the sunlight and the shadows
Browne wrote the song over a period of four years and in "lots of different states of the relationship."
"I was trying to write something in the vein of Van Morrison's cascading cadences and images," Browne told Mojo in 1997. "I wrote the first part and tried to answer the questions it raised later on. It wasn't until I knew more about what was going on in my life that I completed it."
The I'm Alive album was a very personal one for Browne, in stark contrast to his previous studio album, World In Motion, released four years earlier. That album dealt with politics and world events - topics he put aside for I'm Alive, which deals with interpersonal relationships.
Browne never wanted his songs pegged to his specific life events, so he rarely spoke about his real-life relationships, especially in context with his music. "It's a drag to even imagine that people are thinking about that relationship instead of their own lives," he told the Los Angeles Times. "I think if a song is any good, eventually it'll turn out to be about the life of the listener and not about the life of the writer. Anyway, that's my hope."
This was used in the very first episode of Friends, "The One Where Monica Gets a Roommate," in 1994.