I had my first taste of real romance as a sophomore at Seabreeze High School, where I dated a boy named Sean. Our relationship was seeping with sweetness. Instead of being the typical, hormonally raged teenage couple, we talked a LOT. We kissed often, held hands everywhere, and genuinely were quite innocent. When our relationship ended, it also launched a decade-plus span of not-so-innocent relationships with men who never treated me as well as Sean had.
Much of that time was spent in the pursuit of worthiness; I married a man who I thought was smart and interesting, and I wanted to be his ideal woman. It stung when he told me my legs looked like “tree trunks” and that I would never truly have an athletic body because some people just aren’t made that way — even though, at the time, I was working out consistently, at minimum two to three hours a day, because I was a competitive triathlete. I valued my core strength and six-pack.
My husband’s comments intensified my body-image issues and drove me headlong toward an eating disorder. I would ask my husband to tell me he loved me, and he would question why I needed to hear it so often. The truth was that I needed to hear it because I could feel it slipping away. I began working out incessantly again and making sure for every calorie in, I spent it in exercise. Soon, he found me remarkably attractive and wanted to have sex with me on a regular basis. He complimented my body daily. But one day, we went to marriage counseling, and the therapist asked what it was that he loved about me.
He couldn’t answer at first. Eventually he broke the silence, gazed at me, and just said, “I do love you. I’m just not sure how to answer that question now.” And I was crushed. I realized that love couldn’t be created through my skinny body. Sex could not heal that hole in my heart formed by knowing I wasn’t truly loved as his wife. It was time for both of us to move on.
Seventeen years after high school, Sean and I reconnected, and sparks went crazy. It was such a relief to feel the true connection we had — mind, body, and spirit. My body-image issues resolved. I didn’t feel like I had to exercise off every calorie I consumed, and it was OK if my “not so perfect” legs were not only exposed but shown off in a dress! Best of all, I felt confident in myself and our relationship.
When our first Valentine’s Day back together arrived, he gave me a huge bouquet that was not full of roses; rather, he researched many varieties of flowers and their meanings and thoughtfully put together a bouquet that encapsulated his feelings for me. The flowers were delivered in a big bundle, wrapped in simple brown paper, with a small note that labeled every single flower, why he chose them, and what their meanings were. I felt so grateful that this man loved me so deeply.
We had the most amazing, passionate sex life. I felt powerfully beautiful in his presence.
Then came the biggest test you could throw at a relationship.
On October 8, 2011, while riding my bicycle home from work, I was embracing the cool fall air. Fall is the most romantic time of the year for me, the time of year when you come home from a good workout, take a hot shower, put on soft clothing, and snuggle. That’s what I was looking forward to doing that night with Sean — but it never happened.