mementos of exes

Reader B. Q. writes:

When it comes to mementos from ex-SOs, how much is reasonable to keep around?

Dear B.Q.:

It depends on the nature of your relationship then, and the nature of whatever relationships you have now, as well as the nature of the relationship you have with the stuff.

I don’t see anything wrong with keeping mementos around from good times you had with a wonderful person you want to remember. As long as you’re not dwelling in the past, I think it’s perfectly natural to keep love letters, photographs, gifts, and other reminders that you were loved.


Mementos of lovers past. Image: Suvro Datta / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

If you had a nasty break up with someone, you’re probably not going to keep most of their gifts anyway, unless it was really expensive jewelry or something you use on a daily basis. (I bought my last asshole ex a Blu-Ray player for his birthday; I doubt he threw that out the window, in spite of all the terrible vitriol he had no problem spilling on me at the end of our time together.) Most of the time when we really hate someone, we don’t want any reminder of their presence in our personal space. We give away the clothes they bought us; we burn the letters they wrote us; we pawn the engagement ring.

But if the detritus you have from a former relationship reminds you of happier times, by all means, keep it.

You may find that in a later relationship, when you’re really happy once again, you have no more use for remembering past loves. You’ll probably have already shelved the stuff permanently and forgotten about it or gotten rid of it somehow, anyway. I still have all the notes my first boyfriend wrote me. Somewhere. And the ring he gave me (cubic zirconium ftw ladies!). But it’s all somewhere in my childhood bedroom, I think, and I haven’t packed it up and moved it around the country with me. And if my mom threw it all away, I would probably just shrug the event off.

Why? Because I’m over the relationship I had when I was 14. I have fond memories of it but I’ve accepted that it’s over.

The more emotionally invested you are in a relationship, the more likely you are to get rid of the stuff immediately. On the converse, the more comfortable you are with how things ended up, the more likely you are to be able to keep the things that remind you of that person. So really, your new SO should be glad you’re able to keep gifts from an ex, because it means you’re over it.

Unless, of course, you’re not over it. If you’re keeping the items to live in the past, or as a sort of trophy to remind you that you’re gorgeous or whatever, you’ve got something else going on.

Ask yourself this: could I give this stuff up?

If the answer is no, you’re not over it, and you’re keeping it for reasons beyond simple reminiscence. It’s completely understandable that you would do this, but it may mean you’ve got some issues to work through, especially if you’re in a new relationship.

Let’s be clear, though. Keeping stuff around is different from actively using it. If the love letters are in a box somewhere in the closet, okay, fine; if you can’t sleep without the teddy bear he gave you, there’s a problem. I’m assuming that a new significant other should have no problem with the first case; the latter, however, will certainly cause some issues, and perhaps be a signal that you shouldn’t be in a new relationship in the first place.

It takes time to get over relationships. You may never be able to relinquish some of the mementos, even if they’re up on a shelf somewhere. That’s okay. It doesn’t mean you haven’t moved on. You need to be aware of your attachment to items and address why it is you can’t give them up.

And if you’re the new significant other concerned about how many mementos your new lover has, you should be aware of the process and willing to allow it to take its course. Don’t be jealous of the past, or items that represent the past. That’s not productive. I know, telling you not to be jealous is pretty silly, because you’re going to be jealous whether you try to be or not; but just be aware of where the jealousy is coming from, and let it pass.

You should never ask someone to give up an item from their past. That will just cause a lot of anger and resentment between the two of you.

Of course, you should never have to ask someone to give something up, either. If you feel like you need to tell your new BF or GF that he or she has to get rid of something an ex gave them, there are other issues in your relationship you need to address. Is it your jealousy? Or is it the fact that they’re not getting over something? Either issue can be discussed directly, rather than having to use the stuff as a totem.

Basically, letters, journals, gifts, all these things are reminders of the past. You can’t get rid of the past. It’s done. It informs your future, and you need to remember it. You just need not to dwell in it. It’s a fine line to walk, but with time and awareness, it happens.



1 Response to “mementos of exes”

  1. 1 Kerrie
    April 8, 2011 at 3:06 pm

    Mementos went in the trash. But practical objects stayed! So those dumb stuffed animals were given away… but the bread machine and sewing machine both get a ton of use!

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