The case for keeping your “love fern” when the relationship ends


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For transparency’s sake, I feel compelled to share that this isn’t exactly a How To Lose a Guy in 10 Days “love fern.” For one, we didn’t share custody; the plant was mine. Her best friend and her best friend’s boyfriend gifted it when the four of us were painting our new apartment—which wasn’t ours, exactly.

The one-bedroom was mine and she didn’t formally live with me in it, but it finally offered some privacy from my former roommates and her current ones. Despite not sharing the lease, we shared the space whenever we wanted—its solitude, its newly painted walls, its plant; all firsts for me.

Less than a year later, all of it crumbled. Leaks and bed bugs and a winter without heat and a caricature of a diabolical New York City landlord resulted in the decision to tear it all down and pack it all up: repaint the walls back to that awful off-white and take down the shelves, the artwork, and, of course, the plant, which had been suspended near a window, flourishing, and glowing in the sunlight beautifully, naïvely. We dismantled the apartment together; three months later, she dismantled us.

Like many who get dumped, I was forced to purge lots of things, either because they belonged to or reminded me of her. I piled together a T-shirt of hers I’d kind of accidentally stolen and worn more than my own clothes; same with her button-down, her bomber jacket, her socks, her hoodie. I’m sure there was other stuff, too, but its existence has been swept away in the since-repressed memories of the day we swapped each other’s belongings. Separately there was the stuff I’d tossed or donated. Her toothbrush, the shirt (my favorite one) she’d gotten me, a sweatshirt she’d made for me, all the books she’d given me, the monogrammed money clip, the photos on my phone, most of the letters she’d left on my bed over hundreds of mornings.

Some stuff was easy to discard, while deciding what to do with other items prompted an internal battle. On the one hand, I wanted scorched earth: the complete erasure of items and photos and memories as emotional self-preservation. On the other hand, there was the allure, the siren song, the thousand-moon-level gravitational pull of needing to preserve and revisit the joy of the relationship and the grief of its end. So I kept some stuff. A few of her letters. Her old speakers she’d given me (no sentimental value there, just good bass). A couple pieces of art we’d collaborated on, which I still have mixed feelings about. And of course, the plant. Not our plant, as I mentioned, but a plant for us, about us.

When we were together, the plant was about us: “watering” and “growing.” When we broke up, it was about everything we shared and the things that were stripped away. Maybe now it’s about everything that lasts.

Part of me feels the silent disapproval of Marie Kondo, Emperor of the Minimalist Universe. She’d, of course, challenge me ask to myself, “Does it spark joy?” to which the answer would be…not really. In fact some days, even years after the breakup, the plant hurts. Hurts to water. Hurts to think about. So is holding onto it nothing beyond masochistic? A visual reminder of a cautionary tale to myself? I’m reminded of a certain peril of wisdom from Kondo: “When we really delve into the reasons for why we can’t let something go, there are only two: an attachment to the past or a fear of the future.”

My reasons have probably changed as the plant’s significance has changed, hitting on both of Kondo’s reasons along the way. It’s funny how we imbue inanimate objects with meaning, and then watch that meaning evolve with the circumstances of our lives. When we were together, the plant was about us: “watering” and “growing” and the other flora metaphors that write themselves. When we broke up, the plant represented everything we shared and the things that were stripped away. Back then, it was about everything we lost; maybe now it’s about everything that lasts.

Maybe it’s an embodiment of the things I cultivated in me, which the demise of the relationship couldn’t take away: how to give more of myself than I ever thought capable, how to say “I love you” without fear, how to invite someone into my life and watch her ignite it with a whirlwind of color and music and laughter and joy, how to do it all and get hurt so badly and never regret a moment. The plant reminds me of the things I received that I never knew I wanted or deserved. It reminds me of what I’ll someday give to someone else. It reminds me of all the things that were taken and, ultimately, all the things I keep.

Here’s how yoga might help you through a heartbreak. Plus, how to manifest your breakup pain into personal empowerment.

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