This is a hard topic to talk about, but I think it’s important. Holding on to old ticket stubs, love notes, and relationship memorabilia is a mistake.
We accrue lots of stuff in dating, and these things can be tough to let go of, but I believe the psychological impact of keeping them around is worse. Keeping the leftovers not only reminds you not only of a painful narrative — it also bars you from seeing the person anew. For a long time, I’ve been holding on to a picture I took with my last boyfriend in Florida. When I moved to Atlanta two years ago, I found it and placed it in a box marked for my most valuable things — my adoption papers I’ve uncovered, tax info, and so on. A friend helping me asking if that was a good idea.
“Are you with him anymore?” he asked.
“Do you have plans to hang that picture?”
“Do you think it’s healthy to keep it?”
With other past relationships, I’ve found it easier to let go of things. After the relationship that led to the birth of this blog, I had so much junk: stuffed animals, hoodies, cards, t-shirts, handwritten letters, statuettes, coffee mugs, and a seemingly endless array of tiny gifts. I tossed them all. Why? For one, I was angry, and in my mind, tossing that stuff would hurt him, even though he wouldn’t know about it. But also, I wanted a clean start. Most of my friends were made through him, so I lost more than my boyfriend — I lost my entire friend circle. Feeling very alone, this was a chance to reinvent myself, clear out the clutter, and start anew. I needed to only be around my possessions for a bit.
I’ve since learned that this is my post-breakup process, and it’s always an important step. I toss out the remnants to create space for myself to grow, and I find that doing so helps me start seeing the person I was with, after a healing period, as another person with their own life, separate from mine. Objects carry emotional weight — they can keep you in the past.
Today, I am a lucky man. I’m friends, or at least on good terms, with all my exes. To get to that point, you need to separate yourself not only from them but also from the stuff of them. This is the inevitable trade-off we make. You enter into something with someone with the understanding that, unless you die with this person as your partner, this arrangement is temporary and set to end. The time spent cultivating your connection and growing close will almost certainly end in a breakup.
And that’s OK — breakups are important. They teach us valuable lessons about ourselves and others. Sometimes you need some solo growth time. I’ve noticed that my periods of most intense change and personal adventure have happened between relationships. Untethered, I’ve had the courage to move to new cities, take new opportunities, experience new kinds of sex, and discover what I like.
When you’re throwing out your love letters, if it seems too difficult to do, tell yourself that it’s better to remember the real things, the things that matter — the good conversations, the kisses, the nights. The best parts of love are never things.