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Parallax - Advice

September 3, 2001

The missing stuff...

Dear Conversely,

Ask us a Question!My ex-boyfriend and I broke up six weeks ago. I have returned every item of his, but I have yet to get my things back from him. He refuses to talk to me or be in the same place as I am (we still have mutual friends). I waited for a month, and then left him voice mail, asking for my things. I know there's nothing else I can do but wait. My question is, 'Why won't he give my stuff back if he doesn't want any more contact with me?' It just doesn't make sense. Email to a Friend

Her view:

Dear Mismatch,

There are several reasons he may want to hang on to your stuff: 1 - He likes your stuff and hopes you'll forget about it; 2 - He likes the idea of still having things of yours; 3 - Keeping your stuff guarantees future communication; 4 - He's mad and is keeping your stuff for spite; or the classic 5 - He is offering your stuff on eBay, and it's selling. I can go on, but I think you get the point. Here is the real question for you, 'How much do you want your stuff?' What did you leave at his place...sweatshirt, book, lip balm?? Are those items really needed, or can you gracefully let this go and call it 'sunk cost.'

If you can live without those items I would just move on. If you cannot let this go, and 'said stuff' is too important, have a mutual friend go over and fetch it for you. Maybe he is avoiding a direct exchange with you - for whatever reason.

Exchange through a friend lets him off the hook more easily, and you can be free to mosey along. There is always one last resort, which is to wait outside his place and when he shows, say, 'Oh, perfect timing. I just swung by to pick up my stuff.' I think, at that point, he will have no choice but to allow you to collect your items, never to return. At least there is one benefit to all this - you'll have no doubts about whether or not the two of you should have ended the relationship. There's nothing like bad breakup behavior to allow you to move on 'sans regrets.'

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His view:

Dear Mismatch,

If you want to know why he doesn't return your things, I suggest you leverage your mutual friends and ask them to find out for you. Of course, I could offer a few theories. For example: He likes to collect memorabilia; he can't be bothered; or he's lost them. But given the wealth of clues you provided about your ex, and the circumstances of your termination, well, my guesses are as good as my colleague's.

And speaking of her, I'm sure she's going to suggest you just let go of these items, as their retrieval looks hopeless.

Okay, now that you're done digesting that huge pearl of insight, let me set the parameters straight.

First, gifts are gifts. You shouldn't expect them to be returned. I know you probably don't, but I know countless fools who think gifts expire. If it's personal stuff that you lent him, then you should have made the terms of the loan very clear. Finally, if these are things you left behind - carelessly - then how much could you really care for them? If you do care a lot, and perhaps you do, then you should have kept a hostage to bargain with.

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