Torch Song Trilogy

A perennial favorite on the blog and requested repost:



I saw this movie in the theater when it came out and I was pretty tortured and depressed at the time. I had just ended my marriage and was wrestling with my relationship with my adoptive family. I remember crying at the relationship between Arnold and his adopted son David…I wanted a mom like Arnold, bunny slippers and all.

But I didn’t UNDERSTAND the sentiment, “Love and respect me or get out.” It did not compute. I had not yet learned, as Arnold knew, that love is an action. And I had not yet insisted on it from absolutely everyone.


But about 3 years later I saw it again. I was STILL in contact with my adoptive family but some of the themes and Arnold’s insistence on being loved and respected by his mother bothered me. I had read that “Love is An Action” in the Road Less Travelled but I was still not yet “there” in insisting on it or get out.

I saw it again in 2000 and they were out of my life. As well as some friends who had once been close but who stopped really caring about me. I had made changes in my life.

Some of the people that used to be in my life would like to think they were exiled because of what was WRONG with me (abandonment issues/hypersensitivity), but I will tell you–I did it because of what is RIGHT with me.

Just because I did it 10 years ago doesn’t mean I was still sick and suffering. It means I was figuring it out. And I figured YOU had to go. And I stand by that. “Made my bed and I sleep like a baby” as the Dixie Chicks said.

In Torch Song Trilogy, when he gets to the line, “If you don’t love and respect me, you have no place in my life.” I realized I now ACTED in concert with that sentiment, but I cried because it was so damn hard to do and to boot out people who are SUPPOSED to love you. They’re not supposed to take it away and give it back and take it away.

My therapist used to say that my family “un-adopted” me when I did not act the way they wanted me to act. And they did. It was hard when I realized that family doesn’t treat family the way they treated me. My sister stopped speaking to me for a message I left her and I didn’t know why for 7 years. And the message I left was one that said I thought it was ridiculous for my brother to be calling her over an issue he had with my son. That was the horrible message. Let the ending of the world begin.

The family “dance” was that I was supposed to grovel and crawl or try to find out what I had done wrong. But by this time. I was done. No more. I went NC and my family failed to notice. They must have still thought they weren’t speaking to me.

When I talk about unconditional love, that is what I’m talking about. Unconditional being there and will be there. And any issues will be worked through. It’s not “disappear and guess what my problem is with you” because after a time I don’t really care what your problem is. I don’t want you in my life. And if you want to blame that on my abandonment issues or sensitivities or WHATEVAH, go right ahead.

I have that attitude with people in my life. We can complain and carry on with each other but nothing will tear us apart. Nothing. We will work through whatever. And we have and continue to do so. I’ve had some heated discussions with all my kids about all kinds of things but it always ends with “Oh I love you anyway.” And it goes both ways. We both say it.

With my adoptive family it not only wasn’t like that, but the smallest thing could get you ousted and no one would even tell you what that was. And for me, the day came when I realized you just don’t treat family like that. You just don’t. And when I’ve had friends do it….I have decided you don’t treat friends like that either.

I remember feeling so alone…on every single level I am so alone. There is no one who gives a damn about me. But I don’t feel like that anymore. I have a rock solid group of people around me.

And I have it within my own family. I have it with my friends and the group of people closest to me. And if someone starts to stop showing up or somehow blames our estrangement on me and some thing I did that I didn’t even know about or just disappears on me, well they have NO place in my life. Not then, not now. And, I repeat, when I stopped speaking to them it was because of what is RIGHT with me, NOT what is wrong with me. And those things are STILL right with me, thank you very much.

It’s scary to say NO MORE!to a group of people who are the only ones you’ve known or to a one someone who has been the only one you’ve known. You think you will be alone. Forever. And ever. It seems like the big black hole of aloneness. And you wonder: Did I do the right thing??????? DID I???

But if you stand up and say NO MORE, it’s scary and sometimes hard.

Sometimes very hard.

And I held out and Michael came into my life and my daughter and eventually my in-laws came back into my life and I have daughters-in-law and grandchildren and now we’re a big, happy, loving family. :) And I have great friends who are there for me and who care about me without me even asking or insisting or worrying if they will disappear. It’s nice. I like it. It’s how it’s SUPPOSED to be.

And in the last 10 years or so I’ve welcomed people into my life, the right people, and no one has had to leave or wanted to leave. Everyone has been awesome. And that is because I put standards in my life and live up to them.

When my son Michael was brutally assaulted in Boston in October 2002, I received a phone call that he was in ICU and might not make it until I got there from California. I was in shock (I packed a ginormous suitcase full of only socks and underwear) and had no money to get there. I called my best friend who called the airline, got the ticket, met me at San Francisco International Airport, hugged me, gave me her CREDIT CARD, and said spend whatever you need, and put me on the plane (I was somewhat incapable of putting myself on the plane.)

When I moved back to New York in 2005 she was already here and we had some scheduling issues where we both were kind of, shall we say, perturbed with the other’s behavior. We met for dinner, talked it out and moved beyond it. Because THAT is how it goes. Both the good (put me on a plane to California with your credit card) and the bad. You work it out. You are there for each other, you make it happen. You let each other know YOU COUNT FOR SOMETHING IN MY LIFE.

But it wouldn’t be possible unless I had decided that I would not and could not settle for less. Even if it meant being universally alone. forever. It’s better than settling and feeling like an afterthought in someone’s life which is not being loved and respected.

It is very freaking simple. If you don’t love and respect me, you have no place among the people close to me. I’ve done my grief work over people who didn’t. I’ve walked away from those who had less than my best interests at heart. I’ve done the work. And the people in my life are a reflection of that work. They love and respect me. If we have a problem, we work it out. It’s THAT SIMPLE. Really it is.

It took me a long time, to walk that particular talk with absolutely everyone, but today I do.

It’s become second nature….that’s what I expect, that is what I deserve and that is what I have.

That is what everyone needs–love and respect.

And don’t let anyone twist your demand for love and respect into what is wrong with you…ooh you hypersensitive, imagining-abandonment freak you. If someone is not treating you well and then blaming your objections on YOUR STUFF, well just walk away with a gigantic “WhatEVAH dude” and keep on going.

Remember your standards and don’t put them to a vote. Not everyone can meet them. Most people can’t. But the ones who can are keepers.

Love is an action.

Insist on it in your life and don’t settle for anything less.



Susan J. Elliott, M.Ed., J.D.
Author: Getting Past Your Breakup: How To Turn A Devastating Loss Into The Best Thing That Ever Happened To You (Da Capo 2009).
To order the book click HERE

To order Torch Song Trilogy from Amazon click HERE


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2 Responses to Torch Song Trilogy

  1. Teresame says:

    I liked the clip very much, I have never seen this movie. To me, I like hearing others opinions and talking, and still loving them. Unfortunately my family members do a lot of behavior to saying things to control, or the silent treatment. It wears me out, I am not at a stage like you are, I am working on it.

    • Susan J. Elliott Susan J. Elliott says:

      It is HARD! Keep going and you will do well! It’s not that they never get to me or even that some of the old stuff doesn’t still bother me at times, but I’ve learned to be okay no matter what. You will too!!! KEEP WORKING ON IT!! You can do it!!!

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