When Lisa was approached to be Virginia’s agent, she was married to her second husband and had never been attracted to women. Little did she know that her business partnership with Virginia would develop into a deep friendship and, eventually, a committed and loving relationship.
Tell us a little about your background…
I grew up as the oldest of three sisters. My father was a radiologist and my mom was his bookkeeper and owned two tennis boutiques in the tennis heyday. I graduated from Barnard College in New York City as an English major and knew I’d always work with books.
I made my career in publishing, working at a literary agency, then as a publicist at Random House and Crown Books. I was married (for the first time) in 1981 to the father of my two daughters. We were married for 14 years. I left NYC and my job when my husband was offered a position in western Massachusetts. There were no publishing options where we lived and so I decided to launch my own company doing what I loved—public relations and working with books and authors.
I established the first culinary PR agency in the country, Lisa Ekus Public Relations. Over the last 33 years, that business has grown tremendously and morphed into The Lisa Ekus Group, “Representing a World of Culinary Talent.” We have multiple divisions: Literary Agenting, Media Training, Talent Agenting, Literary à la Carte services, and PR/Marketing Consulting.
After my divorce, I raised my two daughters as a single mother with a full-time business, until I met my second husband. I was married to him for 9 years.
When did your love life change?
I first met Virginia Willis, a chef, cookbook writer, and culinary TV producer in 2006, when she submitted her book proposal to my literary agency. Virginia was the Kitchen Director for Nathalie Dupree, Bobby Flay, and Martha Stewart, as well as being a Producer for Epicurious Television and Turner Studios.
I had never been with a woman or considered, a relationship with a woman. She was in a long-term relationship and I was married to my second husband; I had no inkling I would fall in love with her.
In the beginning, my relationship with Virginia was all business.
Because I work in the culinary field, representing cookbook authors, food writers, and chefs, Virginia sent me her first book proposal for Bon Appetit, Y’all: Recipes and Stories from Three Generations of Southern Cooking. It was the cleanest proposal for a cookbook I had ever received. We were both going to the Greenbrier Food Writers’ Conference that year and I made an appointment to meet with her.
Virginia’s initial appeal to me was that she is an extraordinary food writer. She is beautiful as well: Chanel red lipstick, pearls, and away with a sentence that made me determined to represent her on the spot. She told me clearly that my agency was her first choice to represent her and she never approached another agent.
Our work together grew into a friendship, which deepened over the years. And, like a slow-cooked dish, a deliciously meaningful partnership started simmering. It was in the fall of 2008 when I realized I was falling in love with her.
I have always loved the wisdom and friendship of women but never considered that I was gay. I still believe and feel that it is who Virginia is as an individual that made me fall in love with her. And, I have to say, we laugh that I “took to it like a duck to water.” My comfort level with this woman is far greater than I have ever felt with the men in my life. My “aha” moment came the first time we kissed. I refer to this as my midlife epiphany!
We currently commute between Atlanta and Massachusetts, as we both have important home bases in our respective parts of the country. We share Virginia’s town home in Atlanta and my long-time country farmhouse in Massachusetts.
Why do you think you fell in love with a woman in midlife?
I didn’t intentionally choose to fall in love with a woman. I feel as if I’ve lived five lifetimes—all of them very different, all of them with enormous joys and some sadness. I sure didn’t see this next act coming.
After divorcing my second husband, I didn’t say, “gee now I’ll be a lesbian.” Both Virginia and I were in emotionally unsatisfying long-term relationships. Neither of us specifically left our partners for each other, but the realization of what we were missing hit both of us pretty hard over the course of our years working together. We both wanted the proverbial “more” in life and from a partner.
I fell in love with a wonderful, smart, beautiful woman and am enjoying every minute of our deepening relationship and love. She met my intellectual and emotional needs. We are very different in terms of our backgrounds. I’m from the liberal North and Virginia from a more traditional Southern background.
We both fly a great deal for work and both of us are used to the aisle seat (leading/control). When we began flying together, we realized it didn’t have to be one or the other of us getting the aisle seat. There was room for both of us. We could sit across the aisle from each other, close while having independence. That became our joke of “aisle/aisle.” We have each met our match; we complement one another. Virginia and I each nurtured a close and respectful friendship that evolved into love and a full-blown relationship.
How difficult was it to come out? Did you have to “prepare”?
There were two levels of “preparation,” the personal and the professional. Since my girlfriend was also a client of our agency, I had to weigh the impact on and response from my other clients, as well as my family. In the end, I knew this relationship was serious and for long term and “came out” to all.
I told my mom first, who high-fived me! My immediate family was 100% supportive. They love me. They trust me and they had known Virginia for some years. They could see we had a deep respect and love for each other. My two grown daughters have welcomed Virginia into our family. She has a special and different relationship with each of them.
My yearbook quote in high school was “Everything I do, I do with everything I’ve got.” At this point in my life, not a lot I do surprises my family! I have always been a woman of passion and commitment. They accepted the woman I love into all our lives. Remember I come from a very liberal family. I also have a very loving and trusting family.
Virginia’s Mama and sister (and relatives) also welcomed me. I am very close to them and, like my family, they are happy that Virginia is in a loving, nurturing relationship of true partnership and support. All our friends have embraced our relationship. I have to chuckle because many of my female friends openly expressed how not surprised they were to hear this and how lucky I was to be with a woman. A few even commented wistfully “men age so badly!”
What challenges did you encounter?
Over the course of the next few years, we both extricated ourselves from our relationships. The decisions were hard and painful for both of us. But we were determined to be together and had enormous patience.
The greatest challenge was in my work life. Some clients had an issue with my being in a relationship with a client. I have to wonder if they would have had the same issue if I had fallen in love with a male client. Most, however, were genuinely happy for, and fully supportive of, me.
A few clients left our agency and my position is that if they couldn’t trust my ethics and commitment to each of them, then it was appropriate they move on. It’s a shame that there was this judgment, but such is life. My business continues to thrive, along with my personal life.Is it a challenge to represent your partner as her agent?
Virginia is the creative and in-front person, and I’m the business and behind-the-scenes person; this works brilliantly for us. The mutual respect we have for each other’s strengths and skills, and our willingness to discuss opportunities and challenges, makes us a power couple. We have each other’s best interests at heart.
My biggest piece of advice is to set clear parameters on life and work. Virginia has two expressions: “I need to talk to my Agent Lady,” or “I need to talk to my Girlfriend.” That clues us both in as to the type of conversation and the results needed. Agent Lady is about business, and Girlfriend is “Hear me out and comfort me. Don’t try to solve it or charge it.”
Not every challenge has the resolution you want or hope for, but so many do. Focus on that. Kiss each other good morning and good night each and every day.
Were there times when you thought about not going through with coming out?
Absolutely not. I never looked back. It is seven years since that first kiss and neither Virginia nor I have ever had any regrets.
My only frustration and we laugh at this a lot, is that I’m Northern and speak quickly and without filtering much of anything I say. Virginia is Southern, far more thoughtful, and edits her words before she speaks. I still bite my tongue and try desperately to not interrupt her long thought process. And I’ve benefited from learning to be far more patient! Do we have differences of opinions sometimes? Sure. Do we work it out? Always. She slows me down and I speed her up! I LOVE this journey together.
What have you learned about yourself through this new chapter?
I’ve learned to continue to trust myself, my instincts, and my commitments. Change is the only constant and life is truly short. It turns on a dime. I want to and am embracing my joy. I have a true partner in life. That is incredible!
What advice do you have for women considering coming out later in life?
Be kind to yourself. Be fearless and trust yourself. If you need to get the support of a professional therapist and tap into your most trusted friends, then do that. Some friends (and possibly family) will choose to take the low road. So be it. Embrace your happiness. Don’t postpone joy!
Look to your friends or a therapist. I confided in close friends, a lesbian couple, one of whom had left her traditional marriage for a woman. She had children and completely understood what I was going through. Having that support and sounding board was invaluable.
I’m very comfortable in my own skin so I did not doubt my choice or direction. The harder part was not choosing to be in a lesbian relationship but to realize my marriage was over. I was raised traditionally and having been divorced once I had some moments of what’s wrong with me that I can’t sustain a relationship? What I had to realize was that I can—with the right person, with the right partner.
What resources do you recommend?
I don’t lean specifically towards lesbian vs. straight resources. I approach life as, how can I learn and grow? I’m interested in business books and conferences with brilliant inspirational speakers. I belong to the Women President’s Organization, which has been one of the single best learning organizations in the world to be a member of. The support of so many incredibly successful entrepreneurial women in both my personal and professional life has truly been priceless. I also have a long time therapist who has known me for almost three decades (and many acts); her insight and support has been invaluable.What’s next for you?
Cookbooks and chefs are sizzling hot and I plan on continuing to build their careers and my business. I love every aspect of discovering new talent and cultivating good writing.
Hopefully I have many next acts. Life is a big adventure and I fully intend to participate. What I do know is whatever comes next, Virginia will be at my side—aisle/aisle.
Contact Lisa Ekus at Lcecooks@lisaekus.com
The Lisa Ekus Group represents a world of culinary talent.
I think Life takes us all down paths we never imagined. I’m so happy you followed yours. Much happiness to you both. ps: You make a BEAUTIFUL couple!
Thanks so much Cheryl. It’s been quite an amazing joyful journey.
What a terrific story! Thanks for sharing.
So glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for reading!
What a beautiful and inspirational love story! It’s true: you fall in love with the person, not the gender.
Thanks for this, Carol. Loved your post today as well.
Two smart beautiful ladies! So glad to see them together, and great of you to post and share this.
So glad you liked this. I told Lisa about you and your amazing story too. Hope you are well!
I loved your story too Susie. We sure have reinvented ourselves in wonderful fulfilling ways. Hope you are well and thriving! Let me know when you get over to the mainland.
I’ve never met you, Lisa, but I know Virginia and know what a wonderful, smart, beautiful, funny, kind, and generous person she is. What isn’t there to fall in love with? Thank you for sharing such a beautiful story.
Thank you Jamie. I follow you all the time on fb so i look very much forward to when we can meet and share a good meal and great conversation. Yes, Virginia is an incredible woman in every way.
Who doesn’t love a good love story? I spied a Julia picture!
Good looking! yes, i had the pleasure of doing some great local fundraising work with Julia and even cooking a ten course Chinese dinner for her! My life has been so rich and full.
What a sweet story and a model for the word ‘patience.’ I know of both you and Virginia and love to see a perfect match!
What a wonderful life and love story. A true testament to living life for your personal happiness and health. Plus, I admit, knowing Ms. Virginia is a pleasure in itself. I have noticed a difference in her smile, now I know why.
Dearest Lisa and Virginia,
I love you both, dear friends. As your close friend and client, I salute you. You are both beautiful, strong, confident, honest, brave, and kind women. My husband, children, and I love and support you. This is a beautiful article! I’m proud to be called your friend.
Sandra, You are one of the kindest people i know and your support from Day One has meant the world to me. I am overwhelmed with gratitude by so many incredible women coming forward to show their support.
There is hope in this world. Let it shine brightly!
I love that Hélène has included this kind of “personal” re-invention on her blog. Your interview is a great example of how the personal and the professional intersect and how important both are to each other. Nice job!
Thanks Corie. I definitely feel that reinventions can take many forms and this is certainly one!
Sweet and precious friends Lisa and Virginia I am over the moon and back happy for you both!!! I cannot wait to celebrate your well deserved love and happiness!! Much love to you both!! Tiffany
Thank you Tiffany. We have both found love with spectacular partners–how lucky are we!
Really enjoyed reading about Lisa’s journey and thrilled that Lisa and Virginia have found each other. Clearly it was meant to be. May they continue to find love and contentment together always.
thank you so much Helene. The outpouring of support is amazing and heartwarming.
Lisa, this is an exceptional and happy story. I am thrilled for you and Virginia. Denny Hayes has been a close friend for years, and he says you are the BEST! Here’s to wishing you and Virginia continued happiness.
Thank you so much for your kind words. Dennis Hayes is THE BEST! So glad he is a common friend. Here’s to all of us.
Thank you for sharing your journey– both struggles and joys. I was a little worried about hitting the big 5-0, but I’ve found it so liberating! While ‘becoming the woman I’ve always wanted tobe’, I’ve also discovered the freedom to refine and redefine what that means for me. I’ve also begun to come out in many different ways, including rejecting the roles that people have created FOR me, and using my authentic voice to tell my own truth. It shakes some people up– my dear family, sooo conservative, doesn’t know quite what to make of their liberal daughter, sister, mother, but I’m learning to love, and be loved, with truth. Your story, and the voice with which you own it, gives me courage.
Congratulations to a beautiful couple,
Your strength and courage is shining through. I’m glad my story is helpful. Here’s to the fabulous 50’s and all that we are and will be!
What a lovely story. As I read it I kept thinking about a woman I know who left a dreadful marriage to an abusive man but who had never considered herself lesbian or even bi. When she met her future wife (they’ve been together some 30 years now) she told me, “I didn’t fall in love with Mari because she was a woman. I fell in love with the person who was Mari. Gender didn’t matter.” Who could ever say that theirs is a less profound love than what’s long been sanctioned by society?
Thanks for sharing, Lisa.
Thank you Carol. Your words are so true and i’m glad i could touch so many women who have come forward to celebrate love. It comes in many forms and people, and is different for everyone. How blessed are we to find our true loves.
I loved reading this love story. It made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside…and I like that. Love is love…plain and simple. Well, maybe not always simple 🙂 Thank you for sharing this…I always enjoy a love story. Best of luck and light to you both! xo
Happy for you ….you have a soulmate that offers you the world of love, experiences and total happiness.
Thank you so much for sharing such an open and (of course) well written story of your path that brought you together. It was a joy to read and a testament to love and to the kind, beautiful, open, smart and interesting people you both are. Wishing you a lifetime of love and adventures together…
Josh, Your kind words are deeply appreciated. Thank you! Life is full and beautiful.
Lisa, thank you for explaining why my wife and I often choose plane seats across the aisle! You gave me a good chuckle of recognition there. In addition to expressing your personal journey, this is a beautiful statement about the fluidity of love. In a perfect world we would all fall in love with a person without regard to their gender (or color or height or weight…). You are a testament to the fact that, even if we know who we are, we never know who we will become. Stay open to change and there’s no limit to the brilliant experiences life offers. May you continue to partake in them wholeheartedly!
Jennie, You are so kind and captured my life and intent in sharing my story perfectly. We always talk about life’s jourrney and there are many, with more paths diverging that anyone could imagine. It took me a while to go exploring, but it was so worth it! Thank you!
Thanks so much for sharing yours and Virginia’s story, Lisa. Not sure if you remember, I met you both at the World Gourmand Book Fair in Paris a few years back. I didn’t know the situation but what came through clearly was an easygoing and caring vibe that you two share. Despite being raised quite traditionally Chinese, I am happy to say I have managed to maintain a relatively open mind about life in general and relationships in particular. Love is LOVE. That is all. Here’s to many more adventures and next acts!
Yes, I do remember you Vivian. Thank you SO very much for taking the time to write a comment and outreach. Yes, love is love and ain’t it grand. This world is fraught with much that challenges us daily and to find joy,support, comfort and love with another individual is a gift indeed.
And then they wonder why so many of us straight men are still single today.
Thank you for sharing your beautiful love story. It helps all of us to become more open minded. Our inner self have no specific gender so other aspects as deep emotional connection are more important in a romantic love relationship than gender
Well this topic really does explain why so many of us straight men are still single these days, that is for sure.