My wedding gown has been folded up in a cardboard box since 1991. Even though I designed it and had it custom made just for me, I didn’t bother having it preserved. Of course I’ve thought about throwing it away, yet as the most beautiful dress I have ever worn, I can’t quite bring myself to take it out to the curb.
My daughter doesn’t want it either and I don’t blame her a bit. I suppose I could donate it, but there is that superstitious part of me that worries residual bad luck might rub off on the starry-eyed bride that wears it next. So it remains in storage, still dusted with odd bits of confetti that well-wishers showered upon me 25 years ago.
So I’ve had zero ideas on what to do with my gown. Until I saw the Pickled Wedding Dress.
Now on exhibit at the Museum of Broken Relationships in Los Angeles is a silk floral wedding dress crammed in a pickle jar. It is owned by a San Francisco woman whose husband told her that he felt “stuck” in their seven-year marriage and “probably” didn’t love her anymore.
“He’s been gone a year and I haven’t really known what to do with the dress,” writes the anonymous owner. “Every option has felt wrong. I hate throwing perfectly functional items in landfills and would hate to see someone walking around in my once beautiful but now sadness-infused dress.”
She goes on to say that she didn’t like looking at it either, so she stuffed it down inside a jar “mostly for space reasons but any sort of appropriate pickle metaphors can also be invoked.” Truly inspired.
The Museum of Broken Relationships, which opened earlier this month, has 115 heartbreaking artifacts from jilted lovers – a case filled with mixtapes, a ripped-out payphone, a dried-out prom corsage, excised silicone breast implants, even an ax that one woman used to destroy her cheating husband’s furniture – along with the story behind each of them.
And in case you’re wondering, the museum is open to receiving future donations, too: “Have you ever had a broken heart? 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. Give it to us,” the curators plead. “Donate your object to the museum and take part in the creation of collective emotional history.”
According to the museum’s director, their graveyard of grief receives 10 to 20 new items every day.
Why do we bother holding on to relationship rubble – those love letters, stuffed animals, ticket stubs and other trivial keepsakes left behind in the wake of a break up? It’s probably for the same reason we retain souvenirs of the places we’ve visited: to prove we were once really there.
Although I still have my old wedding dress, it’s not for a sentimental reason but rather, a practical one (how the heck do I dispose of it?). After all, I had no problem clean-sweeping the house of any traces of my ex in what has become known as The Great Purge of 2011. We threw out so much stuff that my shell-shocked son still refuses to call “decluttering” anything but “the d-word.”
Honestly, the only things that remain of my 20-year marriage aside from the dress are photo albums, and a cute hand-painted vase I bought on a beach in Puerto Vallarta 22 years ago. I keep it not to remind me of my ex, but of the only time I’ve been on a winter vacation. In the aftermath of my marriage, I found very little worth saving.
What I think is most interesting about the Museum of Broken Relationships is that it puts the raw emotion of being dumped under glass – or inside glass, in the case of the Pickled Wedding Dress. These are just ordinary objects that mean absolutely nothing to anyone except the person who donated it for the world to see. And yet, it’s painfully obviously that these items are so much bigger and more significant than what first meets the eye, just as a pickle jar can barely contain the totality of that woman’s heartache.
Each strangely intimate, cringe-inducing museum exhibit is an opportunity for its donor to receive a sense of catharsis or closure – and for visitors to get a sense that even after love ends, life goes on.
“Hopefully, you can look back and know that even if it didn’t work out, it contributed to who you are today,” says the museum’s director. “We’re all failing together and we’re all trying to get back up together. And that, I think, is very beautiful.”
What relationship rubble do you continue to hold on to? Why did you choose to preserve it? And what the heck do you think I should I do with my old wedding dress?