My Breakup Ritual

Ashley Lauren Samsa bought CDs to commemorate the end of a relationship with old boyfriends. She answers why she’s kept those CDs all these years.

When I was packing my things to move in with my husband, I came across an old shoebox underneath my bed at my mom’s house, where I had moved back after living on my own for two years in order to afford grad school. I pulled the shoebox out, dusted it off, and opened the lid. Inside were all sorts of ghosts from relationships past: mixed CDs with cover art so beautiful they were artifacts rather than musical compilations, a sterling silver ring engraved with song lyrics, and tickets from various concerts. I smiled as I remembered the situations behind the contents of the box. For a second, I thought about taking the box with me, but then decided against it. What place does a box of memorabilia from past relationships have in my new, more permanent one?

That box did, however, have a place in my mom’s home. Her home, where I grew up, was also a symbol of my past. It seemed fitting, then, that she keep the box among other keepsakes—my baby clothes, the rocking chair that sat in the corner of my nursery, my prom dress. I gave the box to her and asked her if she could keep it for me. She didn’t open it or ask what it was; she just knew, and she knew how important it was to keep such things. I, like Emily Heist Moss wrote about recently, keep the stuff my exes gave me.

What that box didn’t contain, couldn’t contain, were my greatest reminders of relationships gone sour. Starting with my first relationship in junior high and all the way up until the last relationship before I met my husband, every time a relationship ended, I would soothe my wounds with a new CD. Somewhere along the line, my friends and family started referring to these as “breakup CDs.” They even joked to my husband that they didn’t know how I’d find any new music now that I wasn’t going to break up with anyone anymore.

As you can probably tell by my list of shoeboxed artifacts, music has been a huge part of my relationships, and my life. One particular relationship centered so much around music, in fact, that we seemed to have little else to talk about. Our dates consisted mostly of wandering around the music section in the local Borders, listening to samples of CDs on the in-store headphones. Like Borders, we eventually declared relationship bankruptcy and shut down. When we broke up, though, he called me the next day to ask what CD was his breakup soundtrack.

I used to keep a list of the names of men I had dated and what CD I purchased to mourn the end of the relationship. It no longer matters to me. Maybe this is because I am now happily married and no longer concerned with such things. More likely it is because the music has become a reminder of the time period in which I listened to it rather than the heartbreak it accompanied. I cannot listen to “Crash” or “Busted Stuff” by Dave Matthews Band without thinking of high school and long, fall Friday nights at football games. I cannot listen to “Hail to the Thief” by Radiohead without thinking of lying in the quad under the stars in undergrad, contemplating the universe. I cannot listen to “Boxer” by The National or “Our Endless Numbered Days” by Iron and Wine without reliving the tumultuous years at my first job, living alone away from family and friends.

These albums started as a way to commemorate breakups and ease the mourning process and, though they are in boxes in my mom’s basement among other things from my past, the songs cannot be boxed up. Every time I hit shuffle on my iPod or hear a song on the radio I had all but forgotten, it is a powerful reminder of the life I’ve lead, of how far I’ve come and how much I’ve grown. If that’s not worth hanging on to, what is?

Ashley Lauren Samsa is a high school English teacher and freelance writer in the suburbs of Chicago. She is currently blasting music with her husband in their brand new house, where they live with their dog, Penny. She writes about feminism, relationships, and teaching at her own site—Small Strokes (—and Care2 ( You can follow her on Twitter @samsanator.

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