What do you do with permanent reminders of your ex?

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What happens when your matching love tattoos become matching break-up tattoos? (By: Pamela CarlsCC BY 2.0)
I saw the Offbeat Bride post about showing off tattoos in your wedding dress. It got me thinking about one of my tattoos. Specifically, the matching tattoo my ex and I got years before I met my husband. Then I got to thinking… I wonder how many other Homies carry around tattoos or pieces of their exes through their relationships?

There have been posts about people who are still friends with their exes, but I was thinking that it might be enlightening to talk about how people deal with the physical baggage of relationships past. Specifically…

  • How do Homies deal with current partners and introducing them to that baggage? Or do they?
  • What if the current partner disapproves?
  • Is there a limit to how much time you carry around mementos from old dates or old marriages?
  • Does it change if the relationship ended on a good note?


Comments on What do you do with permanent reminders of your ex?

  1. Part of this is going to sound awful. My husband, who I love very much, is a tattoo artist. I am a tattoo lover and have many tattoos. Everyone always asks me if my husband did my tattoos and the answer is no. I won’t let my husband tattoo me because, well, I am a realist. The marriage, although I would like it to last forever, may not last forever and I don’t want to be stuck with a bunch of tattoos that my ex did.
    Stick with matching jewelery that you can sell should the warm and fuzzies turn into cold, hard, hatred.

  2. Luckily, I never got a relationship tattoo, so that’s not a problem. The only items I have that are from exes are beautiful hardcover copies of the “His Dark Materials” trilogy by Philip Pullman, and a fantastic giant super-plushy blanket from a different ex.

    When it comes to books, I don’t really consider the giver of the books if said books were ones already on my wishlist or in my personal library…those books already have meaning to me because I love the stories, not because of the person who gave them to me. Now that I think about it, I probably have other books that other boyfriends bought for me off of my Amazon wishlist, but…again, I don’t really make the connection there. I just happen to remember the Dark Materials gifting because it was totally unexpected (I already owned paperback copies) and I was extremely touched and pleased.

    As for the blanket….well, it’s just super warm and cuddly, and I ended on good terms with that boyfriend, and if my husband doesn’t like the fact that it was from an ex…well, then he has to get rid of HIS weird blanket (a fleece blanket that he sleeps with UNDER the covers) first.

  3. It depends on the thing I guess. I have plenty of kitchen things that my ex husband gave me. They’ll always be gifts from him, but they’re still very useful, so I keep them and mentally remove any sentimental meaning from them. If something is still useful, I’ll keep it no problem. The issue with me is pictures. We spent most of our extra money on trips or experiences. So there are pictures I posted on Facebook from that. A lot of these are pictures from our honeymoon. That was a great trip, and I don’t want to forget it, so I just hid the pictures from the public, and untagged him. I still have a physical photo album of a photo session we had for our second anniversary. Since we spent a lot of money on them, I can’t bring myself to get rid of them, but I also don’t want to see them. So maybe I need the advice here on how to let go of things you don’t want to throw out, but also don’t want to keep!

    • I wonder about facebook photos of past relationships all the time. Sometimes I browse through distant facebook friends’ photos and see a succession of past relationships in them, leading up to wedding pictures with their current partner. Everyone does things differently (maybe they talked to the current partner about the existing facebook photos, I certainly don’t know), but I always wonder. Your solution makes a lot of sense.

      • This reminds me of friends of ours. They got divorced and the mans new girlfriend went around messaging friends on facebook demanding that they take down all of their old photos that had him and the ex in it. Mind you most of them were just group photos with 10 people.. so rude and annoying.

      • I’ve kept up pictures of old partners, but I deleted or untagged myself in any of us kissing. For some reason those felt inappropriate to me when I’d be with a new person, but deleting ALL pictures of me with past partners felt like deleting part of my history.

    • I was in the same boat – I took several amazing trips with my ex (afterwards I realised he was the only part of each trip that I didn’t enjoy) in the days before digital pictures, and put together whole photo albums documenting these trips. My solution when we broke up was to bury the albums in my parents’ basement for two years; then, when the break up wasn’t raw anymore, I went through each album and took out any photo that had him in it and threw it out. It was a difficult thing to do because even though I still had many pictures of each trip left over, I was also in a lot of the photos I had to throw out. So I made a deal with myself that if he was in a photo of a specific place/thing/view that wasn’t captured elsewhere, I would keep it conditionally but hide it in the back of the album and reconsider throwing it out in the future; and if I was in a photo that I liked except for his presence, I would cut him out. I ended up only keeping one or two of him and cutting him out of one. Throwing out the photos was also very cathartic, although equally difficult, but I reminded myself of all the photos I was keeping. A lot of people might be fine with keeping pictures of their ex, but personally I couldn’t, and I was always worried about my current boyfriend (now fiance) finding the albums (not that he would have had a problem with it – I guess I just did).

      As for a photo shoot – don’t keep them just cause you spent money on them. If knowing that they are there is bugging you, it’s worth the money you spent on them to get rid of them. If you can’t bring yourself to do it yet, I suggest burying them somewhere – a storage space, back of the closet, bottom of a box no one will ever open – and then revisiting the issue several years from now when you are in a different time in your life. You might discover then that they no longer bother you, or you might immediately know you can get rid of them with no regrets. Meanwhile, burying them is the next best thing to them not existing – out of sight, out of mind.

      • I kept all my photo albums. It’s been about 8 years since my “ex” (easier to call him that than explain, haha) and I last spoke, and we did not end on good terms. He broke my heart in a bad way, and for a long time I couldn’t look at the pictures. I still don’t like to look at them, but I don’t want to throw away my memories just because of some douchebag who happens to be in a lot of the pictures. I look at them and say “that was a different time in my life, but I’m glad it was fun and it was a good memory” and carry on… but it’s taken almost a decade to get to that point.

    • Pictures are tough, and I don’t know what I would do in that situation. Reminds me, though…my future father-in-law came up with an “interesting” way to deal with family pictures that included my fiance’s ex- he put big smiley face stickers on her face!

    • Oh man, I just did the massive clean out of all my crap in Mum’s basement, which included many photos, photo albums, love letters, and apology letters from an ex. The relationship ended eight and a half ears ago, and we had been together five and a half years. It was a very significant time in my life, but we don’t speak anymore, and even now I’m occasionally still angry at some of the stuff I put up with in that relationship.

      In the end, I wound up reading quite a few of the letters as I sorted through them; I kept a handful and threw the rest out. As for the photos, I also threw a lot of those out, but kept some as well. I can’t pretend that time didn’t happen, but nor do I want to look at photos of me kissing my ex!

  4. You know, I don’t often comment, but this one is pretty relevant to me. I also have a matching tattoo that I got w/my ex eons ago. Our relationship did not end on a good note. And I am now in a committed relationship where we are beginning to plan a marriage and a life together. So here’s my thoughts on that tattoo (ymmv)…

    My current partner knows the significance of the tattoo and sees it often as it is placed on my hip. She’s not overly bothered by it as she sees it as part of the past, and we both have pasts, so it is what it is. I plan on eventually doing a coverup on it since I’m not attached to it and it isn’t the most aesthetically pleasing anyway. But because it’s not easily seen by most people I never get comments on it & often even forget it’s there. In the meantime, when I do see it is a reminder of something that was once important, a big life event if you will and while it ended badly I learned a lot about myself for having been through it and for that I am grateful.

  5. It depends on my connection to the object. If my like for it and it’s usefulness outweigh the connections to the ex, I’ll keep it. If the gift is too tangled in the “bad” of the relationship, I’ll get rid of it. I’m someone who does like mementos of my life, even of maybe difficult ones, but there’s no reason to keep things that have no “use” to you. For example, one of my exes was kind of a shitty gift giver. He’d always like getting me things that *he* wanted me to have, rather than the things that he knew *I* wanted. Like a books he wanted me to read. I’ve slowly gotten rid of those books, because, frankly, they even bothered me at the time. The one gift he gave me that I’ve kept is my die cast Dalek, because I actually REALLY wanted that one, and while it took my a while, I actually enjoy Doctor Who regardless that it was him that showed it to me. So my advice would be keep the things you love, and if they connect you to your past that’s okay, as long as they don’t drag you there.

  6. i guess my perspective is unique because my husband passed away; we didn’t break up. i have two memorial tattoos for him, one of which is in a very visible place and the other of which is slightly more intimate. my new fiance (“new”…haha…we’ve been engaged 2.5 years…) doesn’t have a problem with them. the way we see it, they represent a significant part of my life that had a major hand in shaping who i am now. barring abuse or actually have the guy’s/girl’s name tattooed to you, i think that’s a healthy way to look at it. of course, if the permanent marks are bothersome or triggering (or if it IS a name), there’s always the option of getting it covered or altered with something else.

    as far as the rest of the baggage goes, we approach it the same way. my dude actually wears some of my husband’s old things (today, for example, he’s wearing the “chicks dig scrawny pale guys” shirt i bought my husband when we were still dating in college) and has found a use for other things. most of his other stuff has either been donated or his mother has taken it, with a handful of mementos that i keep in a box (plus a ton of digital photos). i’m a firm believer that stuff is just stuff, and isn’t meaningful in and of itself…it just jogs a memory. the mementos i kept are small things that jog really important memories (mostly of everyday life).

    • My husband passed away unexpectedly in June and I am thinking of a memorial tattoo. I had a background fear that if I meet someone new they would not appreciate a physical reminder. However, I also thought that any new man in my life would have to accept all of me including my past.

      Thanks for sharing.

  7. Ahhhh tattoos. I have a metal mulisha skull on my thigh sort of dedicated to being a military wife. I’ve decided to keep it and accept it as part of my life. Thankfully we never did the name thing.
    The wedding ring I sold to pay for the divorce with enough left over to pay for the wine lunch after we signed the paperwork.
    The pictures I’ve thrown or ripped up. Although I kept the jewelry. Relationships come and go but jewelry is forever! It’s all a personal time line of when you’re healed enough to handle doing such things. For the most part I was pretty pissed off so it was a good therapy!
    The harder issue was deciding who kept the dog and ferret. I didn’t want to give up my fur babies!
    Take a breath and relax. Take it as it all comes.

  8. This is such an interesting topic. Though I don’t have any tattoos, I have some items (jewelry, perfume, books) given to me by an ex that I sometimes like to use but also feel uncomfortable with.

    If it helps you emotionally to get rid of these things, then by all means do, but don’t feel like you have to. There’s nothing wrong with holding onto something because it represents a part of your life that you’d like to honor, even if the relationship ended badly. With a tattoo, which can be difficult/expensive/unrealistic for some to remove…I guess for me, I’d try to do some soul-searching and find ways to be accepting of it as a representation of where I’ve come from.

    And if a current partner “disapproves,” I think that’s a much bigger problem. Talk to each other about these things, discuss what you’re both comfortable with, but ultimately, decide for yourself what you want to do with these reminders of your ex, and don’t let anyone force you to make a certain choice.

  9. This is a great topic. My ex-husband and I (yes, my ex-husband), had wedding bands tattooed on. I have no regrets about it. I always knew that if my marriage ended and I was permanently marked, it wouldn’t be because I didn’t give it my all. My ex had an affair, but every time I look at the tattoo, I don’t think about the bad outcome. It is a constant reminder of all that I have gone through and how far I have come.

    I am now engaged and planning a September Wedding. My fiance’ obviously has seen the tattoo. He understands that is just part of my story. I have told him that if he wanted me to have it removed (tho, I hate that idea), I would out of respect for him and our future. As of now, he doesn’t care. So it is just one piece of my story.

    • So This.

      I have never regretted my matching tat. It’s awesome, and I chose it for good reasons. But I have offered to get it removed for my husband because I love him more.

  10. I thought long and hard about this topic before taking the plunge and getting a “matching” tattoo with my husband. In the end I got one, and I love it, but then again we are very much together and happy (and hope to stay that way!). I’m a realist though and since you can’t foresee the future and anything could happen I wanted to make sure the tattoo was something I’d be comfortable with and could sort of “withstand” any weird circumstances or even a breakup/divorce. I actually went into the tattoo experience with the mind frame that this was a friendship tattoo. We got it on our 10 year anniversary (together 10 years – married for almost 3 of those). We’ve been through a lot together – HS, college, parents’ divorces, deaths, long-distance, moves, highs, lows… you get the picture. If we were to part of any reason – his presence and mark on my life and who I am would still be undeniable and something I can’t change nor would want to. And, although I don’t take this lightly, if we were to split we’d probably have children in our life by then so the tattoo to me would be more a commitment to our family and the love that brought those children into the world.

    Anyway, just my thoughts 🙂 We also just got something symbolic, no names or anything!

  11. When it came to my relationships, I always made it really clear that I was still close with (almost) every person I’ve ever dated. Therefor, no reminders would be trashed or hidden. If they have a problem with that, then we shouldn’t even bother dating. In fact, I knew that guy I married was right for me when, after I told him that my latest ex had been and will always be one of my closest friends, Aaron’s response was “I’m sure I’ll love him as much as you do once I get to know him.”

    That Very Important Talk pretty much sets the tone for my whole “my past is part of who I am now, you accept it or you move on” philosophy. That means, like the exes themselves, gifts, photos, baggage… they’re all sticking around.

  12. This is one of the reasons that my husband and I got matching tattoos that symbolised our daughter; because at the end of the day, having a child is already the ultimate in “baggage” (although it feels vile to refer to our child in that way, but you know what I mean). It’s something that binds us together forever; no matter what happens, no matter how our lives turn, no matter if we end up with someone else, we’ll always have to see each other and at least be decent to each other, for her sake.
    And compared to that, a tattoo seems like a very small thing to worry about.

    • When one of my brothers got his (now ex) wife’s name tattooed on his arm, a friend of mine commented that it was a bad idea because it was a bit permanent. I replied that their two children were somewhat more permanent. True enough, he got the name tattoo coveredup years ago, but he’s still raising their children.

  13. I knew a girl who got a wedding band tattoo. When she ended her marriage, she had it turned into a vine with thorns as a reminder to herself to be careful before she puts anything else on that finger.

  14. Fantastic timing on this one! I have been feeling bad that I don’t want to get rid of a few things I got from my ex. They don’t really remind me of him, I just like them a lot, especially the stuffed tiger I named Kyouya who sleeps with me at night. But now that I’m seeing someone else, I felt like maybe I had to get rid of everything he ever had anything to do with… but I think you’re right. It doesn’t matter if it wasn’t tied to your relationship. The tattoo thing, thankfully, we never did, but even if we had, I was planning to get something that didn’t say “relationship”, and more “fandom”. I think I’ll stick with this rule. Thanks for all the advice ladies!

  15. I’m a sentimental old fool. I look at mementoes not only in terms of the person who gave them to me, but in terms of who I was when I got them and how I’ve changed since then. Not every memento is a pleasant one. I certainly have destroyed or recycled many, but some–some I keep because of how much I love how I’ve grown and learned since then.
    Everyone I’m with learns early-on that I’m sentimental. And anyone who has a problem with it, I just challenge them to give me a reason to be sentimental about something new, something about them.
    It’s always important to remember that your body is your own. It has secrets. You can share your body’s secrets, but what your body looks like is your business, at the end of the day. Remember that if you have a permanent reminder of your ex–whether you did or did not choose it–that you don’t owe anyone an explanation. You also don’t owe them to cover it up.

  16. So I dealt with my two biggest relationships very differently. My ex husband never got any tattoos with me, and I never even considered getting a tattoo related to him or our relationship. However, when we got divorced, I celebrated by getting an ouroboros tattoo on my leg.

    When I got engaged to my current husband, we both went together to get similar tattoos (his first) before we even got married. And then I got another tattoo before we were married so it would be in our wedding pictures. I’m looking forward to adding to our similar tattoos when we have kids, and my husband enjoys telling people about the story behind my ouroboros.

  17. So, I don’t have an ex-related tattoo and can’t speak to how I’d feel in the situation, but I’ve always thought that it was strange to hate those, especially if it doesn’t say the person’s name or anything. I mean, you were happy when you got it, presumably. It’s a part of who you are, just like the relationship is. And I try to love the “bad past” parts of me, because it’s helps me understand myself and be forgiving. Of course, I know that sounds so aspirational and possibly like new-agey bullshit.

    I have a tattoo with the initials of my two kids and my husband. It spells RAD, so that’s less obvious, but, still, this is a moment in time I’m capturing of us being a young family and bonding and even if it goes bad, this lovely thing will have happened. I’d try to be happy about that. EVENTUALLY. 🙂

  18. For the record, (in case anyone really wants to know) my tattoo is symbolic, not a name. I went into the parlor thinking that no matter what happened, my ex was tattooed on my soul, so why shouldn’t she be tattooed on my body as well? I’ve never regretted it.

    But out of all the “baggage” that can come from a relationship, tattoos seem like a minor one. Kids (I hear ya, Tute!), diseases, pets, relationships with your ex’s loved ones… those are all so much bigger than a few inches of colored skin. I still struggle with the fact that I lost my ex’s family when we broke up. I loved them as much as I loved her.

    And then the things you keep: pictures, knick knacks, clothes, jewelry, etc. I have a box of things I can’t stand looking at, but I love them too much to get rid of them. The past is just a part of what makes me who I am, and I love that. But I was always taught that eventually you HAVE to get rid of those “boxes” in order to move on. It’s lovely seeing all the people commenting talking about how they’ve moved on and brought the “boxes” with them.

    • ” I still struggle with the fact that I lost my ex’s family when we broke up. I loved them as much as I loved her.”

      THIS. So much this.

      Being ousted from the community that had become my family, that sucked. A lot.
      All of a sudden, they weren’t my family anymore. Years later, I still miss them.

  19. My exhusband and I got a singular word from our wedding vows tattooed on the inside of our left and right wrists, respectively. The word was significant to US but the location on MY BODY was important to me because I was in recovery for an eating disorder and it was placed there in hopes that during a binge, I might see it and stop myself and realize what was more important. He still has his tattoo. I have mine but I added two additional words to it. So my tattoo now says “Cherish the Journey” the O is the National Eating Disorder Association logo. It still has many memories and I don’t regret it.

    I haven’t gotten rid of my wedding dress or album/DVD. I am engaged to be remarried and he hasn’t asked me to get rid of them but sometimes I do struggle with it. I know I should discard them but it was at that point, the biggest event of my life. That dress was gorgeous and it was a beautiful day.

    I still have my wedding ring. I have thought about seeing if I could have the stones remounted into a pin or other piece of jewelry. I won’t ever wear it as a ring again but I don’t think I can give it back to him like it never meant anything. I didn’t ask for his ring back either. It would just hurt too much. We are still friends but it still hurts because no one gets married expecting it to fail and we grow up thinking it’s a “once in a lifetime” experience. So it’s a bit hard to move on and make the second one just as special, if not more so.

    • After my mom got divorced and had healed for some time, she had her diamonds from her wedding/engagement/promise rings re-set into a lovely pendant. It looks entirely different from her rings, and reminds her that she became stronger because of her marriage.

  20. I think it depends how you view the previous relationship. Did it end badly? What specifically is the reminder item? My previous relationship was abusive (not physically, but in many other ways), so thinking about it now still makes me cringe a little. When it ended, I initially didn’t get rid of anything besides pictures. I wasn’t ready to let go of what I had been through and what had been done to me, plus the jewellery wasn’t terribly really. But about a year later (and a few months after I had started dating my, now, husband…I finally got rid of everything. I was finally able to let myself mourn the time I had lost to him, the abuse I went through, and the fact he would never regret or apologize for his behaviour. It was my closure so to speak.

    I don’t need a memento from the relationship to “show what I’ve gone through” or anything like that because I have the emotional scars to bear for a lifetime. And while these fade with time, I will still have them no matter what.

  21. Three of my tattoos were done by my ex-fiance, and one other one was inspired by one of his. While one of said tattoos done by my ex needs to be redone (by someone else; I want nothing to do with my ex-fiance), I have no desire to otherwise cover-up or alter the others either done by him or inspired by his tattoos. Thankfully my lovely fiancee has no issue with my tattoos nor my desire to get (many, many) more. 🙂

  22. For me it depends so much on how the relationship ends. With my ex husband, for example, our relationship ended really badly. He became abusive and increasingly manipulative. So I got rid of everything. Pictures, gifts, clothing that evoked any memories. The weird thing that happened is that a lot of my memories, even good memories, disappeared along with the stuff, so that is a little odd- to have huge holes in this ten year span of my life. I actually don’t feel like that is good or bad, just kind of weird. Getting rid of the stuff felt like a symbolic strategy for removing his negative impact on my life.

    Stuff from other exes I often kept for years, but it eventually disappeared in purges before various moves. I don’t really regret it , though.

    My husband has stuff from his exes, and that doesn’t bother me one bit. It’s part of his history, and his history contributed to making him who he is, and led him to me. As long as his “hanging on” to them doesn’t mean hanging on to past traumas or introduce any “negative energy” (for lack of a better phrase) into our home, I feel like it’s totally ok.

  23. Have my ex’a initials on my shoulder. My boyfriend is okay with it and if he weren’t then we wouldn’t be together. Fortunately mine is on a shoulder blade so I don’t see it very often

  24. I will not share my thoughts or opinions at this time (truly shocking) but I will tell you a story that you may find interesting, and it is certainly on topic-ish. I had a son ‘out of wedlock’ as they say, and never had any intentions of marrying my ex because our relationship was very difficult and i knew that would only make it harder. He had a daughter who was 14 when her brother was born. a few years later their father became very ill with cancer and passed away when they were 5 and 19 respectively. I was always pretty close to my unofficial step-daughter, so when she told me she wanted to design her first tattoo in honor of her father (she is a very talented artist) and wanted me to get the same one with her, I didn’t hesitate (I already had 7 tattoos). The tattoo was a beautiful heart 1/2 growing and thriving and 1/2 consumed with sickness; his birth date on top and the day of his death underneath…. It was a very accurate description of my relationship with him, though that may not have been exactly what his daughter had in mind. I was happy to have the tattoo be a part of my grieving process with her, after all, he was dead so things were not very likely to change between us. Also, he was the father of my son, and will therefor always be significant to my life. A year or so later, I met the man who would become my husband. One day, when I was leaning over (early on in our courtship), he asked me why I had his birthday tattooed on my back! Apparently my ex died on his birthday, which is an oddly powerful omen if you believe in that sort of thing. I did not explain it on that day, because I was too taken aback to fully process the discovery, but I did soon tell him the whole story. My husband does not seem to feel odd at all about having his birthday as part of a semi-morbid tattoo across my back, but we do save the day to celebrate only him and we celebrate my ex (mostly for his son’s sake) on his birthday which is the other date on my back. It has not really come up yet for our children (he has 3, plus my son) but they are quite precocious so it is bound to someday.

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