Books

Hilarious and Heartbreaking Objects Left in the Wake of Failed Relationships

Just in time for Valentine’s Day. We’re not bitter, we promise.

Jar of spicy Amish pickles, October to December 2013, New York. “I bought these as a present for the first guy 
I ever (thought I) loved. He told me about how he used to do his homework in the bathtub as a kid and brought me a book on our first date, and said he loved these damn pickles. He stopped returning my texts before I ever got a chance to give them to him.” (photo by Erika Paget, excerpted from The Museum of Broken Relationships: Modern Love in 203 Everyday Objects, reprinted with permission of Grand Central Publishing)

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.

Cover of The Museum of Broken Relationships: Modern Love in 203 Everyday Objects (image courtesy Grand Central Publishing)

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 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.

Melted phone, 2009 to 2013, Lexington, Massachusetts. “I was the landlord of an apartment in Lexington, just a few blocks down from my house. The couple who stayed there fought often, and I assume they broke up after I evicted them. They weren’t very happy with each other. Cleaning up the apartment after they left, I found this flip phone in the oven. I think one of them put it there to spite the other.” (photo by Erika Paget, excerpted from The Museum of Broken Relationships: Modern Love in 203 Everyday Objects, reprinted with permission of Grand Central Publishing)

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.

Frogs, 36 years, Bloomington, Indiana. “Mom left when I was three. This is one of the few Christmas gifts she has given me.” (photo by Ana Opalić, excerpted from The Museum of Broken Relationships: Modern Love in 203 Everyday Objects, reprinted with permission of Grand Central Publishing)

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.

The Museum of Broken Relationships: Modern Love in 203 Everyday Objects is out now from Grand Central Publishing.

Crossword puzzles dating from their owner’s birth until the death of his father, Bologna, Italy. “My father died on April 14, 2015. I was with him at the hospital, caring for him. He always played these crossword puzzles. The last one is not finished. He was fun, enigmatic, and comforting. Just like a crossword puzzle.” (photo by Boris Cvjetanović, excerpted from The Museum of Broken Relationships: Modern Love in 203 Everyday Objects, reprinted with permission of Grand Central Publishing)
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