At a long-ago birthday party, my cartoonist friend Peter gave me a framed piece of his artwork. As he handed it over, he said, “This is for you, so no matter what happens with him, it’s yours.” At the time I thought it was weird. After all, my boyfriend and I were never ever going to break up.
When my boyfriend dumped me a few months later, Peter’s painting was the first thing I packed.
Though The New York Post recently ran a story about couples signing “pre-prenups” before marriage is even on the table, most cohabiting, or even co-existing, couples don’t bother. I mean, if it’s legalities you want, either get married or go down to City Hall and register as domestic partners.
And besides, without kids or shared property, what’s the law going to do for you? Gifts are one thing, but what of the random detritus that gets left behind? Is Johnny Law really going to help you get your Ramones shirt back? Probably not. So most couples figure this stuff out themselves.Kendra, a project manager from Brooklyn, worked out a unique solution with her college boyfriend. “We used to buy expensive records together—collectibles, mostly bootlegs—and would take turns being the one with ‘custody,’” she reported. “The agreement was that if we broke up, whoever had custody had to make a recording of it for the other person.”
But sometimes you just want the other person—along with any reminders of them—gone. “As this one ex was explaining why we he didn’t feel like he should have to pay for half my abortion, I just grabbed a shopping bag and went around the apartment, throwing his crap into it,” my friend Justine tells me. “I didn’t want any follow-up visits from him.”
I’ve certainly lost my share of stuff to exes, but peace of mind has always been worth more than arguing about its return. (Yes, Kevin, that means you can keep the $100 I “loaned” you—not that you were planning on ever paying me back anyway.) It’s the intangibles that I’ve always found harder to divide.
I mean, can you really legally ban someone from showing up at the bar you two used to frequent? I know of one couple who agreed to alternate trivia nights at their local bar after they split. My friend Jennifer banned a long-ago ex from their neighborhood Whole Foods. “He kept to our agreement for a year,” Jen reports. “He said he preferred the cheese counter at the store across town, but lately I keep bumping into him. Maybe their cheese selection went downhill.”
Friends can be another kind of collateral damage. When Jill* broke up with Jack*, they ended things gracefully and he assumed things between them were fine. Until New Year’s Eve, when their friend Melissa decided to uninvite him to her party because Jill would be there with her new boyfriend and Melissa didn’t want any awkwardness. “I would have never done anything to make her feel unwelcome,” Jack tells me, obviously still annoyed at the slight. “Can you make sure you describe Melissa as ‘slovenly?’” he adds.
Megan’s* ex-girlfriend Sandy* was even worse. Sandy let Megan keep the apartment they shared on the condition she cut ties with all of their mutual friends. Megan agreed to her ex’s wacko terms, with the exception of one couple. “She never spoke to either of them again,” Megan says. Another mutual friend got back in touch only after five years of banishment. Hopefully Sandy’s not reading this or it’s back to the doghouse for him.
Without children to argue over, animals are probably the biggest breakup bone of contention. One of my co-workers made a valiant attempt to keep the dog she didn’t even live with. “I tried to claim custody,” she laughs. “But he had a freezer full of the dog’s special meds, so he won.”
Thirty-two-year-old illustrator Kristin reluctantly left her cat behind when she and her live-in broke up. “I knew he was her favorite because she would lick his stinky armpit and sleep on the dirty underwear that he’d leave all over the apartment,” she says ruefully. “I couldn’t deny her the man-stink.”
I guess a pre-prenup would work in animal custody cases, but call me a cuddly, wuddly romantic because it seems like planning for the demise of a relationship is a bigger harbinger of a breakup than tattooing the other person’s name across your knuckles. Speaking of which, the only thing my current boyfriend and I would fight over is our cat, Inky. Which may be why he got Inky’s likeness and name tattooed on his bicep. How am I going to argue with that? I know how Judge Judy would rule.