2. Problem: Stuff, old.
A weird thing about human beings is that even when they’re not around anymore, their stuff still is: a pen doodle, a neglected scarf. Giving their things all the way away can be hard to fathom, especially at first: These objects are your last tangible connections to someone you may never see again. I recommend handing them over to a trusted friend on a permanent-borrow basis. Write up a contract for you both to sign:
Download a PDF of this contract here.
You can also combine your post-breakup detritus with that of others: The performance artist Nate Hill created a character called Death Bear who would show up at your doors (at your request) in a freaky black PVC bear costume to “take things from you that trigger painful memories and stow them away in his cave, where they [would] remain forever, allowing you to move on with your life.” I was inspired by Death Bear’s story, and since 2004 I’ve hosted my own and my friends’ painful romantic memories on my bookshelf in this improvised “No No! Bad Thoughts! Box.”
Or vibe on this quote from the young aristocrat Sebastian Flyte in the novel Brideshead Revisited : “I should like to bury something precious in every place where I’ve been happy and then, when I’m old and ugly and miserable, I could come back and dig it up and remember.” Try doing the opposite: Bury something precious in every place you’re miserable, and when you’re happy, you can come back and dig them up and remember. (I love Emma D’s DIY tutorial on burying your secrets.) It helps to draw a map to help you locate them later:
But maybe you’re no longer attached to these things at all. Maybe, in fact, you never want to see them again. You could donate them: to charity, to a friend, or to art. The Museum of Broken Relationships may be accepting donations again by the time you read this: “Unlike ‘destructive’ self-help instructions for recovery from failed loves…[the museum] offers a chance to overcome an emotional collapse through creation: by contributing to the Museum’s collection.” The online Too Hard to Keep Archive collects photos that are too painful to look at “so they may exist without being destroyed.” (In the case of digital photos, the curator, Jason Lazarus, instructs the sender to delete the images upon receipt confirmation.)
If that’s not dramatic enough for you, draw inspiration from the recently divorced Rebecca Gibbs, who disposed of her wedding ring by launching it into space. “It was uplifting, liberating, and it was really supposed to be a positive step, which it was. It was also a lot of fun blasting a rocket into the sky,” she said.
Sky’s the limit! Personally, I recommend fire. Before you ask, “Um, can she recommend fire on Rookie?” let me tell you that my BFF/fellow Rookie Marie reports that disposing of a single Michael Jackson glove left behind by her ex by throwing it on a hot grill was both safe and “v. therapeutic.”
3. Problem: Stuff, new.
At the hand-on-the-car-door-handle last moment of a breakup years ago, I pulled a dollar out of my wallet, wrote “this ca$hmoney is my proof” on it (after Duane Michals’s This Photograph Is My Proof), and then tore it in two so each of us could keep one half. After he left my car (and me, for good), I couldn’t stand to look at my piece of the dollar, but I didn’t want it to go away forever. (I was also holding out hope for a future in which we might put the dollar back together as friends.) So I put it in an envelope, and a weird practice was born: the Emotional Envelope.
The Emotional Envelope is useful when your relationship to a person is in that kind of middle space—you need to take a hard break from them after the romantic relationship is over, but you still harbor genuine fondness for them as a person, and you can’t wait until you can get to hang out with them again as friends. (And I advise a hard break: There’s almost never such a thing as a seamless transition from a romantic relationship to a platonic one. Your only hope of sustaining a real friendship in the future is to enforce at least a few weeks of ZERO CONTACT before you try hanging out on these new, un-smoochy terms.)
So let’s say you’ve just ceased contact so hard their children will be born unfriended from Facebook—good job! And yet, unbelievably, they remain stubbornly in your daily life, in the form of the thoughts that form in your head when you see something they would have enjoyed or you come across a little gift they would love. Or you want to tell them something really really badly, like when you’re struck (repeatedly, square in the face) by a memory of a shared time that was so moving or beautiful that you want to make sure they remember it too. Yikes. These compulsions used to fuck me all up: I’d email the person JUST BECAUSE THEY MIGHT LIKE THIS FUNNY PICTURE and bam, my heartbreak clock was reset to zero. If this is you, too, may I suggest making an Emotional Envelope of your own?
Take out an envelope (I like the manila kind) and address it to “Future _____.” (Fill in with the name of your ex. I’m going with Dylan for this hypothetical, because in my case that was his name. Things were so good between us and then I don’t know what happened!) Whenever you see something you want to tell Dylan or give to Dylan but can’t/won’t/shouldn’t, into the Emotional Envelope it goes. I like to write memories down on little index cards as an exercise in perspective.