On a scorching Arizona day in September of 2011, I left America with nothing but a big black suitcase and a laptop.
Two days of airplanes and airports later, I arrived in Manila. As I walked down the ramp onto the steaming tarmac, the air made me sweat in places I never had before. It didn’t help that I weighed 360 pounds, or that I was in terrible health. The heat wasn’t horrible; it was the humidity that made me pause and adjust my laptop case so it wouldn’t press into my back.
I walked into the terminal and noticed that the air conditioning didn’t seem to be working. Even at midnight, it was stuffy.
The mass of people unnerved me.
I didn’t know where I was going. I knew I was supposed to meet Flora near the taxi station, but I didn’t see any sign that would guide me there.
It had been a long trip — 26 hours. All that sitting had not been good for me — my legs were cramping. I needed to find my way so I could meet Flora and head to the hotel for a shower and some rest.
I walked for 30 minutes until I found the doors that led outside. I was immediately nervous because there were no taxies there. A small man pushing a huge stack of luggage stopped and asked me in broken English if I needed help. I told him I needed to call someone to find out where I was supposed to go. I asked him if there was a payphone nearby. He said there wasn’t, but he would let me use his cell phone for 500 pesos. I didn’t know how much that was. I hadn’t even exchanged my money yet.
All I had was a twenty-dollar bill, so I offered it, and he accepted with a delighted grin on his face. I knew I’d made his night, but I was in no mood to haggle.
It turns out that Flora was only a short walk away from where I was. I walked the remaining distance and searched the crowd but didn’t pick her out right away. Then, off to one side, I saw an arm waving in my direction. I knew it was Flora.
She had a strange look on her face that I couldn’t decipher. I knew she didn’t realize from chatting on the internet how big I was until she saw me. She was trying to process everything at once.
We had our first kiss in the taxi on the way to the hotel.
Eight months earlier, I was surfing the internet because I couldn’t sleep. Like most nights, I followed link after link until I settled on something I liked. After an hour, I was staring at a young, beautiful Asian woman.
Cherry Blossoms — Asian Dating. A mail-order bride website? I wasn’t sure what I was seeing. I scrolled down, and at the bottom of the page, there were some blurry photos of women. I clicked around and read the profiles of a few. I tried to picture myself dating any of the women and couldn’t. First, they were all young, and at 43, I thought it was just a little too creepy. Second, I didn’t think there would be interest in someone like me.
Still, I didn’t stop looking. I searched for women closer to my age and found a few. It probably speaks to how lonely I was, but I pulled out my credit card and signed up for a month. I spent the rest of the night building a profile. Then I went to sleep and didn’t think about it until the next day.
I logged in when I woke up and was shocked! Two hundred messages were waiting for me! I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t think I’d get much response because of my weight and in those days, I wasn’t feeling very attractive.
I read through the messages and looked at the profiles of a few women. I didn’t respond because even though I had stated my age, all the women were between 18 and 22 years old. It was hard to picture myself with someone who was as old as my firstborn.
The next day, I was responding to a few women and saw a picture. In it, a young woman was smiling one of the most honest and open smiles I’d ever seen. It was like someone said something hilarious right before they took the picture.
Is it possible to fall in love with a picture? I didn’t know, but I also couldn’t get her image out of my head. I sent her a message in return, and she responded. Even though I was nervous and unused to having conversations, I agreed to video chat with her later that night. I didn’t know what I was doing, because this woman was only 25. But I am, after all, a man, and the fact that a beautiful woman wanted to talk to me made me feel like a teenager again.
The chat that night was wonderful, and from that point on, we talked for hours each day. We were 18 hours and 18 years apart but somehow got past all that. We bonded, and within a few weeks, I knew I was in love. I also knew I wanted to be with her, but she was on the other side of the world.
Sometime over the next few months, I decided that I was going to make a change. My life had gone downhill since the divorce, and I was alone. I was physically and mentally ill, and I knew I had to make a drastic change for the better.
I decided I was going to move to the Philippines and marry Flora. I spent the next few months saving for the plane ticket. After I knew my departure date, I started the long process of either selling or throwing away everything I had collected over my lifetime. I didn’t know it then, but this was the event that caused me to embrace minimalism (but that’s a different story).
Two weeks before I was to leave, I had one suitcase and my laptop. Standing in my empty apartment was the first time the weight of what I was doing hit me. I cried for the first time in years because I was afraid. At the same time, I knew I was doing the right thing.
The next two weeks were spent saying goodbye to my family and tying up last-minute details.
It was hard to leave my kids, but they had their own lives.
It was time to change mine.
The first few years saw many things change, and a few stay the same. Flora and I were married, but we didn’t know each other very well. I made a lot of mistakes, and so did she. Somehow, through it all, we stayed together.
I quit smoking and lost weight. After some troubling events, I made changes to how I reacted to my mental illness. Things got better.
Eight years later, I can finally say I am happy. I spend every day with the loves of my life, Flora, and Zoey. They make me glad that I’m alive.
I still have issues with my mental health, but I found the strength to fight back, and everything is getting better.
Sometimes it takes a drastic change of life to shake things up. It wasn’t a perfect solution, but I committed to it and made it work.
I’m glad I did.
What this means for you
Drastic change is not for everyone. Some people do better by making small changes over time.
In this case, I knew it had to be a big step.
It’s scary to follow your heart. In my case, my heart had led me astray many times in the past, but I felt like I needed to give it one more try.
I’m glad I did.
There are a few things I learned while making this journey.
Burn the lifeboats
If you make a drastic change, don’t make it easy to return to the old way. In my situation, I moved to the Philippines with no money. It wasn’t ideal because I had no plan if there was an emergency. But I was forced to improvise, and it all worked out.
Don’t make it easy but think of emergencies. If you are doing something like I did and moving far away, plan. Don’t just strand yourself because you never know what could happen.
When you change, everything changes. You can’t be set in your ways.
I’ve seen others follow my example and come to the Philippines. For them, it didn’t work because they expected it to be like it always was.
It can’t be.
Roll with the punches and embrace the difference.
Plan your journey
Make plans and goals. Don’t just float in the current and let things happen to you. Stay aware and take action.
Even though I am suggesting you follow your heart, don’t go stumbling about blindly. Know what you are getting into and know where you will be in the future.
Then take action. Action is the only thing that will get you what you want.
Life is short, follow your heart
I had almost given up on my heart. As I said, it led me astray. It was as broken as it could be after my divorce. But somehow it let me know that it was still there. It told me what it wanted and needed.
Follow your heart. Plan your journey. Take action.
Fortune favors the bold!
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Jason Weiland is a writer, blogger, vlogger, and mental health advocate living a dream life in far-away destinations he only dreamed of as a kid. He talks about difficult issues but has never lost his sense of humor or willingness to understand others and help when he can.
He would love to connect with you on social media.