They came in anger. They came in pain. They came in bitterness.
They came to feed old letters, once-cherished photographs, tender notes and adoring cards of happier Valentine’s Days into a little black shredder. Over the course of Saturday night, its metal teeth would gnash the mementos, its bin spilling over with tattered scraps of disappointed love.
This was the fifth annual “Shred Your Ex” at D.C.’s Bottom Line bar, where the lovelorn came to settle old scores, at least in their own minds, and put the past behind them. The event is part of a popular Anti-Valentine’s Day movement of parties, gatherings and even merchandise that’s gained steam in recent years. Some are protesting what they call the consumerist Romance Industrial Complex. Others celebrate Feb. 14 as “Singles Awareness Day.”
They want the world to know that Americans are increasingly living alone and that many are perfectly fine without love, thank you very much. And, of course, those unlucky in love are big players in the movement. They’re the ones buying the balloons that say, “I’m Not With Stupid Anymore”; the T-shirts that announce, “Love Is for Losers”; and the cards with sad, gray hearts that read, “Sigh.”
Joya Patel, 23, of Burke clutched a black-and-white photocopy of a picture of a chiseled man wearing only tight, black shorts and striking a bodybuilder’s pose. “I know, he’s hot, right?” she nodded to onlookers as she approached the shredder perched on the end of the bar. “I wanted it to work out, but it didn’t. He blew it.”
She dramatically raised the photo of the man she said she’d dated over the summer, who used to send her flirty texts and leave sweet and sexy sticky notes on her locker at the gym. She fed the picture into the maws of the shredder, and in an instant it was torn to bits, like her heart had been.
She pumped her fist in the air and let out a howl. “WHOOO!”
The crowd cheered.
Sitting directly in front of the shredder, Ivan Aguilar, 28, clapped wildly. He himself had shredded an old love a few years ago. “It felt good to shred her name to pieces. We’d been together for three years, then broke up over something really stupid. It was like a release,” he said. “Then I met my current girlfriend here.”
He smiled at Ashleigh Delaney, 24, who was sitting next to him, fiddling with the gold heart she wore on a necklace.
Is she the one?
“I really hope so,” Aguilar said.
And just as Aguilar found new love after he’d shredded the old one, this year’s shredders hold out the same hope. Despite their wounds, they said they still believe in love.
“That guy treated me like a summer fling, and I’m wife material,” Patel said after the shredding, downing her sorrows with a shot, offered on the house to every shredder. It was a bright pink concoction of raspberry vodka, peach schnapps, pineapple juice and grenadine, called the Heartbreaker. “I’m looking for a soul mate.”
“Me, too,” said her friend, Tessa Jarrett, 22, of Fairfax. Jarrett had shredded a photo of her off-and-on ex of six years. “I don’t know how I’ll meet him. It could be anywhere. Maybe here, maybe at Wal-Mart. . . .”
“Or in Miami, at least it’s warm there,” Patel said, laughing and rolling her eyes. “Maybe my soul mate is in Miami.”
Bar manager Kevin Martin, known to the regulars as K-Mart, has seen it all before, the jilted and the heartbroken seeking solace from love gone wrong and hoping, like all the sappy songs attest, that love will still save them. The idea for the “Shred Your Ex, Find Your Next” party came from a bartender who used to work at the Bottom Line, he said, and the idea caught on.
As the DJ cued up such songs as Joan Jett’s “Love Stinks,” K-Mart handed out blank sheets of paper and permanent markers for those who wanted to shred an ex but hadn’t brought anything to feed into the machine. “Loser! Fake! Likes to Take Advantage of Women! No Morals and No Conscience,” read one note. Others were epithet-laced, pure fury.
“She made me wear underwear, go to the opera, go to church and wear black socks. She picked out my clothes. She read my
e-mails. And all I wanted to do was watch football [and] drink beer,” said a 42-year-old Arling-
ton garbageman, who said the wounds were too fresh to give his name. His friends egged him on as he wrote her name on a piece of paper and shredded it with a look of grim determination.
“I couldn’t be myself,” he said. “I don’t want to get married. I don’t want kids. I never want to have a booster seat in my car. I’m single, and I love it!”
A 31-year-old Maryland woman at the other end of the bar had discovered that her boyfriend of several years regularly cheated on her. “I feel great!” she said after shredding a note about him. “I’m over it!”
“Well, you’re a work in progress,” interjected a happily married friend.
James Alston, 28, of Alexandria, couldn’t decide whether to shred the name of his ex. He thought she was “The One.” But after eight years together, she dumped him recently. His friends had written her name down and urged him to shred her, forget her and move on. But Alston wasn’t ready.
“I’m 50-50 about shredding her,” Alston said. “The past is the past, but we had good times, and that counts more. I believe in love, and if it’s not meant to be, it’s not meant to be. You can’t pressure it.”
As the night wore on, Alston was still undecided. The jilted 31-year-old woman with the cheating ex was busy answering a survey to find the perfect mate. The survey was designed by a man named Jeffrey who had shredded the ex who hadn’t spoken to him in a year. The garbageman left the bar alone, and Patel and Jarrett were laughing and talking to a single man named Bill.
“He’s from one of those K states,” Jarrett said “Kentucky? Kansas?”
Patel smiled. “Maybe my soul mate isn’t in Miami after all!”