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07/31/2013 09:17 am ET | Updated Feb 02, 2016

How Coming Out Impacted My Non-Romantic Relationships

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By Mary Malia and Rick Clemons for YourTango.com

Two of our experts share their personal stories of how coming out changed their lives for the better: not only did they feel more authentically themselves, they increased their relationship bonds with families and friends. Read on for two heartwarming stories of how love truly does transform us.

From Rick Clemons:
It wasn't even on my radar. Nor was it an added bonus that I expected after all the dust had settled. Nonetheless, I felt more love towards others and myself after I came out of the closet. I had anticipated finding love with a guy, and even believed I would love myself more. I just didn't realize how much I didn't love myself while I was hanging out with the hangers in my closet.

At first, I felt a deep sense of relief after coming out. That lasted about 5 seconds; it was immediately followed by anger from my soon-to-be ex-wife, whom I'd betrayed for 13 years with lies about my sexuality.

I was right back to hating myself and my life, while simultaneously loving that I was free to be me. Confused and conflicted, I could only hear "You schmuck," resonating from the lips of those around me – my wife, my kids in their own innocent way, my parents and a few friends. I honestly didn't think I would ever find peace within, let alone in the social and familial circles I had once enjoyed.

I asked myself if being with a man for the rest of my life was really worth it, and decided I needed to love myself for who I was. If no one else did, then so be it. I was going to have to buck up and live as myself — not as someone else’s version of what "Rick the gay man" should be.

That's when the changes occurred. It's also when I realized I was meant to have the experience of coming out of the closet later in life, so that I could heal myself and help others at the same time.

Transitioning from a state of self-loathing to self-loving may seem like work, but it's not. In fact, it's a spiritual high. Wrapped in the warm embrace of "I love me" rids us of all the scary voices that say "You're not good enough!" When executed powerfully, self-love kicks the wind out of our selfish sails and enables numero uno to outwardly reflect the confidence that invites others to be self-loving.

When I finally grasped hold of the concept of self-love, I realized my beautiful little daughters, my distraught ex-wife, and my religious parents just needed to understand that I didn't do this to be hurtful.

I came out in order to say, "I love myself enough to no longer pretend to be someone I’m not, just to continue making you feel comfortable."

I now do love myself very much. And in turn, I'm much more capable of loving everyone else more authentically. The result? A modern family! My partner, my-ex wife, our two strong, open-minded daughters, and me, being loved and loving each other. As for my parents? They're in our corner too, giving love in their own way!

From Mary Malia:

Since coming out in my mid-40s, I've had many experiences common to the LGBT community. A large number of friends disappeared, a few stuck around and a few became even better friends. Over time new people came into my life, some straight but most of the lesbian persuasion.

Initially I was in a rush to tell everyone. I'd waited so long, holding the secret inside myself since I was a child. Each time I came out to someone, the rush of adrenaline and the thrill of freedom for being honest were completely exhilarating.

That doesn't mean it wasn't scary. When I talked to my 18-year-old son about it, he wasn't happy and it took two years of loving him without judgment to bring him back around. When I told my 7-year-old daughter she thought it was fun and exciting. She also wondered why I couldn't stay married since Daddy was a boy; why couldn't I have a husband and a girlfriend? Innocence! It's so beautiful.

Now in my 50s, living my life openly wherever I go is my norm. This has been spurred by having been in two executive positions where I would have been fired for being lesbian. For me, living in the closet is living a lie that powers feelings of shame and guilt. I'm too old to let those things rule me anymore.

The first one of my siblings to whom I came out was my older brother. I'd actually hardly seen him for years because of his crazy lifestyle, and I chose him because of that. He'd always been the black sheep in the family. Not only was he the epitome of a rule-breaker, he had no qualms about other people who lived the same way.
He didn't wrinkle his nose when I told him I was leaving my marriage of 23 years. He didn't judge me. He just opened his arms wide enough to hug me in his typical fashion — that meant squishing the breath out of me while he picked me up and swung me around. He laughed and asked when he could meet my girlfriend. Not only was it refreshing, it was healing for both of us. He and I had a rocky childhood together and often battled with each other.

My coming out opened me up to accepting him and his unique way of living, just as he so easily accepted me without reservation. Love showed up and transformed a relationship that almost wasn't. And the real gift to me was having him in my life for the next few years before he suddenly passed away in September of 2012.

His laughter, support and love created a safe place for me in a time of upheaval and transition. I'm so very grateful I told him first.

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This article originally appeared on YourTango.com: "How Coming Out Strengthened My Nonromantic Relationships"

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