Mother’s Day is Sunday. Does anyone need to put that on their calendar? If you have a mom in your life and you haven’t already placed an order for flowers/made a dinner reservation/procured a card, now is the time to do so! If you are fortunate enough to have more than one mom in your life (say, your mom, the mother…
You’ve got problems, I’ve got advice. This advice isn’t sugar-coated—in fact, it’s sugar-free, and may even be a little bitter. Welcome to Tough Love.
Nobody enjoys being with someone who is always passive aggressive. If you’re not sure what that looks like, here’s an excellent, and funny, demonstration.
Online dating is either “fun!” or a nightmare, depending on who you ask. Slack, a messaging platform that lots of tech and media companies use for jokes and feigning productivity, could be described in a similar fashion. What if the two combined?
The initial instinct after a messy breakup is to purge. Tearfully erase the person you once considered your soulmate from your life forever. That means getting rid of everything your ex wore, drank, slept on, and ate for breakfast. It's the natural first step toward banishing those painful last months of unraveling compatibility. It's an ex-partner exorcism.
But there are always exceptions, aren't there? The human heart is weak. Birthday presents, cute handwritten letters from the honeymoon phase, weird in-joke objects that you guys purchased back when you were happy together. You'll probably hold onto them for the next 20 years, for no logical reason.
We asked six people to share their relationship relics and explain why letting go sometimes means keeping things.
VICE: What have we got here?
Jasmine: A very well-loved teddy bear.
Tell us your relationship story.
We got together in school and lasted about a year or so. He was undoubtedly parent-approved material—doting, respectful, and frighteningly intelligent. We had an absurd amount of fun together, while somehow avoiding the typical teenage relationship pandemonium. We were both uncommonly pragmatic, given our age. Our level-headed love was honored with this teddy bear. It was on my shelf the day we broke up, and it was still there for many days after. After a while, I had to take a second to remember who had gifted me the bear. In my current home, it is easily my oldest possession, so I think its value lies in the sense of comfort it gives. I would be lying if I said I haven't cuddled with it recently.
VICE: What did you keep from your past relationship, Sam?
Sam: A box filled with things: a mug, a puzzle with a love note written on it, a promise ring, and a handwritten card.
Tell us the story.
I had done something wrong. We had some sort of argument. So she got me this mug. There's a card, too, which says, "Thank you for being the loveliest." The box also has my promise ring in it. I stopped wearing it in 2014 because it broke, and I never got it fixed. We both had one. There is a puzzle in here as well. I was always lousy at doing it. I was one of those kids who would try to force the puzzle pieces into one another.
I keep a box of things from 2014. That was a really hard year for us, because it was the beginning of the end. The entire year was a slow, protracted split. We'd been together for five years at that point. We'd lived together basically for four. We'd moved across the country together, and we were starting a new life in a new city together. That has its own challenges. I was working a job that I really wasn't well-suited for. I was a really difficult person to live with during that time. And I think she got the brunt of that, unfortunately.
We got together when we were 22 and 23. It was true love for both of us. It was that thing where the sun shines brighter, you walk a little lighter, and things start falling into place. It just feels like you're on top of the world, you know? All the clichés ring true. I found I really bought into that.
We didn't split up because we didn't love each other. We loved each other a lot. Even to this day, she's still the love of my life, and she always will be.
VICE: What's this, Elisa?
Elisa: Hand-stitched photographs of skies and flowers that have been dead for two years.
What's the story behind the artwork?
We're both artists, and when we met, he was doing this work that was very difficult to realize. He was using a really ancient way to print on cement. He had spent years and years trying to learn how to do it. But it was just too hard, and at one point, he said that he didn't want to have anything to do with photography anymore.
Photography was something that we shared, something we both loved... I started this project and while I was still working on it, we broke up. Afterward, it became a way to keep the both of us together, even though the relationship wasn't there anymore. It was about not denying that there is a link between us. Even so, I had to take a break for a few months. It was just too painful to make work.
VICE: A bike?
Prudence: Yes, a (slightly stolen) custom-made road bike.
What's the story behind it?
As a 19-year-old getting wooed by a 31-year-old, I felt special and grown-up and interesting. He in turn was also so much more interesting than the high school boys I'd known in the past or others my age. With a considerable age difference, there's a bit of awe that comes into play, as this person has lived a whole lot more life and has so much more to show than yourself. And, in my case, he was a part of a flashy cocktail bar scene that I was fascinated by.
As time went onm the scene started to show some cracks as late nights, party friends, and an unhealthy amount of alcohol start to lose their sparkle. Somewhere along the journey, probably by the time I had realized I couldn't change his ways, we bought a cat. Classic situation of getting a pet to keep your relationship together. We didn't even make it 12 months with the cat before the cracks became too big to fix, and I found myself calling the tall, blond backpacker whose "sofa" he'd slept on increasingly often to politely ask if I was right and they were fucking. No surprises. I was right, and he and I did a good job of avoiding each other for the weekend as I made arrangements to move out.
Come Monday morning I was hauling all my belongings into a friend's car without any real plan about where to live or what to do. With full knowledge and full disappointment that he was going to keep the cat, I asked my girlfriend what I should do with the bike that was "available for me to use," and before I knew it, it was in the trunk, and we were sitting in traffic. I mean, he got to keep our really amazing cat, so.
VICE: What's this?
Ibrahim: A book, The Secret Language of Relationships.
Tell us the story behind it.
I first met Adam on the set of a TV ad for car insurance. I was still coming to terms with being gay; at the time, I wasn't fully open about it. We chatted a bit, and there was some flirting going on, but that was all. The second time we hung out at his place. My heart was racing. All the feels where there. He's a very spontaneous guy, very creative. All of that was definitely part of the appeal.
I remember driving home that night and being in a bit of a haze, a lovey-dovey haze. From then on, we started seeing each other quite regularly. We bonded over music, over film. Till this day, I still listen to some of those songs. It was around the time Plastic Beaches came out, and he had been to the concert, and I remember him playing "On Melancholy Hill" for me. To this day, I listen to that song with affection.
This was during the summer, so it was quite warm. The days were beautiful and long. I remember a golden hue around everything. It was a very romantic time. Still, it was a bit of a fling, a summer thing, and it didn't last long. And yet, I was in love with him. Then he left me and broke my heart a little bit.
He gave me this after we broke up. I think it's pretty symbolic of our relationship because we were both prone to flights of fancy. We both have a romantic conception of things. Relationships don't always have to be romantic; they can be something that persists beyond that. And I think we have that. We still have a bond. I don't think we're ever not going to be present in each others' lives.
VICE: What's your object?
Evie: A bronze sculpture of a hand.
It's beautiful! Tell us more.
We met in school. We were both studying illustration. I thought, and still do now, that he is the funniest guy. I think that's what I instantly liked. He was also the first boyfriend I had whose interests in drawing and painting aligned with my own, so it was basically an added bonus that I liked his work and could talk about it. We did a lot of drawing together; it was awesome.
Toward the end of the relationship, I felt I liked him a lot more than he did me. So when I went overseas by myself, it solidified the feeling that I was too needy and greedy about attention or affirmation. I slept with someone else, and after drawing it out for too long once I returned, we broke up. He gave me this bronze hand for Christmas a few years back, even though we agreed on a strict no-present policy. His dad cast the hand in bronze; it weighs a lot but looks like it is light. I like the muscle-y fingers on it.
I kept it because it is a great object to have and hold; it makes me want to make 3D work. It's inspiring.
Follow Sami Emory on Twitter.
Between all the cocktails, coffees, and meals, the dating life can cost you a pretty penny—a penny that costs more than a really nice computer. This is what the average American single spends on dating every year.
I was seven months sober when I first met my husband, Alex. Our first date was at a Thai restaurant; we went home afterward and had the kind of sex that changes your life, the kind that transcends a quick orgasm and forges a deep connection with another human being. We fell asleep cuddling, watching 80s horror movies.
That was six years ago, and even then I could see the whole trajectory of our lives unfolding in those first few weeks—how happy we would be together, the life we would build. It was plain to me that he would be my everything, and that together, we would be invincible. But this is the same story that everyone has who falls in love—we spin necessary fictions while our brain is steeped in those intense chemical reactions that make us feel amazing and crazy at the same time.
I recently met my friend Isaac at Gym Bar in West Hollywood. We were both going through tough times in our relationships, and we were meeting weekly to talk things through. "I don't think we're going to make it," Issac told me. "Mike and I, we aren't the same people we were seven years ago. He isn't the man I married and fell in love with."
For the past year and a half, Alex and I have gone through the most challenging period of our marriage thus far, and at times I've felt exactly the same way. A misdiagnosis of depression and the wrong medication led Alex into a months-long period of mental and physical chaos—one medication made him sleep all day, another brought on mania. I didn't know how to handle what was happening, and I lashed out in response. Finally, in October, Alex was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. He's since gone through (and is still undergoing) treatment, but there have been moments when I wondered if we would survive.
"Mike thinks opening up our relationship might help," Isaac said. "But everyone says you shouldn't open up when things aren't working. And things definitely aren't working. We haven't fucked in months. He goes to bed at nine, I stay up till two in the morning. We aren't in sync anymore."
Which made me wonder: Are Alex and I in sync anymore?
In those early months of dating, we took a trip to San Francisco. During a long walk through the city, Alex said he thought it was "inevitable" that we'd open up our relationship. At the time, I had my own doubts about that—I didn't think open relationships could work, and I thought polyamory was bullshit. We got into a fight over the definition of the word "inevitable."
Six months later, we had our first three-way. I still remember leaving our friend's apartment after fucking him and high-fiving Alex (yes, we actually high-fived) on the way to the car. We were high on the experience and high on each other.
Thus began a year of sexual exploration, where the two of us learned to trust each other and play together. We experimented with other couples, tried dating a few guys together. We shared our fantasies and looked for ways to explore them as a unit.
But then Alex got a job on the TV show Sharknado, which was shooting in the Pacific Northwest, a thousand miles from our home in LA. Despite the fears I once had, our year of exploration made me realize that opening up didn't mean that we didn't love each other. So we decided to be fully open while we were apart.
Learning to navigate a long distance relationship was hard, but doing so while learning not to constantly freak the fuck out about what my husband was doing with other men made things even harder. I had to accept that I was powerless—not just over individual facets of our relationship, but over everything. What Alex did, who he fucked: ultimately, I had to accept that I had no control over who he was and the choices he made, whether we were "open" or not.
That was a hard lesson for someone like me, who always wants to be in control.
Between the show's first and second season, when Alex was back in LA, we met Jon, the man who would become our live-in-boyfriend. Falling in love with Jon—and watching Alex fall in love with Jon, too—taught me about jealousy and acceptance, about what it meant to truly let go and the true nature of powerlessness.
It was during season two of Alex's show that I met Conor, the guy who would become my other boyfriend. As that relationship bloomed, I once again found myself traveling down a road I hadn't expected. I learned that love was larger and less finite than I had imagined, and that my capacity for love was maybe— maybe—endless.
And in January, while on a trip to London, I met Noah. Initially, I thought Noah would just be an affair, another guy I met along the way. But as things progressed, I realized that we were becoming something more, and like I'd faced before with Jon and Conor, I had to make a decision: Would I travel down this road, too?
Throughout it all, Alex struggled to find the right doctors and diagnosis. There were periods where he went off his meds; our new family therapist explained that this wasn't uncommon for people struggling with bipolar disorder because even though the meds can bring a sense of calm, they can't provide those old mania highs. For a time, Alex moved into a private apartment in the back of our house while he sorted things out for himself.
Jon and I wanted to be supportive, but it took time for us to fully understand what was happening. We each found individual therapists, and we now go to "triad counseling." Even still, the three of us began to feel far apart. Alex, in search of someone who understood what he was going through, began dating a guy in Seattle. Jon was beginning to explore dating other guys, too. Our grand experiment seemed to be taking a new turn.
"I want Mike to be the man he was when we first met," Isaac said to me at the bar. "I don't think I like the person he is now. I don't like how everything has changed. How do you deal with all the shit? It never seems to stop. Everything keeps changing."
People often ask how I manage the changes that accompany not just one relationship, but several—how do I juggle the issues that Alex has faced while maintaining my relationship with Jon, Conor and Noah? With Alex in crisis, how much energy did I have for the other people in my life? The answer is that the more people you have on your side, and the more love you experience, the more support that can be given—the more resources there are to be shared.
If anything, I've learned we are powerless over our lovers and the people they become. I am powerless over who Alex is, just as I am powerless over Jon, Conor and Noah, too. And they are powerless over me. I don't know where any of this will end up. Jon, Alex and I—the relationship at the core of all this—are still moving through some pretty dark waters.
Life can be terrifying, and nothing is guaranteed. Maybe loving someone means simply allowing them to find their own way; maybe it's about allowing them to be who they are, even when that person is no longer in sync with who you are.
These men, I have no idea where or who they will be in a year. I'm powerless over that. But they are my family, and they are the men I chose to love.
I don't know if being in an open relationship is a solution to anything. I'm still not even sure, in the long run, that it works. But I don't think I could have done anything different. I don't regret any of the choices I made. Even in these strange times, I feel lucky. Grateful.
"I just try to hold on," I said to Isaac. "And I do my best to be as kind as possible, to remember that even if things have changed, there was a moment when I fell madly in love with Alex. I try to remember that."
And I've learned not to fight what's happening, but to allow it to take place, and to allow my powerlessness to be my strength.
I am the luckiest man I know. I've had the opportunity to love some of the most amazing men in the world, and I would not trade that for anything no matter what comes, or who we will become in the future.