Breakups can go many ways. Some people remain friends. Others seek revenge by posting the ugliest pictures they can find on Instagram. Then there’s Olinka Vištica and Dražen Grubišić. When they ended their relationship about a dozen years ago, they started a museum. Since 2010, their Museum of Broken Relationships in Zagreb, Croatia has been displaying items donated from all over the world — an archive of the objects and stories left behind after couples, family, and friends part ways. Vištica and Grubišić’s new book, The Museum of Broken Relationships: Modern Love in 203 Everyday Objects, compiles photos of objects in their collection, paired with the hilarious, tragic, and heartbreaking stories of their former owners.
The stories run the gamut of ages, locations, genders, sexualities, and relationship lengths. The objects range from the predictable wedding dresses, rings, letters, and all manner of tchotchkes and trinkets, to locks of hair, belly button lint, and even silicon breast implants.
The breast implants are particularly memorable. Reluctantly, at the behest of her then-boyfriend, the woman who would later donate the silicone blobs had them implanted into her breasts. (Apparently her boyfriend was a “boob guy” and she “hadn’t had enough therapy to tell him to go fuck himself.”) He paid for them initially, but then made her pay him back. Adding insult to injury — well, technically injury to insult — the woman’s body rejected the implants and she kept having to go back to the hospital for surgery, which made things even worse. After a couple years, she finally got rid of both the toxic implants and her toxic boyfriend.
Stories of betrayal, revenge, affairs, and abuse of all kinds weave a red thread throughout much of the museum’s collection. There’s a Donovan LP broken out of spite, and a toaster: “That’ll show you. How are you going to toast anything now?” All sorts of sexually transmitted diseases, from mild herpes outbreaks to AIDS, and for the bleeding-heart romantics, Goethe seems to be an ever popular reference point.
There are also the almost magical coincidences. One relationship comes to life in a stiletto shoe. A boy and a girl met in childhood, but during high school, the boy’s family moved away; not until 30 years later did the pair meet again, completely by accident — as dominatrix and client. They reconnect and reminisce, but realize they couldn’t really be together. Each took one dominatrix shoe as a souvenir.
Much of the book is devoted to romantic relationships, but some of the most heart-wrenching stories involve families and friends, like a frog toy Christmas present from the absentee mom and a Spanish lottery ticket that marked the end of a 60-year friendship. The destroyed VHS of a father’s wedding captures the abject failure of his second marriage, to a gold digger; she not only spent all his money, but also left him in the lurch when he was diagnosed with cancer.
When they first started the Museum of Broken Relationships, Vištica and Grubišić wanted to give people a unique way to remember their failed romances. They quickly found that it serves the arguably greater purpose of catharsis. If you’re looking for a sense of closure for a relationship of your own, the museum is always accepting donations. Or, if you’re just feeling lonely or sulky, Modern Love in 203 Everyday Objects could be just what you need to put your own troubles into perspective.