Dear Exes: I Kept Our Songs & Movies For Myself

They’re mine now.

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I don’t like saying goodbye. To entertainment. Human goodbyes are fine with me. If you have a pulse and a social security number, peace be with you. But if you were made in Hollywood or were perhaps nominated for a Grammy at some point, stay with me. This fact about my charming personality becomes most relevant when we’re discussing works of art that I have, at some point in my personal history, associated with another human being. You do the same thing. “Our song.” “Our movie.” “Omg that’s our TV show, we love it.” That shit.

Having an Our Song is perfectly acceptable behavior. Mildly annoying when you tell anyone outside the relationship of its existence, but I get it. It’s cute, it’s nice to have a bond with another person over art. I’d actually love to have an Our Painting or an Our Architecture Style with someone someday. But problems arise when the person with whom you’ve claimed the song or movie suddenly becomes someone who is at best no more than a casual acquaintance and at worst someone upon whom you wish great ill.

My question is this: Who gets it? Who gets to keep the thing you previously claimed together? Is it just one of you? Do you both throw perfectly good entertainment in the bin for fear you’ll…I don’t know, remember someone? Who gets to keep the good stuff? I know my answer: I fucking do, that’s who.

As I sat on my couch watching When Harry Met Sally on New Year’s Day, a fine activity I might add, I remembered how the film was one of the very first “things” I’d ever had with someone. It was our film, we would often quote lines or entire scenes to one another. We were also very well behaved 16-year-olds who didn’t do drugs or have sex or anything else I was supposed to learn how to do before college. No, we watched Harry and Sally and loved it and it occurred to me right around the scene in the deli that I ain’t giving this up for nobody.

And why should I? Why should anyone? Why should we allow relationships that no longer exist to paint over works of art that always will? These are not glasses of milk we’re talking about, they’re some of the very best examples of human creativity. They never spoil, not unless we let them. We can have relationships with artwork too, you know.

I’m keeping them, all of them. I’m reclaiming certain beloved works of art as belonging exclusively to me, and no one else. I am removing any attachment or nostalgia that I once attributed to these songs and films such that I can enjoy them without so much as an errant memory creeping its way in at any point in time. Breakups are hard enough without losing the best part of the relationship, thank you so much.

The first time I ever saw The West Wing, I watched every single episode of it with another person. It was very much Our Show, in a way perhaps no show has ever Our Showed before. It’s seven goddamned seasons long, it accounted for a significant portion of the time we spent together at all. At the end of our relationship, both of us had a bigger problem parting with the show than with the other fucking person. We split the DVDs by season, and no sooner was his car around the corner than I was on my way to Best Buy to replace the ones he’d nabbed. The things we do for love.

In truth, I haven’t thought about any of the humans with whom I once shared affinities for certain cultural mainstays in years. But this is the first time I’m thinking about how consciously and uncompromisingly I made the choice to stop associating things I love with people I used to. I must say, it’s very freeing.

The toughest one is “The Light.” “The Light” is a song by Common that was released in 2000 and as far as Our Songs go, it’s aces. I loved that song before the relationship I attached it to, and I’ve learned to love it after. But I didn’t always, and I’ve wondered how I made the change. The easy answer is time. It’s really tough to care about something that mattered to you romantically when you were 18. Thank god.

Now, being 20 years older than that, I think there’s more to it than just calendar distance. I think there’s a way to do it whether the relationship is freshly severed or long since cremated. I think we have to learn to see past relationships for what they actually are: educational. If we see them as lessons folded into the curriculum of our lives, it becomes easier to divide our feelings, and conquer them.

I think it’s hard to hear and see things we associated with past love because art and love are both emotional things. We feel for both people and art, it’s possible to love both. But it’s really, really hard to love school. So if an old relationship ever feels like a pain in the ass not because of the person, but because of the entertainment, try to stuff the person into the educational corner of your mind so that the music, movies, and television can have your whole heart within which to roam free.

That’s one plan, the other is to approach future relationships with more caution, and remember that if you’re going to have an Our Song, make it something shitty, just in case.


Shani Silver is a writer and podcaster based in Brooklyn who writes on Medium, frequently.

NPR once called me a humor essayist, let’s go with that. Host of A Single Serving Podcast. shanisilver[at]gmail

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