We live in a time where we’re supposed to be self-sufficient. Relying on a man is “wrong.” Finding acceptance through a man is “wrong.”
I’m a strong, independent woman, and I’m here to tell you that I disagree. It’s OK to find healing through love. And it’s OK to be vulnerable. The important thing is that you find yourself in the process.
We all know that relationships are never certain. Sometimes, you have to find Mr. Wrong before you find Mr. Right. And sometimes, you have to allow yourself the freedom to use your mistakes as a growing process.
I’ve been plus-size my whole life. My weight has fluctuated since I was a teen. As such, I spent years struggling with body image. I felt like I needed to be a certain weight to be loved … a frustrating trap that some plus-size women fall into.
As a child, my mom was always overprotective. Sometimes, I think this was the fuel that fanned the fire. I’m the only girl in my family. Because of this, my mom felt the need to protect me from everything, including guys.
Until I was 21, I didn’t date at all. I didn’t learn to find my wings in order to fly. I was bullied in grade school. (As you know, kids are mean.) My mom was also always around as a volunteer, which added more reasons for kids to bully me.
I was called fat. Often.
The older I got, the more my friends dated. I became my own worst enemy. I felt unworthy of love because of my size. On top of it, I was too shy to tell guys I liked them. I thought the guys I liked would never look in my direction.
Looking back, if I could tell the younger me one thing, I’d say “you’re beautiful just as you are. Anybody would be lucky to have you. You’re worthy. You’re amazing. And if a man can’t handle your curves, he’s not a real man.”
I’d also tell my overprotective mom that, no matter a child’s size, she should have the freedom to be herself and put herself out there.
If you want to try out for cheerleading, do it. If you want to take ballet, do it. These were things I wanted to do, but my mom told me no. She didn’t want to see me hurt or shunned. In the process, she shielded me from life.
In my twenties, everything changed. On the Fourth of July, my mom came home and told me we were going to a “campaign” at church. In the hispanic world, that means three days of services, probably with other churches joining.
I was livid. We hadn’t even been to church in two months. Why on earth would I want to start going to church again on the Fourth of July? Of course, my mom wanted to sit in front. That was even more annoying.
Little did I know, my life was about to change.
There I sat in the front row of church, gazing at a youth pastor, who, this day, was leading the choir. All eyes were on him, Mr. Perfect. I later learned through another pastor’s wife that people even called him “untouchable.” His favorite phrase to say from the pulpit was: “Never touch a woman, not even with the petal of a rose,” meaning, no hitting or hurting your girlfriend or wife.
Not what he appeared to be.
I was about to learn that Mr. Perfect was a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
He wanted to take me out, but my mom outright said no due to the way he asked. He said: “Oh, we should go out to the park and walk and such.”
My mom felt like he was mocking my body, again, trying to protect me from hurt.
I didn’t see it that way. My low self-esteem took center stage. I was happy that someone was asking me out on a date. I was weak, blinded by stupidity and self-doubt.
My mom didn’t like him one bit. Again over-protective, she wouldn’t even let me give him my number. She gave him hers. She saw all the red flags I didn’t see because I was blinded by love.
At first, we secretly communicated through Myspace at the library. Eventually, I joined the church choir to spend more time with him. People started to talk.
In yet another over-protective move, my mom cornered the head pastor one day after service. After that, Mr. Perfect was not allowed to talk to me.
I wanted a chance to spread my wings and fly. I missed him. I thought I needed him.
I was so naive.
I finally took the bull by the horns and called him. He said he missed me. He said he wanted to be with me. We began a relationship from that point on.
He said all the right things that I wanted to hear. All the things I needed to hear. All the things I couldn’t say to myself.
It’s probably no surprise, given how low my self-esteem was, that I had the idea to run away with him. I came up with a simple, yet crazy plan. My mom and I would attend 5 a.m. prayer at church. We would secretly meet there, and run away.
When mom and I attended prayer that Saturday morning, he was already there hiding behind the building. I went inside the church and did a small prayer, then I told my mom I was going to go outside to call a friend who was having issues.
He showed up on the other side of the building, but he said he had seen my mom outside. I knew it was now or never, so I left with him.
I left everything.
That day, I left everything I had: my parents, my friends, all of my belongings. We went to his sister’s house where I lost my virginity, and then we hopped on a Greyhound to San Francisco and stayed there for three months.
We turned off our phones because our families were panicking and continued to call. They would have panicked even more if they knew that we were staying with total strangers who later became our friends. (That was before Airbnb even existed.)
When we came back, we got married. I didn’t wear a dress. There weren’t pictures or family members there. It felt like a drive-through wedding until we had an official ceremony in April.
Fast forward a few years, and the real Mr. Perfect came out. Mr. Perfect was an abusive guy, something I may have learned without making the mistake of getting married had my mom not been so overprotective.
Our relationship was like a rollercoaster, up and down. His anger scared me. He violently broke cellphones when I questioned his faithfulness. He ripped my shirts out of anger. He hit me more than once, something I only thought happened in movies.
He had been raised with a male-centric mentality, maybe partially instilled from his culture. He was the man, and I was supposed to stay at home, raising kids, cooking and cleaning. We fought because I wanted to work.
I was not about that life.
He often criticized me for the way I looked, abusively telling me that if he looked like me, he’d be spending eight hours in the gym every day.
I had an affair, something I never thought I was capable of. Finally, I walked away.
I realized that my decisions were, in part, driven by poor body image. I didn’t know how to love my plus-size body, so I settled for the first thing I could find.
This wasn’t the life I had envisioned. I was damaged. I felt like no one would ever love me because Mr. Perfect had said so. His words were stuck inside my brain, marinating, taking away any chance of self-love I had hoped to find.
Though I had found my independence, I was lonely. This was not the life I wanted. I had to get out there and move on. I knew I couldn’t let Mr. Perfect hold me back from the life I so longed for.
As time went on, I found the courage to join a dating app and begin again. That’s when I met Luis, the man I went on to marry.
After talking for a month, we met in person. In my heart, I knew I had to be honest about my past experience, so I told him that I had been abused.
He met my story with open arms, wanting to understand what I had been through. As I listened to the words come out of my mouth, I couldn’t believe I was a statistic. No one believes it will happen to them. He listened, and reassured me that he would never abuse me.
I truly believe Luis is one of my angels here on earth. He took a broken-hearted woman, loved her and showed her what true love is in real life.
Sometimes, love is the key to healing.
They say you shouldn’t find self-esteem through a man. And you shouldn’t. But don’t be too proud to let a man who loves you help to heal your broken heart. Love is natural. Don’t push it away.
Luis has never judged me because of my past. He loves every inch of my plus-size body. That love has helped to undo all of the hurt Mr. Perfect inflicted regarding my size.
I’m not ashamed to tell you that my husband has helped me learn to love my body, and to reinvent my life. We each find healing and strength in our own ways. This is mine, no matter how much it may differ from societal messages.
So, to all who are reading this, remember that love is out there. Don’t settle for a wolf in sheep’s clothing, like Mr. Perfect. Your true Prince Charming is waiting for you in the wings.
Don’t be ashamed if your path is to let love guide the way. It’s OK to be human.