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Relationship advice columnist Dan Savage has been known to say that "every relationship you're ever going to be in is going to fail—until one doesn't." Though an inspiring message at its core, this sentiment also highlights just how many ugly, gutting, messy, and painful breakups the majority of us will have to contend with over the course of our lives.
And with each of these conscious uncouplings comes the loathsome cliché of having to return a sad cardboard box full of your former lover's personal effects like they're a convict being released from the prison of your failed relationship. Sometimes, however, not everything of theirs finds its way back to them.
We asked people to tell us about which of their ex's things they kept for themselves—be it for selfish, spiteful, or sappy reasons—once the love was gone.
I used to drive two or three hours from San Jose to Santa Rosa to be with him at the [police] academy. He was staying in a hotel, and I would hide out in the room all day because he wasn't out to the other guys. We would go out for dinner, go back to the hotel, have sex, and go to bed, and I would spend my day hiding out watching Judge Judy on basic cable. So I kept a T-shirt from his police academy with his last name on it. I went through that shit with him. Ain't no other hoe getting that.
- Javier, Los Angeles
His childhood stuffed animal. I am vindictive.
- Lydia, Boston
This weird tiny (think, kid's sized) throne-like thing he reupholstered for me in this strange pink shimmery corduroy fabric. He spray-painted the wood parts gold. He gave it to me as a way to get me back (WTF, IDK). Didn't work. But I kept the chair in a corner of my room because he lived down the street from me, and I didn't want him to see it out on the street, because he had some serious rage issues. Kept it for YEARS hidden under piles of laundry. Finally threw it out when I moved in with my fiancé a year ago.
- Molly, New Orleans
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An empty wine bottle. The last night we ever spent together we drank it all. We had a tumultuous ending where we had just broken up but sort of got back together, so that last night we sat and talked after rekindling a little and drank the wine from these mason jars. Ever since, every once in a while, I buy some flowers and put them in there. And it's not that I miss her. It's just how terrible I was then, how far up my ass my head was during the relationship, and how this woman deep down cared about me but I didn't care enough about me. I just always keep the wine bottle to remind me that things are fragile, always, in life, but that's what makes them good, and even though they're fragile, they can still hold great things we can enjoy.
- Brett, Hummelstown, Pennsylvania
When I used to teach English in South Korea, I had a girlfriend. When I was about to move back, ostensibly we weren't breaking up (though the long-distance thing only lasted a month or so), so I told her I wanted to keep this little green plastic hair comb thing with cartoon characters on it that she always used to leave at my apartment. She was like, "Why?" and I didn't really know. I just liked it, and wanted it. She handed it over to me really hesitantly, and I felt shitty. And then it broke in my bag on the flight home. But I still have it in my medicine cabinet. That relationship was ages ago now—long enough for me to be able to see that (for reasons I won't go into here) it was a very bad relationship, and it was my own fault. Maybe hanging onto the comb is me hanging onto a worse version of myself who I miss for some grotesque reason. Or maybe I just miss her? I should probably throw that comb away.
- Jason, Los Angeles
I stole his brass knuckles on my way out because they were cool and I always liked them and fuck him, y'know?
- Phoebe, Orange, California
Somehow, during the divorce, in the chaos of our simultaneous moving outs, I wound up with his dead dad's cremains. We had stopped talking outright at that point so I wasn't going to track him down to return them, but I wasn't trying to keep some stranger's ashes around, but I also wasn't trying to disrespect the memory of a guy I'd always assumed was decent, so I wound up just heading to the ocean to scatter them there.
- Maria, Portland
The videos. They're exactly what you think they are. I'm not proud.
- Gary, Providence, Rhode Island
He loved gaming so much that he would bring his PS2 over to my place and play it there if we were planning on spending a longer amount of time together. When I learned he'd been cheating on me, the console just happened to still be plugged in at my place. He was so ashamed to be caught like that, he didn't even bring up that I'd "forgotten" to put it in the bag with the rest of his stuff that I handed to him during our final interaction. I doubt I even played it once.
- Kristina, Austin
An ex once told me he missed me so much that he was using the toothbrush that had been mine at his house. Does that count?
- Kate, New York City