After a Breakup, What Happens to the Inside Jokes?


A few months ago, I went to a winery to celebrate a friend’s birthday. We were sitting around a wooden table, as a gentleman began our tasting. Now, this Cabernet has notes of plum and is rich in tannins, he said. (Or something like that. Truthfully, I heard alongstringofwords, plum, and then, “tannins.”)

I turned to the girl sitting next to me. “How do you know if a wine is rich in tannins?” I asked her. She told me to swirl my glass and watch the wine drip down the insides. According to her, the slower and shinier the drip, the more tannins there were.

The exchange reminded me of a How I Met Your Mother episode that my ex-fiancé and I watched early on in our relationship. In it, Marshall and Lily mock Ted for being pretentious about, well, everything. At some point, Ted makes a comment about tannins, and Marshall and Lily respond with “the taaaaanins,” dragging out the “a” for effect.

For many years after, whenever we found ourselves in fancy situations, my ex and I would grin at each other and toast to “the taaaaanins.” Had he been at the winery, we would have laughed. Instead, I quietly took another sip and let it pass by.

It’s been almost a year since our relationship ended, and I am continually surprised by the sneaky ways I am reminded of him. It makes sense to notice his absence during the big moments: birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays, which I am already dreading. But I didn’t account for the backlog of inside jokes we shared during our years together. I didn’t expect to miss him so acutely in places where we had no history.

They say we carry our loved ones with us wherever we go — yes, even the ones you left or the ones who left you. In their absence, what do you do with the shared references you’ve accumulated over time? The jokes you repeated, the songs you made up, the shorthand that naturally forms between people who spend time together. When it comes to love — and grief — aren’t the small things the big things after all? Aren’t those small moments what distinguish an intimate relationship from a casual acquaintance?

So, what do you do with all those inside jokes that no longer have an audience? The jokes that require a backstory to explain (and aren’t even funny to anyone else)? I guess you smile about them when you can, and you cry when that feels right. Maybe you write them down because you need to put them somewhere, and you stop to wonder just how many others carry these things within them, too.


Jenny Jin is a beauty editor, writer and on-air expert based in Los Angeles. She also shared her week of outfits with us. Find her on Instagram @jyjin, where she will happily reply to any DMs regarding life, sunscreen and K-pop sensation, BTS.

P.S. A seven-step guide to heartbreak, and 10 reader comments on breakups.

(Photo by Studio Firma/Stocksy.)





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