Ex on the Shelf

A few months ago when I booked my ticket to come home for the holidays, my mother tenderly and carefully asked: “You think when you’re home, maybe you could go through your room and get rid of some of your stuff?

At the time, I quickly agreed and apologized for keeping so much at the house I grew up in for my parents to look after. While my mom and dad will both promise me that I’ll have a place in their home until I get married (and even after, if I need it) – I know they want to transform my bedroom into something more than a glorified storage unit.

Yesterday, as I went through piles of clothes, boxes full of old notebooks, letters and cards from high school and college, makeup that expired years ago, books I haven’t read in years, and writings that date back to the 1990s – I came across something I had long forgotten about while gallivanting in New York.

The classic ex-boyfriend box.

I’ve heard them called “Love Boxes”, “Remember When Boxes” , “Past Flame Memorabilia” – but inevitably, every single friend I’ve had or just woman I’ve known has some collection of stuff from a man she once dated.

When I pulled down the box, opened it, and discovered what it was – I immediately pulled away. In year’s past, my ex-boyfriend box had been a part of my room I only teetered with in those sad, desperate moments of being a single-something when I wanted to remember what it felt like to be in love. When I wanted to smell an old t-shirt, that while I’m sure lost the scent of the man who gave it to me many moons ago, somehow still reminded me what it was like to be in that comfortable nook. It would be the item I’d use to excuse crying or remind me that while I “simply can’t find love” that I have in fact, been in love, and if I just hold onto these sentiments, I’ll never forget what it was like to be romantically happy.

I sat on the edge of my bed for a little while, gazing at the box, all four flaps open revealing the corner of a blue t-shirt that I knew was from Mr. Idea. I thought about my journey, my experiences in New York, and the growth I’ve been feeling, and knew I didn’t want to willingly push myself into a crying fest.

I mean, if I’m doing a 12-step program to recovery – I can’t purposefully take a few steps backward, can I? C’mon now.

I looked over at the box, racking my brain to try and determine what exactly was inside of it. If it didn’t include any of the men from the city – it was surely jammed-full of every pre-Manhattan dude who swept me away in his arms or swept me under the rug before stepping on it. I remembered the last time I went through the box; just a few days before I headed North – my eyes still swollen from crying myself to sleep more times than I would like to admit over the bittersweet end with Mr. Idea.

But – if I’m ever going to reach a point of self-love, of complete security in my single self, I certainly can’t let the Ex on the Shelf who is looking down at me, keep me from releasing the fear of being sad. Because sometimes, with a little bit of pain, comes a hell of a lot of change.

So, I dug into my Ex-Boyfriend Box of Memories.

I pulled out every last t-shirt and smelled them each. I looked at every picture, smiled at the memory of each man who has had his grip on my heart and my back. I read (and re-read) the words that these men, who at the time absolutely adored me, and felt my heart swell with thankfulness that I’ve been lucky enough to experience the blessing of  love from another person.  I held the ticket stubs and the plane tickets and thought of the experiences I had with each man, regardless if the flame died sooner than I wished upon it, or if the love was real or unrequited.

And not one letter, snapshot from the past, anniversary card, or sweatshirt made me cry. None of them crushed me. And more importantly, the memories this love memorabilia evoked – didn’t sadden me or make me long for old love – but they just made me remember how magical, how powerful, how life-altering, how incredible love can be.

Maybe because the timing wasn’t right, the romance wasn’t compatible, the desire wasn’t equal, the taking was more than the giving or due to him or due to me, or due to us – the love with the men of the box didn’t work out. It wasn’t designed by the fates to be everlasting, unconditional, and concrete enough for the commitment and upkeep of a lifetime. It took me a long time to realize that just because a relationship ended or a man walked away or put on my boots that were made for walkin‘ – that all love was lost. And to preserve those feelings, to hold onto to the images in my head that I valued so much I needed to catalog their apparel, their handwriting, and their handsome faces in a box on a shelf 600 miles away.

As I looked at all of my mementos and physical shadows of boyfriends-past (praying my parents didn’t open my door and ask what I was up to) – I decided I didn’t need any of it anymore. Well at least, not most of it, anyways. Of everything in that rather large box – I kept only two envelopes.  One with a few notes and another with a handful of photos. The rest of it was either tossed away or placed in a box for charity.

Because I don’t need a box to put my past behind glass or keep old love filed away. My exes don’t belong on a shelf – but rather, in special place in my heart, in my soul, and in my mind. And those memories, those images, those moments I shared with some very special men can never be contained to a single box or an entire blog, anyways. They are far too immense and have helped me become the woman I am more than any memorabilia I could ever keep.

After all, the love I’m searching for in myself, in the brilliance of being bold, beautiful, and single, in the bliss that comes with being independent – is partly due to the experiences of the past. Of the love I’ve shared and the heartbreak I’ve endured. Of the reminients of love that linger in my heart and will forever hope to find a love that not only stains, but stays. Of the process of not only admitting to the difficulties of the journey to loving myself, but accepting and learning from them, too.

If I’m going to free my mind and liberate my heart – I can’t keep all the exes on the shelf. Especially when the thought of them no longer makes me yearn, but makes me grateful for what was…and even more excited about meeting the man who I will share my life with, and hopefully much more than what could fit in any box ever created.