White opera gloves. Orange underpants. One pair of crutches.
The objects on display are unrelated in almost every way. The only quality they share is heartbreak.
Lock of hair. Shards of glass. Penguin cuff links.
Some are outright funny, some are gut-stabbingly sad, and some border on heebie-jeebie creepy. But no matter their size, condition, or origin, all are fraught with a feeling that’s familiar to most any adult, in any country: the ache of a fizzled affair.
Fur-lined handcuffs. Mercedes hood ornament. Under-knee prosthesis. Yes. That’s right. Prosthesis.
These are the artifacts exhibited at the Museum of Broken Relationships (brokenships.com) in Zagreb, Croatia. They’re donated by jilted lovers from around the globe and displayed anonymously, with a description or story explaining each item’s significance in the capsized courtship that it represents. Museum visitors wander through and peruse the mementos, often empathizing with strangers’ crazy-specific-but-somehow-universal tales of shriveled trysts and soured tenderness.
Candy G-string. Fluffy teddy bear. Old-skool shaving kit.
Founded by film producer Olinka Vištica and sculptor Dražen Grubišić — themselves a former couple who broke up and sought a way to preserve the detritus of their eroded alliance — the museum began as a temporary exhibit in 2006 and has toured 33 cities in 21 countries, collecting more trinkets at each stop.
Everyone loves a happy ending — but we don’t always get one, do we? The museum’s collection reminds us that our relationships make us who we are, and it confirms that although lost love feels like the most private kind of pain, in fact it pierces us all.
You may snicker at the stolen toaster with the note that says, “That’ll show you. How are you going to toast anything now?” You may grimace at the ax whose owner hacked up all of his ex-girlfriend’s furniture while she was on holiday with her new lover. “The more her room filled with chopped furniture acquiring the look of my soul,” he wrote, “the better I felt.”
Now a second Museum of Broken Relationships will be opening in Los Angeles next month — in the old Frederick’s of Hollywood shop on Hollywood Boulevard, of all places. My friends and I can’t wait to go.
“Scores high on the un-penalized voyeurism scale” is how one pal describes it, and I couldn’t agree more. It’s like browsing knickknacks at an estate sale: macabre, mesmerizing, and utterly, miraculously encouraged.
“Exes become a part of people’s DNA whether we want them to or not,” says another girlfriend — “and the stories are always interesting. I kept the jewelry. Never ever wear it, but there it sits, stashed in a box at the back of a high cupboard.”
But it’s time to drag that box down, sister, because the L.A. museum is seeking items for its exhibit!
“If you’ve wished to unburden the emotional load by erasing everything that reminds you of that painful experience by throwing it all away — don’t,” the website, brokenships.la, pleads. “Give it to us.”
I played curator for a day to see what I could wrangle up from my circle of oft-uncoupled amigas.
One deliriously happily married woman still sleeps nightly with an ex’s tattered pillow (zipped up safely inside another pillowcase) and wouldn’t dream of letting it go.
Another said she’d gladly turn over her copy of Charles Bukowski’s Love Is a Dog from Hell. “My former husband gave it to me,” she said, “on our first Valentine’s Day as a married couple. It was a waving red flag.”
Then there was the wedding dress: “Our divorce papers were signed on Halloween, and I didn’t have a costume planned,” she said. “But then inspiration struck. I went home, drank lots of bourbon, took scissors and fake blood to my dress — and went as a zombie bride!”
She contacted the new museum to donate the now-tattered and stained frock. Look for it — and my friends and me — if you go this summer.
Starshine Roshell is the author of Broad Assumptions.