What do you do when after five years of marriage your husband says he feels stuck and he "probably" doesn't love you anymore? You cram your wedding dress in an old dill pickle jar because you can't bring yourself to look at it anymore -- but you also can't stand the thought of throwing it away.
When this glass vessel is no longer sufficient to hold the totality of your loss, you donate the dress in a jar to the Museum of Broken Relationships, which put the piece on exhibition along with a few other items from the permanent collection at the members-only Soho House in West Hollywood on Monday night.
Museum organizers say they plan to open a permanent location in Hollywood at the end of May. Until then, they are holding pop-up events around town in order to drum up excitement and, more important, awareness. The museum is soliciting submissions, such as the aforementioned wedding-dress-in-a-jar, which hails from San Francisco.
"He's been gone a year and I haven't really known what to do with the dress," wrote the anonymous lender, explaining that she shoved it in a jar "mostly for space reasons but any sort of appropriate pickle metaphors can also be invoked."
The effect of donating an item appears twofold. You have liberated yourself from a painful memory while also enshrining it in the most permanent way possible: as a museum piece. Or as one museum fan pointed out, "Everybody's heartbreak feels like it belongs in a museum."
Founded in 2006 in Zagreb, Croatia, by film producer Olinka Vištica and sculptor Drazen Grubišic after their own four-year relationship went sour, the Museum of Broken Relationships embarked on a world tour that attracted more than 200,000 visitors in 12 countries, organizers say. In 2010, it opened a permanent location in Zagreb.
It was there that John B. Quinn, a founding partner of Los Angeles law firm Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, happened to come across it while on a family vacation and decided it needed a home in the City of Angels. He brought arts consultant and dealer Alexis Hyde on as museum director, and things have been steaming along ever since.
The concept is simple and effective. A single item is placed on a pedestal under a glass case with a short narrative of its provenance. Monday's exhibit featured shorn-off dreadlocks from Oslo that someone's lost beloved tied together using matching sewing thread; a pair of fake sculpted female breasts from Belgrade, Serbia, that signaled the end of a marriage (a woman's husband requested she wear them in bed); and a Texas license plate from a donor who followed a boy to the Lone Star State only to have things end badly.
Viewed together, they represent a sort of Lonely Hearts Club collection that is at once touching in its melancholy and valiant in the raw humor shown via its informational placards, which betray a fierce survival instinct, above all else.
To drive this point home, the one-night-only pop-up event at Soho House featured a series of performances from a group called Public School. It specializes in "charismatics and neurotics" who tell true personal stories to an audience without the use of notes.
Monday's theme was, of course, broken relationships, with speakers bringing along an item to discuss that they would like to donate. It was an exercise in the museum coming to life.
Allison Bennett, a television writer, brought vintage cupcake toppers from her 2009 wedding. Little did she know that six years later her husband would dump her over the phone, she said, and, during a serious discussion about why, break into an overzealous rendition of "Every Day Is a Winding Road" by Sheryl Crow.
And so, another item takes its place in the Museum of Broken Relationships.
Have your own broken-heart story to tell? Send me a picture and the tale, and use the hashtag #brokenships, and we'll post it in a separate story.