Stories of Heartbreak

I go,

you stay;

two autumns. (Buson)

 There is a story in every breakup.  Heartbreak, crushing physical pain compressing one’s chest, is a universal emotional experience. A tour last week of the award-winning Museum of Broken Relationships reminded me that even after a relationship is over the pain lives on in one’s heart. Many of us cherish the mementoes of love gone wrong reminding us of bad past choices or nurturing the fading memory of the beloved.  The museum is a touring collection of artifacts of lost relationships  Half of the display has been collected by curators Olinka Vistica and Drazen Grubisic over a 10 year period from all over the world. The other half of the display is objects submitted by individuals living in the Treasure Valley specifically for the Boise exhibition.  Amazingly, while the objects and stories vary greatly, the yearning and pain of break-up seems to be shared across time and countries. On Display February 4-March 3, 2014, Ming Studios, Boise, Idaho (

Is it really surprising in a culture that celebrates love and relationships, there is an archeology for the lovelorn?   Through romance novels, pop music, movies, and holidays we have created the fantasy that the right connection leads to bliss.  The tokens of broken relationships and their stories capture the giddy, glow of first attachment where the beloved can do no wrong. This glow can last for minutes, weeks, months or years. There are stuffed bears, Godzilla replicas, wooden soldiers, hand carved pigs, bright pink flamingos.  Little gifts given in an affectionate moment or bought on shared excursion become the symbol of the “we” in our happy prime. Notable is that the items that have the most meaning are frequently of little value except in the context of the couple’s shared experience. These small symbols capture us “falling in love” and being “love sick”.

Small toy car, an example of shared tokens of love with little monetary value.


When we are sick of love, we can be quite cruel in how we end it.  One young woman received a set of unattached guitar strings with the note, “No strings attached.”  Another young woman received a placeholder ring for an engagement ring.  The ring turned her finger green after a couple of weeks so she stopped wearing it.  When she tried to talk her fiancé into the real thing, he just disappeared from her life.  She kept calling him but he didn’t even have the courtesy to break up. She held on to the tarnished fake but finally felt it was time to move on, and thus, the ring became a donation to the museum.  One woman described a broken relationship with a man who in retrospect she thought was trying to kill her on a scuba diving trip.  He had taken out a life insurance policy before they left town.


One of my most embarrassing moments in college was when a boy friend, I had just broken-up with, dropped everything I had given him on the front steps of the women’s dorm. Since we had hours back then, (women had to be in at a certain time), he strategically waited until hours had come and gone. Everyone in the dorm got to witness all the strange little shared souvenirs of our time together being stacked up on the front porch.  Humiliating indeed, but a good reminder of why I didn’t want that man in my life long-term.


We tend to think of relationships largely in terms of couples, whether they be gay or straight. But the museum also chronicles broken friendships and fractured families.  I have recently had a number of conversations with friends trying to heal from lost jobs. Obviously, painful relationship can take many forms. To be human is to have a host of complex interwoven interactions. Loss of any of these intense associations may seem like the end of the world while going through the healing process.


One of the most haunting mementoes from the exhibit is a set of ear phones. There is a Dad’s message on an old telephone machine saying, “I love you, please call–beep.”  A young woman, answers back numerous times, according to the beeps with profanity and promises never to speak again.


The exhibit also narrates efforts to heal. One woman knit a sweater of everything that reminded her of her former boyfriend.  She had bought the yarn to knit the sweater while they were together, “He started talking about the ultimate sweater…I wasn’t going to begin this project until he settled on what he wanted.  He never did.”  Like the relationship the sweater is misshapen and un-wearable but hopefully the act of creation helped reduce the pain.  Another woman did a video chronicling a joyful period leading up to violence. Since she completed the video, we know she lived but we also know many do not extricate from violent relationships. When you have had an intense loving relationship with someone and end it, there is pain. While the pain heals with time, there remains as soft spot that if jarred can bring up the memories of the one lost. 

 This universality of human pain and loss is documented by Shawn Mendes in the recent hit “Stitches”

I thought that I’ve been hurt before But no one’s ever left me quite this sore Your words cut deeper than a knife Now I need someone to breathe me back to life Got a feeling that I’m going under But I know that I’ll make it out alive If I quit calling you my lover Move on…


Needle and the thread, Gotta get you out of my head Needle and the thread, Gonna wind up dead Needle and the thread, Gotta get you out of my head, get you out of my head

(Danny Parker, Teddy Geiger, 2015)

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