Is It Better to Have Loved and Lost?

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This is a proverb that dates back to the early nineteenth century, and the answer is yes.  But what does it really mean to you? Is the loving that is referred to general, as a friend or a relative, or reserved for a lover? It seems that in modern times that proverb is usually directed to romance.  However, the answer “yes” has so many layers. We are all fairly comfortable defining love, but not as comfortable defining loss.

The loss of a break-up is the most commonly cited “loss” of the proverb. The argument Is defined by who did the breaking up and what were the consequences. I beg you to think about this intellectually, and less emotionally. It is easy to be devastated by the loss of a love. The emotional trauma from the uprooting of love, devotion, trust and affection are horrific.

However, it is important to look at the gain from the relationship rather than the loss, the half empty, half full dilemma. With every relationship comes learning, growth and experience. It seems to me that the bucket of additions to your life are worth the emotional trauma.

Often times a new relationship brings so many new and unfamiliar ideas and experiences to your life. New adventures, new thoughts, new perspectives abound.  And when the relationship ends, or fizzles out, the growth and learning sustain. You are a fuller, different person. You have adjusted to someone else’s idiosyncrasies, likes, dislikes, humor and outlook.  You have accepted or rejected a different view of life.  If you did the breaking up, my guess is, that you can see the value to the ex-relationship.  If you were broken up with, less likely to see value.

Given this perspective, it is probably best to try to be objective.

Looking back at relationships, there is so much to gain. One might say that death is the ultimate break up.  I’ve had this discussion with several widows and widowers, and they agree. The only discrepancy is that a break up connotes someone wanted “out.” Death is often not a choice. If asked, would I trade my years with my loved ones that have died at young ages, unilaterally, my answer is “NO.”  The years I had, and the love I experienced was unique and extraordinary. There is no authority or set number to the length of love. Love continues long after a partner or friend, parent or child is no longer. So, to have loved and lost should probably be better translated to love and lost. All relationships are not past tense.

For those relationships that are in the past, can a relationship change and morph without being “lost?” Most people are on board with a friend turning into a lover, but controversy surrounds a lover becoming a friend. The antiquated notion that people “slip” and delve back into the physical actions of love seems silly.  A relationship that decides to travel from intimacy to friendship can be a more satisfying and rewarding relationship. It is shallow to believe that we have not evolved to take what is important and sustaining from a person and drop what isn’t. In that case the love and lost, is actually love and repurposed.

Examining the literal version of the proverb is interesting. One viewpoint is that if you have never experienced something, you can’t miss it or mourn for it. Often blindness is used to explain this perspective.  If you have never been able to see, you have no vision, can you miss seeing? I can’t subscribe to this argument because we are born into relationships, optimistically into love.

From birth, we experience that love of a parent, and return that emotion as a young child. We spend years developing friendships and familial relationships that encompass love.  It seems narrow to silo this proverb to embrace only romantic love.

If you do silo this love, then let’s discuss whether it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. It seems so empty to go through life avoiding love on the outside chance you may lose it. On life’s journey, we lose many things. Yet, I don’t think we would avoid the consequences and decide to never experience something, accepting the proverb, that ignorance is bliss.  It isn’t, it is just ignorant.

We are defined as a species as monogamous. There has to be a journey to find that one person that will satisfy you, compliment you and grow and change with you. I’m confident they do not drop out of a tree. The road to discovery is littered with relationships. Like a first job or internship, it is as important to know what you don’t want as it is what you do want.  That means that your travel has to be an amalgamation of relationships. When the door closes on a relationship certainly, another door will open. You will bring a trove of new ideas, wants and desires that you were not familiar with before.

So, embrace that it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved before. The experience will make you better, richer and more whole.  It will lead you to unrealized desires and emotions that you didn’t know you had. Jump in for the experience, it will be more fulfilling and self -actualizing in the end.


  • Susan Warner

    I am an educator, wife and mother. My journey is a perfect example of life’s contradictions. A storybook marriage of 38 years and two magnificent children, I existed in the comfort of an extraordinary cocoon of family and friends. Enter the devastating suicide of my 32-year-old son and then the subsequent death of my husband 6 months later of a virulent cancer in an eight-week diagnosis to death, my story is of acceptance, pushing on and not being defined by social emotional norms. I am living my best life, making choices that define my “right turn” after my catastrophic loss, and characterizing a journey to self-actualization and a commitment to help others who have experienced loss. Rediscovering who I am, what lies ahead and the adventure at hand.

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