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The Museum of Broken Relationships puts a twist on tales of heartbreak

The view outside the Museum of Broken Relationships on Hollywood Boulevard.
The view outside the Museum of Broken Relationships on Hollywood Boulevard.
Audrey Ngo/ KPCC

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Love letters, mixed tapes, boyfriend T-shirts and wedding rings. These are just some examples of things that are left behind when relationships end.

When that break up happens, you might consider destroying the relics or crying over them in private, all while bingeing on an obscene amount of Ben and Jerry’s and breakup songs. But now, there’s another option: donating them to the Museum of Broken Relationships.

It's a new spot opening Saturday at the intersection of Hollywood and Highland in Los Angeles. The space isn’t very big. It’s pretty sparse. But scattered throughout are remembrances of lost love: a collection of old cologne bottles that belonged to a dead husband, a wooden spoon given to a philandering ex-boyfriend who liked to cook, and old breast implants that were removed after a breakup (Yes, those are actually on display). 

The idea for a museum of broken relationships came from two artists in Croatia who, themselves, had broken up. The collection traveled the world before a permanent museum was set up in Zagreb in 2010. Here at the L.A. museum, like it’s sister site in Zagreb, all items are donated anonymously. 

For some, donating can be like purging old demons, without actually destroying the keepsakes.

"My best friend likes to tag things she thinks I’ll like on Facebook. So she tagged me 'The Museum of Broken Relationships' and so the first thing I thought of was this dang baby cactus that I cannot stand like, I’m gonna get rid of it."

That’s Kevin. His boyfriend broke up with him just shy of their six month anniversary in February. When they were together, Kevin asked his ex for a love letter as a Christmas present, but he ended up with a cactus."I think the cactus is symbolic of how him and I were never on the same page," he says.

Kevin’s cactus is one of over 250 donations to the L.A. museum. Nearly 100 items will be chosen for the opening exhibition. But why would so many people take something as private as a breakup and make it public? "It’s almost a public shaming in a sense, especially if it was a very particular, recognizable object," says USC Sociology Professor and Marriage and Family Therapist Julie Albright. "In some subconscious way, it’s sort of letting others know how they were done wrong."

 The museum’s president, John B. Quinn, has a different perspective on why people donate. " It’s cathartic to have your story told," he says. "To be able to share with people something that happened in your life that is so important to you."

Next to each item is the story of where it came from. And not every story is about a breakup. Some are far more tragic.

"The object that I keep marinating over is an dress that we received from a girl in Brooklyn," says Amanda Vandenberg, the museum’s assistant director. The dress in question is a reminder of the donor’s eighth grade boyfriend.

"The way that she describes his mannerisms, the way that he looks, it’s so clear that this person is so special in her memory. And he had picked out a dress for her to wear, a dress that he wanted to see her in. And the day that she did go over to see him, she had never put it on, and the very next day, he killed himself," she says.  "And she regrets, all these years later, that she never put on that dress for him."

Kevin, with the cactus, hopes people go see all these items and experience a range of emotions. "I think we live in a world where people are afraid to feel anything and I just, something like this, it’s like how can you go in there and look at these objects and not feel something."

Since breaking up with his ex, Kevin’s moved on. He met someone on a recent trip to Nashville and is optimistic about his love life. But he’ll still head over to the Museum of Broken Relationships to remember.