How Loving AND Losing Has Made Me the Catch I Am Today

‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. – Alfred Lord Tennyson

Article by:  Barb Elgin, LCSW-C
If you were drawn to reading this article because your relationship recently ended, let me say I cannot begin to know how you feel. No two individuals grieve alike. But I do know this: you aren’t alone. Every day women choose to grieve alone, either because they’re afraid to ask for help, or because their grief is not acknowledged or understood by those close to them. I’ve had the honor of going through the ‘loved and lost’ experience twice now and, while there have been many difficult moments, I highly recommend the experience. For most, it’s not a question of if we will go through loving and losing it’s a question of when. We’re living longer these days and due to our fast-paced, rapidly changing world most of us are not going to stay with the first person (or even the second person) we fall in love with. So I got to thinking, if today’s romantic scene is a journey, not a sprint, and since Princess Charming is a fairy tale, why not learn to look for the silver lining in this particular cloud? In the straight world they even have a term for that leg of the journey: the starter marriage! When Kacie invited me to write on this topic, one of the first things that popped into my head was Tennyson’s quote: “What an odd thing for someone to say, in the midst of grief. How could something great possibly come out of loss?” After all, society has planted this inane but all-too-common idea in our heads that divorce and breakups are signs of failure. Well to me, Tennyson’s quote has a real truthful ring to it. I sincerely believe – at least in my own mind – that my two greatest love and loss stories have shaped me into a ‘great catch’ for my next committed relationship. Just what has the loss of lesbian love given me? Let me count the ways… 1. I learned how to deal with loss and process my grief. I was in my 20’s, and it was the late 1980’s (not the best time to be a lesbian). Back then I didn’t feel I could share my feelings with family members and none of them offered to be of emotional support. So I isolated myself. Where did I turn? Mostly inwards, to some therapy, and to a few caring friends both gay and straight. I found out there is an unlimited amount of great resources out there in the world to help anyone who needs to process their grief. By process I mean finding supportive venues for sharing your thoughts and feelings. For example, I talked my feelings out with friends who didn’t judge me, I spoke with professionals, and I kept a special journal or two including a sketchpad. One of my counselors incorporated art therapy into our sessions. I had lots of fun putting my feelings into pictures. Drawing was very healing. (Try it!) It doesn’t matter whether you’re an artist or not; what’s important is having fun with the process. I also experienced that grief in itself is a process. It takes time to go through all the stages. I recall feeling like I was traveling the stages of grief in a spiral, where I would revisit or repeat earlier stages at less intense levels. Emotions like denial, anger, sadness and bargaining came and went. And I let myself go through all of them. 2. I had to deal with the blows to my self-esteem. I had to learn to turn inside to find and feel my own worth rather than look outside for it. And I had to learn that when a partner has an affair, or when a relationship ends, it’s not all my fault. My partners’ behaviors were more about them, and not about me. Both of my exes had affairs behind my back. Crappy, eh? The first partner had her affair with a man, which as you can imagine created a special kind of hurt. I couldn’t give her what he could, including family approval, which I think was a great part of her decision. Ultimately, this “starter marriage” of mine was doomed because my partner’s deepest truth about herself was like a sleeping giant waiting to erupt. And it did. With my second ex it hurt even more because we’d been together for almost fourteen years. I’d invested so much. This time my partner chose to initiate a late bloomer into the lesbian world, which cut pretty deep. Her affair felt personal and it was at a time in my life when I was feeling insecure about my appearance (I was about to turn 40), which made me hard on myself and led to self-blame for her choices. 3. I learned SO MUCH about who I am and what I need and want in a relationship. This may be the biggest gift of all. Also – it’s very important to note – I didn’t become this ‘self aware’ until two events collided: hitting the end of the honeymoon stage in my second relationship and transitioning into midlife. At the time I was around 35 years old. I was finally fully maturing, mentally. I decided to complete several training programs with a top relationship coaching school. I spent years in their programs learning how to explore myself, who I am and what my minimum standards were for creating lasting, loving relationships with women. This exploration not only helps me in my own dating life now, but it also helps me help singles do the same. 4. As a result of going through (instead of around) the grieving process, I became a more relaxed, assertive, happier, funnier person. I remain that way as a friend, a daughter, a sister, a therapist and a coach. Facing my loss has made me more humble and deepened my compassion for the human condition and life itself. Of course none of this happened overnight, but with time, my heart-centered-self (that part of me that is wisest and most loving) came out of the closet. I frequently attract clients who are also moving through the end of a relationship and have gotten stuck. Sometimes they can’t let go of an ex and it creates havoc in their dating life; other times they can’t seem to leave a relationship, even though it’s been over for quite a while. I am in the fortunate position of being able to help people through their journeys thanks to the work I have done on my own. I am more relaxed now – more apt to be myself. I am not perfectly free of shame or insecurity at all times, but I’ve become more accepting of where I am, and where others are in their life process. I am more self-compassionate. It’s okay when I am feeling ‘less than’ and I know how to process those feelings. These days I take more risks in all of my relationships. I am bolder. More authentic. My true self. Finally, I more apt to laugh. After all, I’ve survived some pretty tough stuff. I take comfort in knowing that if I’ve survived before, I can again. And well, if I don’t, I’ll run away to an island like Lesbos and become a local. Each challenge seems to make me more philosophical in a funny sort of way. Because I truly ‘get’ that life does go on and time does heal. Bottom line: I’ve learned that I don’t need others to accept me for me to accept me. And neither do you. 5. Losing love made me realize that everything has a life cycle – a beginning, a middle and an end. Instead of fighting the natural process, I am learning to better accept it. When I do, I find I’m more resilient to change and to loss in general. Endings are an inevitable part of life. They signal that a new, more exciting beginning could be just around the corner. 6. By the same token as #5, I now get that I can build a lasting love with another woman, but I need to understand and practice what that takes. Most forever loves don’t just happen, at least not in today’s modern relationships. My parents have been together for almost 60 years, which is an amazing accomplishment, but for them it’s more than just romance. It’s the family they’ve built and the memories they’ve made. Today’s couples expect so much more. Many of us put up with less and leave earlier than people did in the past. We also tend to have greater expectations of our partners and of our love relationships today than our parents did. That means greater opportuni
ty for both happiness and disappointment. On the greater opportunity side, I have learned that I must choose my next partner as wisely as I can. Sounds obvious right? But it’s not as easy as saying it. I have my lists and my vision to keep me centered, but I have to be willing to not be so rigid. Once I find my life partner, I must become an expert in practicing commitment. In today’s world, many of us struggle with that concept. The ideal, in my opinion, is balancing today’s awareness with the old world’s style of marriage. Once I marry my partner, I must be ready to be there for her as much as I am for myself. Until all of us understand what love truly is (actions, as much as feelings) and what true commitment means, we will struggle to find and keep love going strong with just one woman. And now that we’re playing in the big leagues with legal marriage, our relationship decisions become even more consequential. 7. There is more to life than just romantic love. Moving through my relationship loss has given me a chance to see that I can survive alone, without a romantic partner. I’ve learned that there are unlimited ‘loves’ in my life. 8. I am approaching dating and love THIS time from a place of greater peace and wisdom. I am not running to clubs or going to bars in an endless search. I am much more confident now. I know how to be a great partner. I’ve spent the last several years becoming more involved in my work and in other pursuits that make me happy. In that time, while enjoying the solitude, I am aware I do miss the coupled life. But who knows – I am keeping my options open. Truth be told, I am a hopeless – yet recovering – romantic! I do hold within me the traditional dream of walking down that aisle to be with my ‘one and only’. And I know I need the security of a monogamous relationship. I am not built to be otherwise. But I also know to never say never. So if you remember nothing else about this article, remember that no matter what occurred in your last relationship, you can become a great catch for your next love! Spend some time each day in the next week or so writing down what you have learned about yourself and about love – so far on your romantic journey – and put these wise lessons into practice next time around.


Barb 1 Barb Elgin, MSW, LCSW-C, LCSW, Certified Singles Coach is the Keeper of Lasting Lesbian Love for the planet! Over the past 25 years, Barb has been honing her craft – both personally and in her work with lesbians all over the world. Barb is fully committed to helping you find and keep a deeply satisfying, vibrant love life! Barb says the good news is: Lasting Lesbian Love is easier than you think, just be open-minded and open-hearted and learn something new about relationships every day. Here’s a great way to get your first week or so of lessons covered. There are many tips inside each of these three recordings: Sign up for her free, three-part audio “Hottest Secrets to Lasting Lesbian Love” by following the link: http://www.lastinglesbianlove.com/free-gifts/hottestsecrets. Contact Barb here.