Notoriety is a weird thing. It's usually used with negative connotations. Notorious. Notoriety. Infamy. Disrepute. Scandal.
But not always.
I like the rare occasions where notoriety is an ironically good thing. For instance, "George Washington was notoriously traitorous to England." In England some will argue that's not a good thing. (To them I say, "Let it go. Just let it go.") But generally speaking Washington's notorious treason is a valiant virtue. Were it not for his notorious passion to defy tyranny and his notorious dedication to justice, well, you know, things would be a lot different. Maybe worse, maybe better, but definitely different. Probably a lot like Canada. Not that there's anything wrong with that. But. You know. Canada is notoriously, well, you know.
It was recently brought to my attention that I'm notorious for a few things. I was not pleased about this. I strive to be the opposite of notorious. At the very least I try to be respectable. But alas, the facts don't lie: I am notoriously single. I have notoriously gone through a lot of notorious break-ups. Which is a double notorious. I am choosing to believe makes it a double negative, hence, a good thing.
And, it may actually be a positive thing. One of my nieces is in the throes of her first Really Big Breakup. It's getting ugly. I feel awful for her. They were together a couple years and this is not a puppy love. But, it is the first Really Big Breakup for both of them. He was a callous, cruel cad who did not one, not two but at least three unforgivable things and she's heartbroken.
Apparently because I've been through this more than anyone else my niece knows, she turned to me for advice, or at least for a shoulder to cry on. And, you know, I'm a good shoulder to cry on, even if I do say so myself. I have been through a lot of breakups (and just a lot of nonsense from men in general) so I do know what someone going through a breakup wants and needs to hear...and what they absolutely do not want to hear. I also have some pretty good ideas about relationship recovery plans. I'm not proud of the fact that I've been through so many breakups and had the opportunities to try so many different recovery methods that I've honed a fail-proof regime. But, my notoriety in this area can help others, so, maybe it's a good thing.
My niece has implemented my plan and is moving through the stages quite well.
But, man oh man, she really messed up a crucial step. She didn't heed my advice and she's paying the emotional price.
She didn't believe me, she thought she and her ex-boyfriend were "different" and my experience and subsequent knowledge were as outdated as my pre-Facebook/Twitter/texting dating life.
Turns out there is at least one thing impervious to the march of tech time: The Box of Stuff.
Oh sure, Facebook/Twitter/texting add new components to handling boxes of former loves' stuff, new twists, snarkier jabs, more profane jousts and a very public forum for airing the relationship dirty laundry. But the root issue remains: The Boxes of Stuff. And when/how to retrieve them...and what type of items should be returned to an ex...in the Box of Stuff.
I've covered this topic in the past but perhaps my notorious experience in breakups merits a reminder of lessons learned about post-breakup boxes of stuff. Lemons = lemonade. Valentine's Day is just around the corner and as the Mayor of Singleton I'm taking the initiative to offer public service to those who are licking breakup wounds during this difficult time of year for Singletons.
Okay. Firstly, I want to disclaim that every relationship is unique (blah blah) and the duration and depth of the relationship are factors (blah). M'kay? There are variables and subtleties that may justify a variance of methodology. These are general
Secondly, I'm not referring to marriage breakups. Divorce is a whole different box of stuff. As is a common law/shared residence situation. Many states and countries have actual laws about who gets what stuff in a divorce/common law/shared residence breakup.
Thirdly, we're going on the assumption that you want closure on the relationship. We're presuming you want to move forward with your life, perhaps date again, and not dwell in some Miss Havisham-esque existence. (And even if you do want to dwell in a Miss Havisham existence, dwell in your own time-stood-still-moment of stuff. Dwelling in your ex's
stuff is the sort of thing that gets you featured on Hoarders
. No one wants that. Even if you don't want catharsis and closure and a future with someone new, even if your future and life in general ended the day your ex said good-bye forever, get rid of the ex's stuff. When your mummified remains are found you don't want your ex to see the YouTube video of the landlord/real estate agent going through your house and say, "I knew it! I knew she still had my Gone in 60 Seconds
deluxe edition DVD! And look, there's the power screwdriver I let her borrow!")
Right. You were not
married or living together for an extended period of time. And it's established by both parties that the relationship is over. Fini. And you want to move on from this relationship.
One (or even both) of you probably didn't want the relationship to end, or, at least you didn't want it to end "this way" or "right now." That person is probably experiencing feelings of sorrow, confusion, bitterness, loss, anger, loneliness, depression, sadness, anxiety, fatigue, insecurity, delusion... And the other one (or even both) of you wanted the breakup and instigated it. That person is probably experiencing feelings of relief, happiness, freedom, self-righteousness, independence, jubilation, clarity...
Yes. There is a huge chasm of difference between the emotional status of two participants of a breakup. And that chasm, we'll call it the Dismal Emotional Abyss of Divergence (DEAD), is where the stuff in boxes of stuff take on significance. DEAD is the Bermuda Triangle of failed relationships. Once they enter the DEAD, things either go missing or make it out intact but are never quite the same, they're forever changed. They take on new significance and symbolism.
For instance, I once dated a guy who always (yes, always) argued even the most mundane point about a band or song. If I listened to, say, ? and the Mysterians he'd spend the next hour pointing out all the ways ? and the Mysterians suck/borrowed from another (obscure) band/were overrated and he would then tie in one or several of my faults to his punctuate his point.
"? and the Mysterians suck, their organ work is trite, they're lyrically banal and all their songs sound the same. So it's no surprise you like them because you're cliche, ordinary and boring." (Hey, I never said he was Prince Charming.)
On the one hand this led to some lively and interesting musical debates. On the other hand, he was being contrary for the sake of being contrary and picking fights with me because, well, I guess because he was a jerk. Because really, who doesn't love, or at least like, 96 Tears
Okay. So. Over the course of our relationship we exchanged a lot of music to make points to each other. We lobbed and volleyed songs and albums back and forth to make points to and about each other. "Oh yeah? Well, listen to this! It's a rare B-side that will forever change your mind about ? and the Mysterians!"
We broke up. (No surprise there.) This was pre-MP3. He had a lot of my music, and I had a lot of his. Somewhere in the DEAD our music co-mingled and spawned. After the post-breakup Box-of-Stuff exchange I discovered that he didn't return all my music. However, he did "return" music that wasn't mine. Did this "mean" something? Was there some sort of message in the music he "gave" me? Or was he just an absent-minded jerk? Or was he "trading" - keeping some of my music but replacing it with something else?
I didn't really care except, to this day, I am really, really mad that he snagged a Cracker EP in the breakup. Throughout our relationship he mocked me for liking Cracker. He'd listen to them and then critique every note. I was pretty sure he actually liked them but was just being contrary because that's what he did. So the fact that a Cracker EP happened to be among the missing in the post-breakup box of stuff exchange infuriated me. More to the point, I was mad that he lied about keeping it. If he wanted it so badly he could have said, "I want to keep the Cracker EP, it reminds me of you, I'll give you a Throwing Muses EP in trade." But he didn't. He would have to admit to liking Cracker and that was never going to happen. And he'd have to be, you know, mature and civil to me. And that was never
going to happen. I fought him over the missing Cracker EP but he held firm on his stance that he didn't have it. I have been known to occasionally check eBay to see if anyone's selling that Cracker EP and if so, I check to see if it's my ex who's selling it. I'm sure he had it. And I find it telling that in the breakup box of stuff he included a Throwing Muses EP that wasn't
mine. I happen to like Throwing Muses but not enough to buy an EP. (I lobbed more than a few, "If I want to listen to Siouxsie and the Banshees I'll listen to Siouxsie, not some ripoff-du-jour. Throwing Muses, pfft,"
at him. Hey, I never said I wasn't culpable in the toxicity of that relationship...) Right. In the DEAD that Cracker EP morphed into such a symbolic talisman of our relationship that it approached Golem status.
Such is the nature of mere stuff once it falls into the Dismal Emotional Abyss of Divergence. It becomes larger than life, symbolic to the point of anthropomorphic.
So the whole post-breakup Box of Stuff is a huge hornet's nest of emotions. And you never know what item(s) is going to take on larger-than-life significance. It can be anything, anything
. Which is why it's so crucial to handle the Box of Stuff properly.
Let's talk about what goes into the Box of Stuff. There are a couple schools of thought on this. Some people (like me) say: Everything. Anything the ex bought, gave or used is returned in the box (or thrown away). This sends a solid message of, "Yes, it's really over, I don't want anything that reminds me of you, I don't want anything of yours infecting my home. My home is now a (insert ex's name)-free sanctuary."
Other people say: Everything is returned except gifts and souvenirs. This sends a solid message of, "Yes, it's over, but I know in time I will remember the good times fondly and the gifts you gave me and the token items memorializing our time together will be sweet keepsakes of that period of my life." My feeling on this school of thought is that the person who feels that way at the emotionally charged Box-of-Stuff collection juncture is either highly enlightened or clinically delusional. But that might just be several breakups and several Box-of-Stuff exchanges talking.
When I was younger and more idealistic and more, you know, optimistic about love and romance I was more willing to go along with the Keep the Gifts and Souvenirs method. Older, wiser, far too experienced in breakups
experienced in breakups) I lean more to the "return everything, even the gifts" box-of-stuff methodology.
Why? Because it leaves no room for future debate or conversation. Everything is returned so there's nothing to squabble over, no lingering detritus to debate, no reason to call or text or email. And most importantly, it gives the ex nothing to criticize about you except your personality. If you return everything, even the gifts, the only lambasting and vilifying the ex can do is character assassination about your personality traits. The last thing you want is to give your ex a valid reason to talk smack about you because you kept something they felt should have been returned.
I better mention (what should be) a couple obvious issues:
1) Living beings - animals of any type, even hamsters, turtles, reptiles...should never, ever go in a Box of Stuff. Ever. Ever
. Who gets custody of the cat or turtle or goldfish after the breakup is obvious. Where was the being's main residence and who fed it/cleaned up it's excrement? Voila. There's who gets the animal.
2) Personal items bought as gifts that are uniquely sized. Guys, if you lavished your ex with shoe shopping excursions don't expect to find the shoes you bought her in the box of stuff. Because that would just be weird. Girls, if you bought your ex a suit to wear to your cousin's wedding don't expect to find that suit in the box of stuff. Because that would just be weird.
I think it comes down to length of relationship and the cause of the breakup. The longer you were together and/or the more hurtful/deceitful/vicious the breakup, the more sentimental attachment there is to the stuff of the relationship, and the more wrath those objects will conjure when the relationship sours. The stuff can be sweet, venerated reminders of better days, or resentment soaked, tear- or violence-inducing embodiments of all that was wrong in the relationship.
Others contend that monetary value is a key element. We'll get into the variables and nuances in a moment.
There is one Universal truth: If an item is truly the other person's, not a gift or obvious souvenir with an obvious "owner," you must return it. Clothes, records, books, spices, and all hygiene items are non-negotiable and must be returned.
Guys, this means everything. In case you're uncertain, let's make it easy and just say anything with a L'Occitane
, Diptyque, Bath & Body Works, Crabtree & Evelyn, Lush or Body Shop logo must go into the Box of Stuff to be returned to your ex-girlfriend. It also means all shampoo/hair products, lipstick, candles, lingerie, and yes, tampons and birth control. Yes, you have to touch tampons and The Pill packet. Just bite the bullet, pick up the box and the pill container and put them in the Box-of-Stuff to return to her. I promise touching tampons and birth control pills will not cause you to start ovulating or give you cooties. And you do not want these items in your home when you start dating a new girl. No matter how deeply you push them into the recesses of the vanity, the new girl will see them. Women have a special tracking device embedded in our DNA, we can sense a tampon or birth control pill the way you guys can sense beer and topless chicks. So just do everyone a favor and give the tampons and birth control back to your ex. Why not just throw them away? Because if she doesn't receive them in her Box-of-Stuff she'll assume one of two things: A) You threw them away and wasted perfectly good tampons and birth control, or, more likely, B) You were too afraid of them to touch them and they're still in the vanity under your sink. She'll extrapolate on option B and think about the next woman you date. She'll either A) Chuckle at how incensed the new girl will be to find your ex's tampons and birth control pills still in your bathroom or B) Get creeped out thinking that your next girlfriend is so sleazy that she'll use your ex's tampons and birth control. In every one of these case scenarios you look really bad. So just put them in the Box-of-Stuff to return to the ex.*
And for the ladies, this means socks, underwear and his toothbrush. Yes, his socks and underwear are threadbare and gross and yes his toothbrush is so worn out it's not effective. But you are not his mother, his therapist or his dentist. Throughout the relationship you tolerated these things or tried to pretend they weren't as bad as they really are, so hold onto that delusional attitude just long enough to transfer these items to The Box. Think of it this way: This is the last time you'll have to handle his threadbare "lucky boxers" and "comfy socks." You can ceremoniously toss them in the box knowing that catharsis is yours. Never again will those socks and underwear mingle with your undies in the washer and dryer. Let freedom ring.
And guys, yes, this also means her perfume, even if you gave it to her. If it's opened and used you have to give it back to her. Trust me, you do not want to have perfume anywhere in your home when you start dating a new girl. Even if you keep it buried deep in your sock drawer and only spritz a teeny tiny amount on a towel and sniff it before bedtime every now and then, you do not, repeat do not
, want any trace of perfume in your home when you start dating a new girl.
And girls, yes, this also means his jeans/dress shirt/softest t-shirt on the planet. I know, I know. Believe me, I know
. But truly, no matter how much better they look on you, you do not want to keep them. There will be new men, new shirts, new jeans to borrow and new soft t-shirts to sleep in.
There are some exceptions, of course, but keep in mind that the exceptions can easily fall into the gift milieu. Caution must be used. It can take several breakups to understand the subtleties between gifts v. nongifts, but here are a few common examples.
If a guy only has a couple really crappy bath towels (and/or a really awful bathmat, or no bathmat at all) and the girl wants to use a nice towel and/or bathmat when she's at his place and procures a new towel or two and/or a bathmat for his bathroom, then the gift is implied. True, the items were procured by the woman to use at the guy's place because he's too cheap or Neanderthalic to buy a couple decent towels and a bathmat, and technically they're hers. But. They were bought to be used expressly at the guy's place. And they're used. And you have nice towels and a bathmat. Let it go, just let it go. Let the guy have them. Conversely, if a girl has a malfunctioning DVD player (or no DVD player at all) and the guy buys a DVD player to watch Star Wars
/sports bloopers/porn at her place, then the gift is implied. True, the DVD player was procured by the guy to use at the girl's place because she's too technologically impaired or cheap to buy a DVD player, and technically it's his. But. It was bought to be used expressly at the girl's place. And you have a much better DVD player anyway. Let it go, just let it go.
Sheets are an exception, though. Sheets are expensive. Chicks tend to splash out the money on nice, soft, comfy sheets. Expensive sheets. Guys tend to be clueless about threadcount and cost of sheets. So guys, if a girl brought sheets from her place, or purchased new sheets to use at your place, give them back to her. Unless they were a gift - and guys, you'll know they were a gift if they were wrapped and tied with a bow. Girls always wrap presents. If new sheets just appeared on your bed one night, they were no
t a gift. They were a not-so-subtle message that your sheets are scratchy and/or gross and even your softest t-shirt on the planet can't cushion the chaffing your sheets cause. No gift wrapping = Not a gift. You must return them to her in the box of stuff. Wrapped in fancy, special paper adorned with a bow = Gift. You can keep them. (Speaking of scratching and chaffing: Guys, go ahead and keep any toilet paper or facial tissue your ex may have bought for your place. Consider it a consolation prize. But girls, if he bought some weirdo toilet paper or facial tissue when you were sick and asked him to pick up a few things for you, feel free to include his cheap, scratchy, rash inducing toilet paper in his Box-of-Stuff. "...and take your cheapass scratchy toilet paper with you!" has a nice ring to it.)
The longer the relationship, the more stuff that accumulates at each others' homes. It's a law of the Universe. And common sense. Sometimes you've dated so long that it's difficult or even impossible to discern who owns what. You like to make waffles on Saturday mornings, so at some point you went to Bed, Bath and Beyond together and bought a waffle iron. You paid for it, you keep it at her place, but let's be honest, she's the one who made the waffles every Saturday for two years. You bought it so she'd make you waffles. So don't be surprised when the waffle maker doesn't find its way into the Box-of-Stuff returned to you. You got your money's worth out of that waffle iron. Don't make the waffle iron your raison d'etre in every post-breakup argument. Because really, admit it, if she put the waffle iron in the Box-of-Stuff it would pierce your heart and make you cry. "The waffle iron? She's giving me the waffle iron
? We made waffles every Saturday morning..." You do not want to cry over waffles. Do you?
Then there's the lamp. There's often a lamp. She likes to read in bed/see what color socks she's putting on in the morning. You don't have a lamp in your bedroom. I dunno why, I guess because you're a guy and apparently there's a rule about not having a lamp in your bedroom. You're at Crate and Barrel buying a wedding gift for friends and she sees a lamp that would be perfect beside your bed. You envision her curled up next you reading a vintage bound book of that Edwardian poetry she likes, softly sighing romantically every now and then, gently kissing your shoulder as she turns the page, her skin creamy and glowing in the light from that lamp. Then you imagine her cutely pulling on her socks early on a cold winter morning, illuminated by the warm glow of that bedside lamp. She's adorable. So when she says, "What do you think? Should I get it?" You say, "Sure!" She paid for it (and the wedding present for your friends, by the way, oops, you forgot to pay her back for your half of that present) but the intent was always for use beside your bed. It's been the only source of light in your bedroom for two years. It's your lamp. If you return it to her in the box of stuff she'll cry. What kind of insensitive jerk are you? She's probably already crying a lot. The box of stuff is going to make her cry. Do not include the lamp and make her cry more than she already is.
And this is where some will bring up the monetary issue. They'll say, "Wait a minute, what if that lamp was really expensive? She paid for it, it's hers. If it were some inexpensive Target clearance-shelf lamp, no big deal. But those Crate and Barrel lamps can be expensive." Or what if it wasn't a waffle iron. What if it was an LCD television he bought when her old television broke? Surely he
deserves to have the television. Why should she
continue to enjoy it? Fair points. And I agree, expensive items do warrant extra consideration during a breakup. Personally, I'm the type to return everything, especially
big-ticket items. I do not want anything left to remind me of a failed relationship, and I especially do not want the guilt an expensive item can cause. To me it would feel like stealing something, ill-gotten gains, at best. But that's me. I can understand why some people might feel entitled to ownership of a big ticket item after a breakup. Go for it, but tread carefully. There are volatile emotional landmines out there. (To clarify, I'm not talking real estate or automobiles, here. At some point those items always revert back to the purchaser. Period.)
Going back to personal, uniquely sized items (@ #2), above
). Price/street value is
a factor. If the shoes procured for the ex were, say, Laboutin's or the suit was a Zegna, then we're in a very different economic realm. Those items have resale value. There are plenty of high end consignment shops that will pay a surprising amount of money for gently used high-ticket items. Sorry girls, if your ex lavished you with pricy shoes you want to consider returning them to him. I know, I know. They were gifts and he
broke up with you
so it's his loss and all's fair in love and war and these are shoes we're talking about here, good shoes, coveted shoes. But. If you know darned well that those Jimmy Choos are coveted by women everywhere and you know a consignment shop that would love to get their mitts on them, well, there's your answer. Give 'em back to the ex so he can have his sister or mother take them to a consignment shop. And really, you don't want that reminder of him. And guys, that even though that Zegna she bought you may be your only suit and you have a job interview next week, tough. You should have a suit anyway. If your ex had to buy you a suit because you didn't own one, well, dude, grow up. And return the suit to her because she can take it to a consignment shop. Yes, even though it was tailored to fit you it can be re-tailored to fit someone else. It's the circle of life.
Time to talk about the nuances involved with the who broke up with whom aspect. This is where the Box-of-Stuff can plummet into a cat and mouse game of tit for tat. Some people feel they have certain rights to property if their ex was the one who initiated the breakup. And sure, there is a certain logic and justification in that train of thought. "He dumped me/cheated on me/stole my car, I deserve
this television for all the pain and suffering he caused me, I'm not giving him anything, I never want to see him again, he should of thought of that before he broke up with me, possession is 9/10ths of the law..." I get it. I really do. It does
matter who initiated the breakup, you know, emotionally
. And if there are significant lessons to be learned from the breakup, then yes, it matters who initiated the breakup and why. But when it comes to the stuff, the stuff doesn't care who initiated the breakup or why, the stuff belongs with its owner, not with its owner's ex.
Once again, several breakups under my belt, notorious
for having survived several breakups, I can say with confidence that in the long run its best to return all the stuff, even the gifts, regardless of who initiated the breakup. I cannot stress this enough: Removing all the ex's items, purging your home of everything remotely related to the ex takes you several giant leaps forward to your next (hopefully better) relationship. As long as there's an item - a belonging or memento - of your ex's in your home, there's a tiny part of you that's still attached to the ex. You broke up, you're not getting back together, you want to move on, right? Right. Get rid of their stuff. Make your home an ex-free sanctuary. I've been known to paint the walls in order to rid my place of lingering ghosts of relationships past. You might be surprised what a fresh coat of paint does to rid the stale relationship air pooling in dark corners. What? You didn't notice the stale relationship air pooling in dark corners?! Get painting.
And nothing says, "It's over. Really. I never (ever) want to see you again" like showing up with the Box-of-Stuff. On its own, "It's not you it's me, I need some space" is open to interpretation. But. Showing up with a box of their stuff and saying, "It's not you, it's me, I need some space, here's your stuff" cements the breakup. You mean business. It's over. It's really, really over. You want them, and their stuff, out of your life. You need space and getting rid of their stuff is the first step to creating more space.
The only item that constitutes the who broke up with whom designation is an engagement ring. And even then I say: return it. No matter who initiated the breakup and ended the engagement, return the ring to whomever bought it. But, courts of law have been very clear about this issue: Engagement rings are gifts, not contestable stock. Yes, they are emotional chattel and the giving back of the ring is, well, it's rough. I've done it. I know. It's shocking how difficult it is to let go of that stupid ring.
But women, ladies, please, I'm begging you, please, if you
initiate the dissolution of an engagement (relationship breakup implied) do our gender a favor and give him back the ring. One small step for you, one giant leap toward ridding the "money grubbing gold-digging" reputation of womankind. He gave you the ring as a promise, a symbol of his devotion and dedication to you and your future together. In turn, you accepted his proposal, and the ring, and you wear it as a symbol of your faithfulness and devotion to him. You changed your mind, you broke the engagement, and even though it was a gift, and technically it's yours, please rise above the pettiness and return the ring to him.
And men, if you initiate the breaking of the engagement do not expect her to return the ring. And do your
gender a favor and do not lord over the fact that you "let" her keep the ring. If the ex returns the ring to you, regardless of who initiated the breakup, gracefully accept the ring because the woman, your ex, is doing the right thing and you are to be appropriately humbled by her strength of character.
My suggestion is that you sell the ring for whatever you can get for it and then donate the money to a charity you both support. This is how one makes something positive out of a bad situation. Conversely, selling it and taking a vacation is like dancing on someone's grave: Tacky and just really bad karma. And if you're even considering tucking it away and keeping it to give to the next girl, well, brother let me tell ya, that's a bad idea on a lot of levels and you might want to consider some sensitivity training. And if you think "no one will ever know," remember that tampon and birth control tracking device I told you women have? Dude, that's nothing compared to the uncanny accuracy with which we can sense and find a used engagement ring. Seriously. Just get rid of it. Sell it and donate the money to charity and move on with your life basking in the warm glow of altruism.
If it's a family heirloom, well, that's a whole other kettle of emotional blackmail. I understand family traditions. But if you're having difficulty finding the right girl to settle down with, why not give the heirloom ring to your sister, cousin, brother's wife...someone who will appreciate it and keep it in the family?
One last word on engagement rings: If you're a guy and you initiate the breakup of the engagement after substantial money has been spent on wedding plans, and the girl, your now ex, gives you back the ring, your ex (and whomever helped pay for the wedding plans) is the charitable benefactor of the money garnered by selling the ring. There is no leeway on this point. Money was spent on a wedding, in good faith that you meant it when you proposed to spend the rest of your life with her. Then you reneged on a deal. You owe money to the bride and/or whomever paid for wedding plans. Selling the engagement ring is a good start on the debt repayment.
Let's talk about timing. You've cried, drank, fasted, engorged, drank, cried, complained, beat your head against a few walls, collected all the ex's stuff and put it in a poignantly labeled box and booked a trip to Newfoundland. Now what? When, and how, do you get the Box-of-Stuff to your ex?
Heh heh heh. This is the tricky part. It took me several breakups to learn how to finesse this aspect. This is what separates the novices from the pros, the younglings from the grand masters. Consider me your Box-of-Stuff sensei, your Box-of-Stuff Jedi Grand Master. I won't like Yoda talk, but you the point get.
Like I said, if you're initiating the breakup, and it's a premeditated breakup, then gather the stuff, put it in a box and take it with you to the "We Need to Talk" talk. It might seem harsh, but it really is like taking off a bandage. It's gonna hurt no matter how you do it, so just do it fast. And by showing up with the Box-of-Stuff you send the strong message that you've thought about this and you really and truly want to break up. So much so that you gathered all their things, put them in a box and brought them to the breakup. I like this method because there's no gray area. Intentions are very clear. It's over.
However this does leave the person who's just been dumped in a rather difficult position in terms of stuff. Do they quickly scamper around amassing their now ex's stuff to give to them before they leave? Not a bad plan, but, it does make for some awkward time together. You've just broken up and given your ex the Box-of-Stuff. They may or may not have seen this coming, but regardless, they're in some emotional turmoil. You're forcing them into the position of having to make a room-by-room run-through of your stuff while still in the throes of processing the fact that you've just broken up with them. You're standing there expectantly and they're trying to stay focused on task, "Um, okay, well, I see you're serious about this, I notice you're giving me back the cocktail swords from drinks we had on the night you first told me you loved me, and oh look, you even brought my tampons. Yep, you're serious, you need space. Well, um, okay, um, well, here's your Gwar CD and hang on a minute, I'll get your t-shirt and socks, um, toothbrush...waffle iron...waffle iron, is that yours or mine? I can't remember. Um, cables for the DVD player, DVDs...DVDs...Star Wars
, yours, Groundhog Day
mine Forest Hump
, yours...oh, there's that stupid dime bag you bought thinking you were so cool, *I hope the beat cop's narcotic dog sniffs you down*, your slimy microphone shaped soap on a rope, um, oh, and here, the earrings you gave me for my birthday, yeah...I guess that's just about it, right?" You get my point, it's a little awkward. And while I advocate this "quicker the better" strategy for this particular breakup scenario (the premeditated breakup scenario where the dumper shows up with the Box-of-Stuff), stay realistic about the completeness of contents. In that hasty just-been-dumped slap-dash rush to gather all the new ex's stuff, it's easy to overlook or forget a crucial item or two. Do not hold this against them. Remember, you had time to think about the breakup and accumulate your now ex's belongings. The ex didn't have that kind of advantage. If you're the one who was blitz-dumped, cut yourself some slack and don't panic. Gather the obvious (the stuff of theirs you hate and can't wait to get rid of) and know that just because your ex showed up with a box of your stuff doesn't mean you have to return the favor right this minute
. A return trip, or an exchange in a designated return spot for the final handing over of stuff may be necessary.
Which leads to the more usual breakup scenario. Maybe things haven't been going so well lately. Maybe there have been petty arguments and repressed frustrations. It seems like love is fading, or at least diminishing, but then, you've been together a while, it's normal for things to be a little lackluster, and you've both been under a lot of pressure at your jobs, working long hours and what you both need is a nice vacation. And then it happens. The petty argument turns into a below the belt slinging brawl and it doesn't result in makeup sex. Feelings are hurt. Frustrations were revealed. There's either an all pervading seething contempt or quiet resignation. It's over. You both know it. Looking back you both knew it months ago but hoped things would get better. They didn't. And now it's time to part ways.
This is the most difficult Box-of-Stuff exchange. You're both experiencing fluctuating emotions and you both bounce between desperately wanting to hurt the other person and contemplatively wanting the other person to be happy. Crap, this sucks. I hate breakups. It's times like these I'm so glad to be a permanent resident of Singleton up on the shelf collecting dust.
Right. A bad breakup. Subsequent Boxes-of-Stuff.
The best, time-tested method I've found is to appoint an official Box-of-Stuff messenger. One of you will have to instigate the plan, but once a trusted neutral mutual friend is on board and the wheels are in motion the other party tends to recognize the respect and beauty of the plan and it generally goes smoothly. But the success hinges on the designated Box-of-Stuff messenger.
The designated Box-of-Stuff appointee should be the most neutral mutual** friend you have. Think: Switzerland. Who is the most Swiss of your mutual friends? That's who you appoint to serve as the Box-of-Stuff go-between. This is an important role, so you do not want to rush into the decision. And it's asking a lot of someone, especially someone who's very Swiss. Neutral people tend to not like conflict so they tend to avoid it. So you may have difficulty persuading your most neutral mutual friend to take on this role. Do not pressure them because that will turn them off, offend them, and sway them to your ex's side.
And do not, under any circumstance, badmouth your ex to the neutral mutual friend. I don't care if your ex was exploring their sexuality with all the members of a murderous bi-sexual gang hiding undercover as Longshoremen and gave you an untreatable STD, then posted a video to YouTube of you in the kitchen wearing nothing but a macrame owl around your neck singing an impassioned rendition of Rock Me Gently
while banging out the drum parts on your chest with spatulas while your grandmother's 90th birthday cake is visible on the counter and the time/date stamp set at 25 minutes before guests arrived for your grandmother's birthday party, and
called your boss and his wife unspeakable names in a public Facebook post. Right now your goal is to get rid of your ex's stuff and hopefully get your stuff from your ex. You don't do or say the things you want to say about your ex. You stay silent about your ex in order to put Switzerland at ease. I know this because I've been the appointed Box-of-Stuff designee a few times. Yes, I have been Switzerland. It's not easy.
Here's a sample conversation, "Hi, Neutral Friend. I'm not sure if you heard, but (the ex) and I broke up. Yeah, we've grown apart, we both need some space, it's time to move on. Here's the thing. I want to respect (the ex's) privacy and emotions right now. I'm the last person s/he needs to see. But I have a Box-of-Stuff that s/he had at my place and I was wondering if maybe I could bring it to your place so s/he can pick it up there? We both respect and like you, you're like Switzerland to us. I don't want to make this awkward for you, but you're the only person I really trust not to judge or criticize either of us, and I know there's some stuff in the box that s/he wants, so, could I impose on you to do us this favor?"
Depending on your neutral mutual friend's Swissness, they'll either recognize that they can be a part of a plan for healing and recovery or they'll politely decline. If they decline, do not get angry at them. They're just being Swiss. They don't like conflict. They mind their own business and don't judge others. This is why you like and respect them. Move down the list to the next person on the list of possibilities. Eventually you'll find someone willing to act as the appointed Box-of-Stuff designee.
If you really want to expunge your ex from your life, you probably gathered and packed the Box-of-Stuff fairly quickly after the breakup. I'm not saying it was easy, but you did it. Your ex might need a little more time. I've found three - four weeks is the "best" time frame for the Box-of-Stuff exchange. But depending on the duration of the relationship and cause of demise, anything up to two months is appropriate. After that it gets weird for everyone, even Switzerland.***
Your designated Box-of-Stuff appointee orchestrates the exchange. They act as go-between, but it's crucial that you do not inconvenience the designee. You keep conversation light and drop-off strategies simple. Both parties of the breakup take the Box-of-Stuff to the designee's home. The designee will make sure to arrange the drops at days/times when the
those in the breakup will not cross paths. At the appointed time, you drop off your ex's Box-of-Stuff.
You do not leave special instructions, cryptic messages or reveal any details about the breakup. You are visiting Switzerland and you are to remain respectful and neutral.
"Here's my ex's stuff. Thank you for doing this for us. I owe you, big time. How about drinks sometime after work?" That's it. That's all you say. If your ex has already dropped off your Box-of-Stuff you retrieve it from Switzerland without comment except, "Thank you!" You do not cast aspersions about your ex, you do not even check the contents of the box, you just say, "Thank you" and leave. There will be plenty of time to cast aspersions about your ex and painstakingly review the contents of the box when you get home.
Aspersions and Box-of-Stuff contents do not concern your Switzerland. Your mutual neutral friend generously agreed to act as a neutral safe-house for your stuff and that's it
. Once you've dropped off your ex's Box-of-Stuff and retrieved yours, Leave. Switzerland. Out. Of. It. You've just lost your boy/girlfriend. Do you want to lose your most trustworthy, nonjudgmental friend, too? No, you do not. Trust me, you will need this person in the coming weeks and months.
So that's it, that's how you do it.
Yes, of course there are other ways. Going back and forth, arguing over who owns what, dragging boxes across town and showing up at your ex's with their Box-of-Stuff at 1 AM a little drunk and crying. Spending copious emotion-filled phone calls/texts arguing over when/how/where to exchange stuff. Returning items a few at a time or one-by-one...as you know, this only prolongs the process which prolongs the breakup which stalls healing which prevents you from getting out there and taking that trip to Newfoundland or embarking on a journey of lapidary enlightenment in the form of a jasper-cutting class. Breakups suck. Breakups hurt. Breakups scar and change you. Breakups also give way (eventually) to new opportunities. Maybe not better opportunities, but different opportunities. And the longer you let unresolved breakup detritus linger, the longer it'll take to grab those different opportunities.
Which speaks to another issue about the Box-of-Stuff. Some people avoid the Box-of-Stuff. They don't return their ex's stuff and they don't retrieve their stuff from their ex. Their ex may try to exchange stuff, but Avoiders are either so deeply in denial or so hurt that they just avoid the whole thing. It's not your job to help them heal, but you do want your stuff and you don't want theirs. This can be really tricky because you do not want to send any kind of mixed signal. Tell them when you're dropping off the Box-of-Stuff or assert when you want to pick up your stuff at the appointed Box-of-Stuff designee's place. Do not make threats, do not harass, do not issue ultimatums. Remember, you cared about this person enough to date them long enough to acquire stuff, so there was some shred of respect at some point. Cling to that respect and tell your ex you both need to do this so you can heal properly.
Or maybe you're breaking up with someone who's apathetic about their stuff, your stuff, the breakup, everything and life in general. They're indifferent to the point of something tinged with an element of fear - something often best portrayed by Christopher Walken. This is probably why you broke up with them - they lacked passion or even regard for anything and were just kind of creepy. Tell them when you'll bring their stuff over and that if they're not home they can leave your stuff on the porch, with the neighbor, at the 7-11 down the street...the key here is to make it easy for the ex. They're apathetic so they're not concerned about, well, anything. The easier you make it, the more probable the exchange. You may have to take your own box and gather your stuff, don't rely on this type of ex to care enough to do any of that. On the plus side, if you're uncertain about the ownership of an item, they're so apathetic they won't care if you mistakenly take something that's theirs.
Ironically, in regard to boxes of stuff, the breakups with jerks are the easiest. If your ex didn't:
- share their interests or stuff with you;
- and/or never bought you anything;
- and/or you didn't go anywhere together or do anything together to accumulate anything,
then, voila! no stuff, no box. Which does make the breakup easier. Sad, yes, and very telling. A lack of stuff, of any sort, is prophetic. True, some people just don't accumulate stuff, or have any interests or stuff to share, but...still...if your ex didn't have so much as a pack of gum at your place or give you a present for your birthday/holiday of choice, then maybe you weren't seeing the writing on the wall. No, it's not about stuff or acquiring stuff. It's about participating in life and the stuff that accumulates because of that participation. Get out there an find someone who has interests and likes to share them and bothers to care and learn about yours. Find someone who's okay with you leaving tampons under his bathroom sink and feels comfortable bringing his microphone soap-on-a-rope to your place, someone who wants to watch you put on your socks on cold winter mornings and can commit to a waffle maker so they can make waffles with you.
Yes, it means sharing and leaving pieces of you and your life, and risking them in the breakup, but sometimes couples don't break up. Sometimes couples actually stay together and stop keeping track of whose stuff is whose because it doesn't matter.
I know, I know, big words coming from the dedicated Mayor of Singleton, notorious for surviving many (many) breakups. Just because I no longer participate in dating and relationships doesn't mean I don't support those who do.
And for those who did and then broke up, here's the summarized action plan for the return of stuff, the post-breakup action plan including the Box-of-Stuff Exchange.
- Ice cream.
- Loss of appetite.
- Procure a large, sturdy box. If you can find a poignantly labeled box so much the better. For instance, if the ex was a wine snob, a Bud Lite box will send a message heard loud and clear. If the ex was a holier than thou Veganazi, a Betty Crocker brownie mix carton will say more than you can ever verbally articulate about diet being a personal choice. (but an Omaha Steak box is just unnecessarily cruel and says more about your immaturity than your ex's dietary self-righteousness).
- Place the box someplace prominent like next to the television or in front of the bedroom closet.
- Eat pizza.
- Stop crying.
- Go on a health kick.
- Do a three day green tea detox.
- During the physical detox, detox your home. It's time to start putting the ex's stuff into the box you procured. Start with the easy stuff, stuff you never liked and secretly hated having in your place. Toss it in the box.
- Call a friend.
- Hang out with friends.
- Talk about the ex. Ridicule the ex's stuff.
- Green tea detox.
- Start a list of neutral mutual friends, these are the potential Swiss Guards of your Boxes-of-Stuff.
- Tackle the emotionally charged items slowly, one or two items at a time. Placing them in the box will be difficult, but ultimately it will be cathartic.
- Drink if you must, call a friend or leave the premises for a few hours after placing the emotionally charged items in the box of stuff.
- Do a room-by-room evaluation, leave no drawer unopened, no chair cushion unturned, clothes hamper unravaged. Make like CSI and eliminate every trace of the ex.
- Fight the urge to include a) a sappy greeting card, b) a long letter detailing all the ways in which your ex hurt you, and c) little love notes they used to "hide" for you to find. Love notes are in a league of their own when it comes to post breakup stuff. They're a topic unto themselves, but whatever your feelings about them, they do not belong in the Box-of-Stuff returning to your ex.
- When you are fully and truly certain every item the ex had at your place is in the box, go online and plan a vacation or weekend getaway or at the very least sign up for a class doing something you always wanted to try but never found the time because between work and the ex you didn't have a lot of spare time and the ex was never up for trying anything new. Ahem. This vacation/class is a) your reward for making it through the emotional purging of stuff land mine and b) a healthy step to your new life full of rich and rewarding experiences without the ex.
- After you plan and book your getaway/class, make the calls to your potential Swiss Guardians of the Boxes-of-Stuff Exchange.
- Once someone has agreed to orchestrate the exchange, follow their assigned schedule to the minute. Drop off your ex's box of stuff precisely when told, and if you are to pick up your Box-of-Stuff at the same time, do so without making a scene. If you have to go back at a later date to retrieve your stuff, politely thank Switzerland and tell them you'll wait for Box-of-Stuff arrival confirmation. When you receive confirmation that your Box-of-Stuff has arrived at the Swiss drop point, retrieve it as quickly as possible so as to not further inconvenience Switzerland in any way.
- Go home and place the box in a corner. If there's one item that you're "worried" about, for instance a family heirloom or something with extreme sentimental or monetary value, then yes, check the box and make sure it's there. But don't spread out the contents and spend an entire weekend evaluating the significance of each and how your ex might have felt while packing your Box-of-Stuff. Just let your box sit there in the corner for a few days. Eventually, one-by-one, you'll need/want the items in the box.
- And one day, poof! the box will be empty and you can throw it away or use it to store your lapidary class projects or the hiking boots you used on your trip to Newfoundland.
- Congratulations. You have now notoriously gone through a notorious breakup with grace and aplomb and emerged with your dignity and possessions in tact.
some really creepy guys out there who keep an "overnight kit" for female guests. Tampons, douche, and individually wrapped moist towelettes all arranged neatly in a basket on display in the bathroom. In my very distant past I was set up on dates with two such men. They also had several bottles of perfume, kind of like a bathroom at an expensive nightclub where there's an attendant and a tip bowl. It's a safe bet that both had several negligees and stockings of various sizes to offer overnight guests, too. Both were European, one Italian, one Spaniard and both were way too swing for me. I guess they thought they were being thoughtful and enlightened, but c'mon, what kind of guy keeps a stash of feminine hygiene products on hand for overnight guests? Middle-aged hairy guys named Giovanni and Paulo who wear Speedos, gold bracelets, Bally loafers and Paco Rabanne, that's who.
**Neutral Mutual = brilliant band name. Neutrality of Mutuality
by Neutral Mutual. Okay, a little '80s, but brilliant nonetheless.
***I once took a post breakup Box-of-Stuff to the designated mutual friend a couple weeks after the breakup. My ex had already dropped off my Box-of-Stuff at our Switzerland, so I got my stuff. Three months later my ex still hadn't picked up his Box-of-Stuff from Switzerland and let me tell ya, Switzerland was growing less neutral by the day. Turns out my ex was having a little tryst with a woman from the Paris office who was visiting for a few months. The ex's plan was to try to get back together with me when she returned to Paris. I think you can guess what my response to that was, and Switzerland became my full ally. We had drinks after work. Several drinks of several types of alcohol later Switzerland and I dumped my ex's Box-of-Stuff in the courtyard of his apartment building. I'm not proud of this and do not recommend it. Learn from my experience.