The initial instinct after a messy breakup is to purge. Tearfully erase the person you once considered your soulmate from your life forever. That means getting rid of everything your ex wore, drank, slept on, and ate for breakfast. It's the natural first step toward banishing those painful last months of unraveling compatibility. It's an ex-partner exorcism.
But there are always exceptions, aren't there? The human heart is weak. Birthday presents, cute handwritten letters from the honeymoon phase, weird in-joke objects that you guys purchased back when you were happy together. You'll probably hold onto them for the next 20 years, for no logical reason.
We asked six people to share their relationship relics and explain why letting go sometimes means keeping things.
VICE: What have we got here?
Jasmine: A very well-loved teddy bear.
Tell us your relationship story.
We got together in school and lasted about a year or so. He was undoubtedly parent-approved material—doting, respectful, and frighteningly intelligent. We had an absurd amount of fun together, while somehow avoiding the typical teenage relationship pandemonium. We were both uncommonly pragmatic, given our age. Our level-headed love was honored with this teddy bear. It was on my shelf the day we broke up, and it was still there for many days after. After a while, I had to take a second to remember who had gifted me the bear. In my current home, it is easily my oldest possession, so I think its value lies in the sense of comfort it gives. I would be lying if I said I haven't cuddled with it recently.
VICE: What did you keep from your past relationship, Sam?
Sam: A box filled with things: a mug, a puzzle with a love note written on it, a promise ring, and a handwritten card.
Tell us the story.
I had done something wrong. We had some sort of argument. So she got me this mug. There's a card, too, which says, "Thank you for being the loveliest." The box also has my promise ring in it. I stopped wearing it in 2014 because it broke, and I never got it fixed. We both had one. There is a puzzle in here as well. I was always lousy at doing it. I was one of those kids who would try to force the puzzle pieces into one another.
I keep a box of things from 2014. That was a really hard year for us, because it was the beginning of the end. The entire year was a slow, protracted split. We'd been together for five years at that point. We'd lived together basically for four. We'd moved across the country together, and we were starting a new life in a new city together. That has its own challenges. I was working a job that I really wasn't well-suited for. I was a really difficult person to live with during that time. And I think she got the brunt of that, unfortunately.
We got together when we were 22 and 23. It was true love for both of us. It was that thing where the sun shines brighter, you walk a little lighter, and things start falling into place. It just feels like you're on top of the world, you know? All the clichés ring true. I found I really bought into that.
We didn't split up because we didn't love each other. We loved each other a lot. Even to this day, she's still the love of my life, and she always will be.
VICE: What's this, Elisa?
Elisa: Hand-stitched photographs of skies and flowers that have been dead for two years.
What's the story behind the artwork?
We're both artists, and when we met, he was doing this work that was very difficult to realize. He was using a really ancient way to print on cement. He had spent years and years trying to learn how to do it. But it was just too hard, and at one point, he said that he didn't want to have anything to do with photography anymore.
Photography was something that we shared, something we both loved… I started this project and while I was still working on it, we broke up. Afterward, it became a way to keep the both of us together, even though the relationship wasn't there anymore. It was about not denying that there is a link between us. Even so, I had to take a break for a few months. It was just too painful to make work.
VICE: A bike?
Prudence: Yes, a (slightly stolen) custom-made road bike.
What's the story behind it?
As a 19-year-old getting wooed by a 31-year-old, I felt special and grown-up and interesting. He in turn was also so much more interesting than the high school boys I'd known in the past or others my age. With a considerable age difference, there's a bit of awe that comes into play, as this person has lived a whole lot more life and has so much more to show than yourself. And, in my case, he was a part of a flashy cocktail bar scene that I was fascinated by.
As time went onm the scene started to show some cracks as late nights, party friends, and an unhealthy amount of alcohol start to lose their sparkle. Somewhere along the journey, probably by the time I had realized I couldn't change his ways, we bought a cat. Classic situation of getting a pet to keep your relationship together. We didn't even make it 12 months with the cat before the cracks became too big to fix, and I found myself calling the tall, blond backpacker whose "sofa" he'd slept on increasingly often to politely ask if I was right and they were fucking. No surprises. I was right, and he and I did a good job of avoiding each other for the weekend as I made arrangements to move out.
Come Monday morning I was hauling all my belongings into a friend's car without any real plan about where to live or what to do. With full knowledge and full disappointment that he was going to keep the cat, I asked my girlfriend what I should do with the bike that was "available for me to use," and before I knew it, it was in the trunk, and we were sitting in traffic. I mean, he got to keep our really amazing cat, so.
VICE: What's this?
Ibrahim: A book, The Secret Language of Relationships.
Tell us the story behind it.
I first met Adam on the set of a TV ad for car insurance. I was still coming to terms with being gay; at the time, I wasn't fully open about it. We chatted a bit, and there was some flirting going on, but that was all. The second time we hung out at his place. My heart was racing. All the feels where there. He's a very spontaneous guy, very creative. All of that was definitely part of the appeal.
I remember driving home that night and being in a bit of a haze, a lovey-dovey haze. From then on, we started seeing each other quite regularly. We bonded over music, over film. Till this day, I still listen to some of those songs. It was around the time Plastic Beaches came out, and he had been to the concert, and I remember him playing "On Melancholy Hill" for me. To this day, I listen to that song with affection.
This was during the summer, so it was quite warm. The days were beautiful and long. I remember a golden hue around everything. It was a very romantic time. Still, it was a bit of a fling, a summer thing, and it didn't last long. And yet, I was in love with him. Then he left me and broke my heart a little bit. He gave me this after we broke up. I think it's pretty symbolic of our relationship because we were both prone to flights of fancy. We both have a romantic conception of things. Relationships don't always have to be romantic; they can be something that persists beyond that. And I think we have that. We still have a bond. I don't think we're ever not going to be present in each others' lives.
VICE: What's your object?
Evie: A bronze sculpture of a hand.
It's beautiful! Tell us more.
We met in school. We were both studying illustration. I thought, and still do now, that he is the funniest guy. I think that's what I instantly liked. He was also the first boyfriend I had whose interests in drawing and painting aligned with my own, so it was basically an added bonus that I liked his work and could talk about it. We did a lot of drawing together; it was awesome.
Toward the end of the relationship, I felt I liked him a lot more than he did me. So when I went overseas by myself, it solidified the feeling that I was too needy and greedy about attention or affirmation. I slept with someone else, and after drawing it out for too long once I returned, we broke up. He gave me this bronze hand for Christmas a few years back, even though we agreed on a strict no-present policy. His dad cast the hand in bronze; it weighs a lot but looks like it is light. I like the muscle-y fingers on it.
I kept it because it is a great object to have and hold; it makes me want to make 3D work. It's inspiring.
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