The Flotsam and Jetsam of Failed Relationships

A Friday chat about breakup stuff

When Harry Met Sally

NICOLE: Happy Friday! I’d say “did y’all miss me,” except an entire week’s gone by since I got back, which means it’s no longer news.

I missed you and The Billfold, for sure. Except for the times when I didn’t think about The Billfold at all, because I was floating in the ocean.

ESTER: Understandable. You’re not supposed to think about work on vacation, after all. That would sort of defeat the purpose of the detox. And clearly you were keeping us in mind enough, to the degree that you were still making note of when you treated yourself vs. when you elected not to.

NICOLE: I’m at the point where people ask me if I’m keeping track of stuff for The Billfold. Like, if we’re having dinner together. Always in a friendly way, of course. If anyone asked me to NOT mention that I had spent $19.99 or whatever on a lunch we shared, I probably would.

ESTER: Yeah, sometimes friends, in the midst of a discussion of a thorny financial issue, will see my eyes all lit up and say, “No, you can’t write about it.” What can I say? Everything is #content, unless I’m instructed otherwise. That’s the 21st century version of Nora Ephron’s parents telling her, “Everything is copy.”

But if everything weren’t content, we, meaning the Internet at large, wouldn’t have gotten this lovely Meghan Nesmith piece about the flotsam and jetsam of failed relationships. Not the emotional stuff; the actual literal stuff you’re often left with when a romantic entanglement ends — and what you do with it.

The Weird, Lingering Life of Post-Breakup Objects

NICOLE: Banker’s box. In the closet. I’ll deal with it later.

ESTER: This is my favorite anecdote from the piece:

Briana, 27, was engaged to a man we’ll call Ben, who seemed nice until he wasn’t. The night she left him, he squeezed her face until her jaw popped and smashed her car window. Later, much later, she tried to decide what to do with the engagement ring. She thought about donating it and about taking it to a pawn shop, but eventually found Never Liked It Anyway, where she sold both the ring and a necklace Ben had given her. With the funds from the ring, she furnished her first home. “The necklace sold about a week ago, so for Valentine’s Day, I took my boyfriend to see Deadpool.”

With the funds from the ring, she furnished her first home! That’s boss.

NICOLE: Nobody has ever given me anything that’s worth that much money. I did get a pair of (tiny) diamond earrings from my high school sweetheart, which I still wear. They’re diamond earrings!

ESTER: Of course! And also that’s adorable. I don’t have a box of old jewelry, either, but what I do have is someone else’s old wedding ring. My great-uncle Jack made enough money in one of the California gold rushes to set up a pawn shop in New Mexico, and people used to come to him to get rid of relics of their own past lives, romantic and otherwise. Maybe he couldn’t bring himself to re-sell the wedding rings that passed over his counter, or maybe some of them just struck his fancy, but in any case he kept a whole lot of them, and he gave a bag to my dad, who kept them too. When I got engaged, my dad showed Ben and me the lot, in case we wanted them, and of course we did. So both of us wear rings that once belonged to other people — rings with stories, though we have no idea what those stories are. I guess it could feel creepy but I kind of love it.

NICOLE: I totally love it. Antiques, books, jewelry — it’s all great. It connects you to people who have come before. Sometimes I wear jewelry that specific people have given me when I want to access those people’s love and power, for lack of a better term — also I know that sounds weird and (as you noted) creepy, but there’s this pair of earrings that I have from my mom, and another pair that my dad gave me, and I put them on when I want to inhabit their traits, as it were.

This is also why it’s okay to wear the diamond earrings from my high school sweetheart (who was a sweetheart) and why I threw away the dress I wore during my worst breakup.

ESTER: Oh god, I don’t think that’s creepy at all! Of course certain items we get passed down to us from people with love have totemic and symbolic as well as market value. That’s why people feel compelled to sell things they could just as easily hold onto: things are often imbued with memories and associations to the point where they’re not just inert things at all. They can become either priceless or poisonous, depending on the context.

NICOLE: There’s the things aspect, and there’s also the ideas aspect — like, there’s a piece I’d love to write but never will (for the reasons we discussed at the beginning of the chat, re: not mining other people’s lives for content) about all of the TV shows, movies, musicians, books, etc. that boyfriends introduced me to. I want to set this piece up like two columns, where one side lists the gob of things they wanted me to watch or hear or experience, and the other side lists the things I got them to watch or hear or experience, and that list is always smaller.

ESTER: Is that a force-of-personality thing, where they were more comfortable urging you to try whatever on their behalf, and you didn’t want to be seen as pushy that way?

NICOLE: It’s more of the romantic cliche that, when you start a new relationship, the guy begins checking to see whether you are familiar with his favorite cultural touchstones, and that’s how you end up watching Fight Club or The Big Lebowski or whatever. And that doesn’t get flipped around; “you mean you’ve never seen Fight Club?” doesn’t get turned into “you mean you’ve never seen the BBC adaptation of Persuasion?” because of the whole “some movies are for everyone and some movies are chick flicks” thing.

ESTER: For the record, I’m totally the “You’ve never seen Fight Club?” person, and The Big Lebowski, but it’s true, I too have always been reticent with the girly stuff: I always meant to get Ben to sit down with me and watch When Harry Met Sally but I was shy about it. So when I left my room at college one evening and came back and he had, of his own volition, taken the movie off the shelf and put it in the VCR, I knew he was The One.

NICOLE: THAT IS PERFECT. The last time I watched When Harry Met Sally (which I love) was on New Year’s Eve years ago, while I was hoping the guy I liked would text me. (He did not.) I have not been able to watch it since. It was not my highest moment.

ESTER: Well, now you have an obligation to resignify it for yourself! You can’t let the spirits of romantic disappointment cling to a classic like WHMS. Can you gather a bunch of friends for a fun, boozy re-watch for some reason?

NICOLE: We don’t need any reason besides that! But I will make them all sign a waiver stating that any and all financial content discussed may end up on The Billfold.

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