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. I fell hard for an ex a decade ago– the same summer his father died. As an only child with older parents, I knew how it was to grow up with that fear “What if Daddy dies tomorrow?” hanging over your head, so ours is an unusual bond. I flew out to see him for his father’s funeral. On the way to the air port to go home (which I didn’t want to do, but did) he loaned me his jacket. . . which I promptly forgot about until I reached my gate and he’d left the airport.

    Right around the time he married, I found the jacket in an old suitcase. All the pain and loss rushed back, so I set it aside. I couldn’t figure out what to do with it and wasn’t keen on spending the money to have it fixed if I was just going to donate it somewhere, but in the mean time my future husband found it.

    It fits perfectly, and it went back to being the jacket of a guy that cares enough about me to do what’s best for us even when it’s difficult. The meaning of it changed when the wearer did. I still have the memories of that trip and the relationship and everything else, but they don’t sting or ache as much as they used to. Turning those tangible reminders of the past over to someone else, even if it’s just asking your maid of honor to keep the old album in her closet for a while, can help find a way to make them useful again.

  2. I have one tattoo that’s tied to a past relationship. It’s on my chest, so it’s kind of hard to cover up. Here’s the thing about your past.. you can hide from it or you can embrace it. A month after my relationship with a bomb tech ended, I went to my favorite bar. An incredibly drunk man said “You got bombs on your *chest*. I’m going to call you ‘Bomb T*ts’!”. I could spend the rest of my life telling the story of my sad breakup, or I can tell this story. For me, I choose to see this as a hilarious story and it puts a new spin on a tattoo I ALMOST regretted.

  3. I have my ex husbands name on the inside of my ring finger. I probably see it daily, but only actually acknowledge it once, maybe twice, a week. I have plenty of other tattoos, and they have just become a part of me, which is probably why I don’t take special notice of his name.
    We’ve been apart for 14 months, he lives on one side of the country with his new partner, and I live on the other with my new boyfriend (we have marriage plans, but nothing official). We never ended on terrible terms (of course no divorce is pleasant!), and he still calls every once in a while for advice or to see how things are.
    I’d say as of right now, I have no plans to alter or cover his name. Like I said, it’s just become a part of my body, much like he was a part of my life that I cannot just erase. My new boyfriend has said that it doesn’t bother him. His thoughts are much like mine, the tattoo is significant because I got it during a point in my life which brought me to where I am today.
    Without those experiences, I wouldn’t be this person. So the same goes for my tattoos-and I will never change them.

  4. I think it depends on what the tattoo is. A name of your ex is hard to explain away, while a symbol that has/had meaning of an ex is easier to change. Change your thinking of what that tattoo mean to you. If you have a matching tattoo get it covered up.

  5. A small part of me is a sentimental hoarder, so I tend to keep a lot of stuff and gradually get rid of it over the years. I even had wrist corsages and letters from old high school boyfriends until the end of college. I’ve gotten rid of a lot of things, but it just feels wrong somehow to get rid of letters and things. I also have all my journals since I was 10, so I think I just really like documenting my history.

  6. I personally found it liberating to rid myself of all material gifts from previous relationships. The way I see it, especially now that my husband and I are expecting our first child, closet and storage space in our house is limited. We both would much rather use the space to store items with less baggage and potential negative energy. We both have grown from past relationships and don’t feel the need to hold onto anything to symbolize the changes.

  7. This is a very tough subject for me at the moment. We were getting married this year- except it’s not happening anymore. I’m scared to death at the thought of not being able to be with the love of my life anymore. Of being left alone in a house that I cannot afford to sell (terrible market) and that’s not a home anymore. I’m scared at the thought of having to go throu every drawer, cupboard, closet, to find his stuff. I’m scared of the memories attached to things that were originally mine but that blended into our family habits (his favourite cups for coffee, our special Sunday dinner plates).
    I’m scared about what I’ll have to do with my achingly beautiful wedding dress once I have it. With my lovingly handcrafted 120 favors. With the gorgeous and expensive shoes I’ve worked hard to break into (so no returning). I’ve already put some things – wedding documents, receipts, my gorgeous ring that I miss so much having on my finger, the notebook I used to keep track of things – in a box, my luscious new underwear (thank g I didn’t even take the labels off so I can decide to resell it) back in its pretty bag and away from my underwear drawer. It all sits in a portion of our wardrobe that feels like a morgue right now.
    We only have told two people each so far. We are worried for our future. We desperately want our lives to be like they were a few months ago. I’m so, so scared.

    • I can’t imagine how difficult this is for you. I send you very gentle hugs and hope it gets better for you both soon x <3 x

  8. I dated an artist boy in college, who broke up with me on the day of his gallery opening. I decided to memorialize my love for him and my appreciation for his art with a HUGE chest piece.

    Later, much to my surprise, we ended up dating again and getting married. The bigger surprise was how much he hated the tattoo that was supposed to be about how much I loved him. At the last minute, I had to make changes to my wedding dress because he didn’t want to see them on our wedding day. He said they reminded him of all the people I slept with while we were broken up. (Bonus – he broke up with me to get back with his ex, so I assumed he didn’t care about what was going on in or outside of my pants anymore.)

    Anyway, we got divorced! Yay for me! Except I still have this gigantic chest piece. And you know what? I love it. I worked hard to find the right tattoo artist, I sat through hours and hours of pain, I worked hard to earn the money to pay for the tattoo. As it turns out, the tattoo was more about me all along. It depicts two phoenixes, and the joke/not-joke is “No matter how bad things get in my life, I can always light everything on fire and fly away.”

    • That is a seriously epic way of remembering the past and being stronger for it. Fuck yeah you!

  9. I only keep things that give me happy feelings. This applies to ex things and any memento type things. So I throw out:

    – old suicidal thoughts diaries
    – letters from ex’s that were romantic but now reveal manipulative scariness
    – photos of myself and friends/exs when the relationship ended badly – I instead keep photos of the time without them. It helps that I am very snap happy.

    It also helps that I’ve never been given anything seriously amazing and “worth” keeping like jewelry. I will never get a matching tattoo with anyone, unless it’s something obscure like “we went on a trip and saw turtles and so we both got turtle tattoos” – but we didn’t get tattoos saying “bill and ted love turtle adventures”.

  10. I’m not the sort of person who would get rid of items just because of who bought them for me. Objects and just that: objects. Photographs, letters, documentation of memories and a life crafted together are different. I’ve got my engagement ring, photographs and other keepsake items from my first major relationship. The only reason for this is that he is the father of my child. (A VERY permanent reminder!) I want our child to see, one day, that we were a couple and we were happy once. I want them to have those items as a way of rooting themselves in a history that is not what they know as their life (we split when they were a baby)
    I thought about destroying my journals from the unhappiest points in my life. In those unhappy, heartbroken moments I considered destroying the happy journals. I’m glad I didn’t do either. I don’t want to erase those memories, any of those relationships, be it family romantic or platonic, as they were all lessons and made me who I am today.

    I haven’t spoken with my fiancé about this. Neither of us are jealous of each others past. He had a tattoo that was relevant to a past relationship removed. That was a decision he made prior to our relationship and one I haven’t really weighed my opinion in on. He hasn’t asked if I’ve kept items and I haven’t asked the same of him. I have a child from a previous relationship he loves as if they were his own. We have our boxes that one day we may share with each other, but for now, we seem content leaving the past in a dusty box and not inviting it into our current lives.

  11. The tattoo on my ankle was originally for my ex. I had to come to terms with it and readjust my way of thinking about the symbolism. It was a rough couple of months and I did think about altering it. Though that idea isn’t completely out, it would be difficult since I, of course, chose fairly dark colors the first time around. The man I’m in love with now and who I plan to marry in the fall knows about my ex, about all the choices I made with him, about the tattoo’s original meaning. He loves me for who I am and knows that was part of what made me who I am today. He’s okay with the tattoo. It’s not a name, it’s not anything immediately identifiable as relationship-y.

    Oh and I still have all my old love notes and such in a box somewhere. My engagement ring though? I was finally ready to sell it and it disappeared!

  12. I have only had two major relationships. One started when I was in college, lasted about 4 years, 9 months of which we lived together, and ended a few months before I met the man who is now my husband. I still have a lot of things from my first relationship, but very little that I would consider sentimental. When I moved into my current apartment, which is now the place I share with my husband I got rid of a box of of notes and other romantic things the ex gave me. I hung onto the cards he gave me for birthdays and anniversaries for a long time, but only because I had a collection of every card I had ever received since I was like 12. I did recently cull that though, and I believe I got rid of those. I have several photo albums of me and the ex’s life together, and I will not get rid of those. That was an important part of my life, and I am not trying to erase my past.

    On the flip side, my husband had a the name of one of his ex’s tattooed on his chest FOR YEARS, and I really did resent it. It was the source of more than one drunken argument throughout the course of our 7 year relationship, and I even paid for several laser treatments. At my insistence, he had it covered before we got married. I felt it was symbolic fresh start.

  13. I just brought one of my friends to get her first tattoo. A few years back, her best friend had gotten a rose with the word “True” underneath it when her then-husband got a bleeding heart with “Love” underneath. After their (really awful) divorce, a number of friends stepped up to get new ink to complement hers. Now, her tattoo parallels my friend’s (a Sailor Jerry-style ship on the back of her arm with the word “Tried” underneath) as well as several other clever phrases and images on other friends around the country. She turned a potentially painful image into a reminder of her supportive and loving friend-family!

  14. if I got a tattoo with my SO, it would have to be something I love regardless of her involvement. Like a gravy boat.

  15. My ex and I were together for over 7 years there’s a lot of stuff that is mine that he gave me. Right after the split I got rid of all of the mushy stuff like teddy bears that say i love you, and cards, and pictures. I kept things like my crystal ball, engagement ring, fuzzy zebra blanket (for cold PA nights).
    My first tattoo was bought by my ex, I drew it and the one he got done at the same time, they don’t match but we are in some ways sort of stuck with pieces of each other. I hate the tattoo but only because the “artist” messed it up. I feel like the tattoo represents a time in my life that was different; when i was different and so I find no reason to change it.
    My hubby is aware that i kept some things but he doesn’t care, he knew I had a life before him and the stuff to him is just stuff. As time goes on and I clean out boxes I find things from my ex and usually I find the attachment to them is gone and they hit the good will, trash can, or yard sale piles. I would return some of these things to him but his last words were if i see you again I’m going to kill you.

  16. Hmmm. I hadn’t really thought about this. I have stuff from over the years. Some of it is connected with my exes. As I sit here at my desk I have a ceramic jar that says Eye of Newt that I took in the first divorce. I keep my salt for ceremony in it. LOL When I occasionally think of my first ex, I wish him well and I hope he has made a good life for himself. I feel the same about my second ex. Though that is harder as he keeps screwing up student loan paperwork and pinging my credit. I keep pics of him because he is that biological father of my son, and my son was starting to forget what his father looked like. Things that I acquired during my marriages are still around, I don’t even remember if they were gifts between us because honestly they are mine, and have been for many years. I carry much more emotionall baggage than physical baggage and yes my new Husband helps me with that. I’m learning to let go, mostly my biggest issue was beating myself for choosing such a schmuck to be the father of my son. he’s a nice schmuck but when the chips were down he was simply unreliable and unable to cope. I’ve beat myself for that for a long time. But meh. I’m coming to realize that there was no way for me to see that I would need a husband that was as strong as me to deal with my son’s special needs, and that really that’s not something you can know about someone until you are in the thick of it.

  17. I have a tattoo with my husband’s nick name on it. I’ve told him if we ever split, that I’ll get a cat and name it the same name. Problem. Solved.

  18. I am polyamorous. (It’s relevant to this explanation.) That means I have multiple simultaneous romantic relationships in which everyone involved knows and consents.

    My boyfriend Jack and I have been together about 7 years, but there was a two year period in the middle where we were broken up. Before the breakup, we were engaged, and we got matching ring tattoos. During the breakup, I started the process of getting mine removed, because I never thought we’d get back together and I had a new fiance (who is now my husband.) Then Jack and I got back together and I haven’t finished getting the rest of the tattoo removed because it’s extremely painful, kind of expensive, and I don’t really care to erase it anymore. My husband and I don’t wear wedding rings (they live at home on an altar,) and sometimes people ask about the remnants of the tattoo. Jack still has his. It’s kind of a nice nostalgic symbol, I guess. But he’s not an ex anymore, so it’s only sort of relevant to this thread, I suppose 🙂

  19. My biggest struggle was the jewelry that I received during an 8 year relationship. I felt guilty in the beginning when I started dating my now husband, about wearing the trinkets that I my X had given me. But I got over it because I look at them as the only value I got from that time in my life. I picked out almost all of it, they are all unique & beautiful antique pieces. They aren’t terribly valuable so selling them would get me nothing. My Husband has never expressed concern about them, so at this point why should I bother getting rid of them.

    Side note my husband and I are getting the middle finger of our left hands tattooed with “I love you” it’s an amusing tribute to the fact that we do love each other but in no way take ourselves too seriously. And if our marriage doesn’t last at least we can continue to tell everyone that “I love you but f__K off”

  20. Though luckily I’ve never gotten any of my tattoos for or with an ex (my first was matching with an ex friend, but it’s the pi symbol and spawned a pi collection for me so it has taken on much more personal meaning than it had with her) I do have some things I still keep. I’ve always been a bit of a collector, so many of the things my exes got me are part of those collections. In particular one ex contributed significantly to a collection of “giant microbes ” I still have. Though none of those carry much emotional remembrance any more, the one I do struggle with keeping and always have is the anatomical heart plush he got me. It was at the time a symbol of love, so a part of me still feels weird keeping it. It happens to fit nicely into a growing collection of skulls, skeletons and other anatomical decor however, so luckily I haven’t had to explain its presence to my now-fiance. He never really had any serious relationships prior to ours, so it feels a bit strange to me to discuss them and the items that resulted from them though I know he would understand completely.

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