My Boyfriend Saves Mementos From His Exes, But Not From Me. Should I Be Mad?

couple having an argument

My boyfriend of nearly 4 years asked me to go through his file cabinet to find papers he needed for work. Upon doing so, I noticed two folders behind the one he wanted me to look for that had his ex-girlfriends’ name on them. They were filled with love letters, pictures and other things. Mostly love letters. When I confronted him about these folders he told me that he wanted a record of his history and that he probably had a folder of his other ex-girlfriend and one for me. Well, there aren’t folders for either of us. More importantly me. He says that he isn’t interested in her more than friendship, so why would he still need to hold on to love letters from her, pictures of the two of them, mementos and – oh by the way, did I forget to mention he said he wished he’d kept more mementos (which he makes fun of me for keeping from us)? Thanks,


Some people collect snowglobes, some people collect ex-girlfriends. And the longer we live, the more stuff we’re saddled with.

Dear Marina,

The older you get, the more stuff you accumulate.

Some of this stuff is comprised of possessions: Ex. My wife has over 75 pairs of shoes.

Some of this stuff is comprised of emotional baggage: Ex. My wife has an ex-husband.

Some of this stuff is comprised of cumulative life experience: Ex. I have dated over 300 women.

For many of us – yourself included, I suspect – we ARE our life experience. Some people collect snowglobes, some people collect ex-girlfriends. And the longer we live, the more stuff we’re saddled with. George Carlin did a great routine on this, you may recall.

So who’s to say when is a good time to throw out your memories? Apparently, you are. After all you want your 4-year boyfriend to throw out his memories right now, because you feel threatened.

But it’s not the love letters themselves that bother you – it’s the fact that he doesn’t have a folder for you. Has it occurred to you that this may be because he’s happy with you? That perhaps someone gets a folder when their 8 months together goes kaput, and he consolidates and consigns their entire relationship to a manila envelope? All I know is that you’re the one dating him; not the women whose yellowed love letters are stuffed into a drawer.

On a more personal note, I’m about the most sentimental guy in the world. I save everything: certificates from sixth grade spelling bees, well-written college term papers, birthday cards from summer camp, and, needless to say, every email and photograph I’ve ever received from women I was dating for a time.

What’s the pathology behind this? Beats the hell out of me. Probably started with my mom, who also saved everything, and now lives with her husband in a 5 bedroom house filled with “stuff”. All I know is that it’s hard for me – and my wife – if you must know – to part with anything that had meaning at one time or another.

It doesn’t mean he’s not satisfied. It doesn’t mean the feelings linger. It doesn’t mean, well, ANYTHING.

All I know is that if he throws out those photos and letters, he’s effectively ERASING that chapter of his life – like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. And most of us, presuming things aren’t too painful, don’t WANT to erase those chapters and rely solely on faulty memory. We like digging into the archives once in a blue moon to jar our consciousness, to stir up a story. My dad had a photo in a drawer under his nightstand – which I found when being a disrespectful teenager. It was some high school crush. Next to it was an old packaged, long-expired condom. This was probably all he had left from his life in 1963, and who could begrudge him that. Certainly not my mom, who nicknamed the high school girl “Elvira”, after her big brunette hairdo.

That’s the thing about trusting relationships: the past is there, but it is no threat to your present.

And that’s the thing about trusting relationships: the past is there, but it is no threat to your present.

My wife can probably rattle off 20 women that I’ve been with – and tell you the funny stories of how we broke up. I would highly suggest that if you want to be this man’s wife, you get with the program – instead of getting jealous of his fading memories.

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  1. 1

    When I was packing to move to my current apartment, I went through my filing system, among other things, to weed out the things I didn’t need to pack and bring with me.
    There were two thick folders with love notes and other stuff relating to my ex-husband. I thought to myself, “Why am I keeping these still, I don’t even have any INTEREST in re-reading them?” And, of course, threw them out.

    My point being, this kind of stuff only has sentimental value when there is still a sentiment.

    1. 1.1
      Ha fern

      i have a situation very much the same. My bf   has pictures of other women on his computer but not one of me.
      he pointed out another picture out to me he had on his phone of a half naked celebrity not one of me.   we went on holiday and a tourist asked if we wanted a photo together and he said we had enough however we had none.
      we then went on a works night out where he and a work colleague had photographs of them very close to each other and flirting. Yet none of me or us?????

      i think you should confront him, maybe in a joking way ask to see your file or that you would like to add something to it for him . Maybe then you can find out like me, what the difference is and why he has no file for you?   

  2. 2

    This is tough for me, too – especially because I threw away almost everything before moving in with the BF because I wanted a clean slate. He kept EVERYTHING.

  3. 3

    Though he keeps everything from us, too…

  4. 4

    I wonder if dating questions like this one will still be asked in 10 years. Will people archive old text messages and emails?

  5. 5

    The thing that struck me about this letter is not that the boyfriend keeps mementos (I happen to think it’s unreasonable to ask anyone to throw out old love letters), but that he actively discourages his current girlfriend from keeping mementos. Either he’s sentimental or he’s not, and his making fun of her for wanting to hang on to their stuff just seems odd to me.

  6. 6

    from 1#
    “My point being, this kind of stuff only has sentimental value when there is still a sentiment.”

    I disagree – That is part of me.. what _I_ was at the time, and that can’t be a threat to anyone who has sane head on the shoulders. It is the same as the other would think that there is “sentiment” towards my highschool year pictures etc..

    I really really dislike people who think that I should forget what I was, what was before their time. No person is worth that, then he just is unsuitable because he thinks he has a right to control me and what I feel and think.
    No thanks – btw, and that is one of those things why I don’t like that many women, since they are behaving like are entitled to dictate what their partners have – as friends, or as mementos (or memories)

  7. 7

    “I wonder if dating questions like this one will still be asked in 10 years. Will people archive old text messages and emails?”

    I do, I save every email that I can, (I even copy text messages to my computer from my mobile before deleting them from the hand set), when my email from my student time closed, I forwarded all of those (personal) emails to my gmail. There they are still, and I like to know that I can check (if I want to) what I was at the time.
    It is a sort of a diary of my life, if you want some sort of comparison.
    (I dislike to diary-writing because it is not interactive).

    I never look at what I save, but they are part of my past, and I keep them – every last one of them.
    That person who says I have to delete them.. is out of my life as soon as those words are uttered.

  8. 8

    My boyfriend keeps every e-mail he has ever received since he was 18 (at least every e-mail from a real person…obviously he deleted spam or account information he no longer needs).

    That is 12 years of e-mails at this point.

  9. 9

    that’s precisely it – I am no longer the same person (including the fact that I am no longer a person who could marry someone like my ex-husband – something I feel was one of the biggest mistakes of my life). Why hold on to the past?

    Whatever, though, I am not trying to impose my opinions on anyone (never had to deal with that in relationships either, thankfully).

    But in this case, yes, exactly, what’s so telling is that the present relationship doesn’t seem in the same league of importance to the guy. I don’t know how she put up with that for four years.

  10. 10

    I used to keep everything, but I’m now in the process of Just Not. I don’t keep a memento of anything now without throwing something else out.

    I’m convinced, largely as a result of encountering multitudes of losers turning their lives into monuments to their youth, that Nostalgia is cancer of the soul.

  11. 11

    Heh, like I said – I don’t look at them, but they are MINE.

    I don’t look back.. in the way you describe as Nostalgia – I am suprised at times, how things went.
    Like when I worked in Norway for several months, I had a email discussion with the employer, what mistakes I did (not insisting that everything was written down), and what I learned there (get everything to the paper, so they don’t say afterwards that “sorry, you get this much salary, not what we spoke before”).

    Same with other things, I use them to analyse situation, not to live “in emotion, or in history”

    Someone more wise said, that those who ignore history, are abound to repeat it..

    I agree with that, also with personal relationships. Some have same problems over and over again, since they incapable of change, as they just want to forget.

  12. 12

    I save photos for the same reason others have mentioned, they’re a record of my life from a period of time. Cards and letters tend to get thrown out some point after a breakup – “cleaning house”, moving on. I might wonder about someone who saved old love letters if they were serious about me, but I suppose that would depend on what else they saved. I know people who save every birthday card they ever receive, utiltiy bills going back 5 years, manuals to things they no longer own – pack rats.

    What’s curious about this letter is why it’s bothering Marina after 4 years together. If he’s clearly not carrying torch for the ex… And it does seem odd he’s not saving HER cards and letters if he has a sentimental/saver mentality.

  13. 13

    I am one who keeps memento’s. I have an antique trunk, which holds, my cap and gown, an old “tigie” which was my bestfriend when I was really small. A scrapbook that my first LTR and I kept together full of everything from tickets, hair, a safety pin that held significant meaning, etc.

    When I started seeing my ex-husband seriously, he took it upon himself to clear out a photo album of all the pictures of men that had held any significance in my life. I resented him for that.

    Even though we are now divorced (from a marriage that never should have taken place) that ended bitterly, those photo’s taken through our years together, are very important to me. Not because I want to have anything more than friendship, or not, with any of them, they were all part of my life, and who I am today, whether good, bad, or ugly.

    Even though (in most cases) we aren’t, and know we aren’t, we all like to think we were our lovers first real love. So if I were to enter a LTR now, they would not be kept in a place that would cause them to be a constant reminder, they will be going with me.

    searchingwithin´s last blog post…The Casual Sex Debate – Couldn’t Help But Add My Two Cents

  14. 14

    I dunno, Evan. Keeping momentos of exes are not the same as collecting shoes. Sure, we all have our past relationships, but if this guy really wanted to hold onto this stuff he shouldn’t make it so obvious to his gf out of respect for her.

    Think of it this way – how would you like if if your wife held onto her old wedding photos and love letters from her ex (with whom she was still in touch) in a spot where you could easily find them, but didn’t carry your wedding photo with her?

    My ex used to write some of the most romatic letters to me, but if I were to get serious with someone I wouldn’t flaunt them or expect the new guy to be comfortable upon seeing them.

    But there’s anothe issue here. It would’ve been one thing if Marina’s bf had just left it at that. But he even said he’s ‘only interested in friendship’ – indicating he’s still in touch we her, and wishes he had more momentoes. So what if he’s with Marina instead – obviously this other gal broke his heart and he’s unable to move on. And as long as Marina allows this to happen he never will.

  15. 15

    If you don’t know where you came from, how can you know who you’ve become?

  16. 16

    I totally feel the same as JuJu and Downtown gal as I’m dealing with the same thing in my new 8 month relationship. My guy has an old grateful list lying beside his bed with his previous ex’s and her son’s name as 3rd in place. I just happened to read it hoping my name would be on it but I was kinda shocked. As well, I told him this and left his place and he called me and thought I was snooping through his drawer regarding a “Love letter from God” given to him by his ex. I didn’t even know about this one. I felt hurt because there is nothing of me in his room and I really don’t feel like spending anytime in his bedroom as it surely doesn’t put me in the “MOOD!!”. He said he didn’t mean to offend me and he really likes the “Love Letter from God” as it doesn’t mean anything to him that it’s from her. He was blaming my bad reaction to this on my inner child work that I have been doing. I thought “no,no,no”. In the metaphysical sense, everything has energy and these physical items carry energy that BLOCKS new energy from coming in. There is energy in those things which leaves no space for new love. I believe it isn’t fair for me to contend with these memories. Now, I have to approach him on this subject without him resenting me. My feelings count and I need to deal with it so we both win.

  17. 17

    I think you are incorrect and if it didn’t mean anything it would not be there. Working on a subconscious level, you will find reasons. I can tell that this therapists is not into Freud and does not go very deep in to the psyche. This is holding onto memories and the past and not being able to simplify and move on… for whatever reasons. We have a life and a history but lets keep that in the soul, not into materialistic accumulations or else fetishes.

  18. 18

    In the West we never seem to get the relationship courtesy right- it is for us and what we want, yet we are not so concerned with how other people feel. If your partner holds onto stuff and does not respect your feelings then find someone else who does. Nobody wants to see a bunch of stuff from someone’s ex(es). If we all married once and had happy marriages and no issues then these problems would not exist. SO find someone else who has similar feelings about it as you then you will find your match. We all have a right to feel and if things from the past bother us then those feelings we have should be respected. I am glad to hear that Americans have so much room in their homes that they can accumulate mementos and collect pics and love letters to be able to put them into envelopes- this is not the case in other cultures where housing is not as roomy and junk cannot be collected, otherwise it takes up to much living space.

  19. 19

    I think everyone is different and it’s all in the way we treat that memorabilia also.   If we have strong emotion or longing every time we look at them then we haven’t moved on.   I see my exes as friends and the positive experiences I don’t mind recalling, however the rest I prefer not having frequent reminders of my mistakes.   I’ve challenged myself in the past and I hung onto to everything, I was hanging onto to everyone from my past to where I wasn’t living and enjoying the present.   I don’t think it’s necessary to keep pics or love notes of past lovers, especially if you’ve moved on, you know you’re no longer that person, you have the memories and that’s plenty and especially if it’s hurting the love that you’re currently with.   The physical things are merely to help the ego feel reassured.
    Clean out the baggage and stop living in the past.

  20. 20

    My boyfriend has pictures of his ex all over the place but not one of me. I started seeing him in January of 2010 and it was March 2010 before I got to come see him again. I am not aloud at his house other than to come and pick him up. What could possibly be the deal here.

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