Confused: Are you asking this as a rhetorical question? It sounds that way — like a why-me cry of anguish. If so, then I understand. Even when we can think rationally about our current loves’ past loves — and past lives, the “before,” whatever it contained, because there had to be one to make them the people they are — seeing something in hard copy can still have a visceral punch.
If you’re actually looking for reasons, then, okay: Throwing things away can feel just as wrong as keeping them. These are artifacts of a life. Her life. Boxes in basements in flood zones are as good a compromise with herself as any.
Or, she decided to decide later what to do with it all, then forgot about it. (That’s my signature move.)
Or she’s more private about and possessive of her past than you are. It doesn’t have to mean anything bigger than that.
Or, she actively, fully intends to go through this stuff and dispose of it thoughtfully, and has intended to since she first stashed it, and procrastinates like there’s prize money waiting for the one who gets around to it last.
Or she harbors a secret longing for each of these past loves.
These possibilities are in, based on what I’ve seen, roughly descending order of likelihood. Especially since the keepsakes represent relationships-plural, not just one, I find it hard to imagine they have meaning beyond nostalgia — and even then, it’s probably nostalgia more for her youth than for the exes themselves. Seeing as she left them all behind but still has herself. And you.
You probably can learn enough to get past this just by asking her, but only if you avoid putting her on the defensive. You’re hurt, so be sure to spell out that you’re fact-finding, not finger-pointing. “I’m surprised you kept these. Any reason you never mentioned them?” Or, if you can get there, try genuine-and-not-manipulative levity: “Anyone I need to worry about?” Then, wait till you hear her reasoning before you decide you have a problem with it. Possibly the most universally applicable advice there is.
And if you ultimately take issue with her choice, then say so, without finger-pointing: “When I think of these boxes, I feel ___.”
Dear Carolyn: I've been sheltering in place for nine months now, venturing out only to the grocery store, pharmacy and a monthly haircut (in masks always). With the spike in infections and deaths, I decided not to join family from four households for Thanksgiving. I got a lot of negative feedback about my decision and feel really bad about it.
I'm scheduled to host Christmas this year — and family members are telling me they won't follow my desires for separation and the like. Am thinking I ought to pull out from hosting.
Your thoughts about all of this?
— Over 65, Overweight, With Underlying Condition
Over 65, Overweight, With Underlying Condition: Yes, cancel Christmas.
I am sorry for that.
I am sorry for your past nine months of restricted living.
I am sorry your people are acting like toads when all they have to do to show their love is assure you they’d rather have you around for a long and fulfilling life than get their way for one stupid day.
I am sorry I called Christmas stupid.
I hope the toadishness is really that they all miss you and are upset they won’t spend time with you and are just saying this badly.
Keep exercising your freedom in service of community health and against recklessness. Heroism wears a mask and follows guidelines and cancels group Christmas and stands up to the misinformed. Thank you for being brave.
Dear Carolyn: What is the appropriate response to guilt-tripping from an elderly mother who frequently says she'll "probably die from something else" before covid is over and it is safe to visit again?
Anonymous: “I’m doing my part to make sure that doesn’t happen, by keeping my distance now. For us and for all the people like us.
“I do hear you, Mom. This is awful.”
Then in lieu of re-litigating this with her, simply commit to, recommit to, double-down on all of the other means you have available to you to remain connected. All of which are clearly poor substitutes for a hug, but they’re something.
Few can be perfect here, but most can improve .?.?. something. And the more people behave better, the sooner we all see one another. Everyone. It’s on us to remain as compassionate as we are resolute.