We show love in many different ways — a dozen crimson roses, a sickly-sweet poem, a rushed quickie in the back of a green VW Beetle on a sweaty August night.
Many times, we don’t even realize someone is professing their love until much later. Sometimes we find love and then do everything we can to lose it. We screw up because we are blind and stupid.
At least I was.
In 2011, I packed up my life in a suitcase and moved to the Philippines. I did it because I needed a change, but mostly because I wanted to be with a woman named Flora. We met online eight months before, and I promised to marry her one month after the first time we chatted.
I tell Flora I’ve been in love with her since the first moment I saw her smile in an old photo, but she’s not buying what I’m selling. She’s a little more realistic about our relationship.
We came together because we were both in desperate straits. There, I said it. I want to say our love was something out of a Disney movie — but desperate need was what drove our relationship.
Flora was in a bad situation. She didn’t have her family to protect her and was in a difficult place because of a bad guy.
I was always two steps away from walking in front of a bus. When I wasn’t contemplating my death, I shut myself away in my apartment. I was lonely. I wasn’t getting the love I needed. Nobody took care of me. I was in a pattern of making bad decisions that only benefited others. I needed out of my life.
We were both desperate and looking for someone to help us get out of our miserable existence. We knew we could count on each other.
I told her I loved her, and I did in my way. She said she loved me too, but I knew she was more in love with the idea of me. We only knew each other from video chat and Facebook posts, so how much did we really know about each other?
I wanted to be with Flora. I saw a new life, and I did what I had to do to be with her. Flora saw me as a way out of her problems, and a means to change the direction of her life.
We knew the reality but clung to love as the reason for everything.
That’s not to say we don’t love each other now — we do very much. We’ve learned to love through tough times and shared experiences. We earned our love.
In September of 2011, I landed in Manila after a grueling travel marathon. I’d never spent so much time sitting on a plane. My body was in terrible shape to be sitting for so long. I was 360 pounds and sick. I could hardly walk down the jetway to the tarmac when I arrived.
It was damn hot — but not just hot, damn humid. I knew it would take some time for me to get used to the tropical environment. It was midnight, but there was a mass of people at the airport and no working air conditioning.
My new life was starting rough.
After I found Flora waiting for me outside the terminal, we took a taxi to the hotel. This was the first time we met in person. She looked shocked, and I could tell she didn’t realize how fat I was from our nightly video chats, but I could also see that she only cared that I was here, in the Philippines, with her. We kissed in the back seat as the driver dodged cars.
There is something you must understand before we go any further. About ten months before, I reconnected with my old religion. I did it because I was tired of thinking only of myself, and I wanted to make my parents happy.
I started going back and associating with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and it didn’t take long before the old conditioning took over. I jumped wholeheartedly back into that life.
Flora was also associating with the Witnesses in the Philippines but was not affected by the teachings as much. My lifetime of indoctrination had dragged me back to an old way of thinking.
I had all the same doubts and misgivings as I did before, but I was willing to put them aside if I could just have a little faith again. Even though I didn’t agree with what they fed me, I still ate it because I wanted to belong.
A few months into my relationship with Flora, my dad suggested I talk to the Elders about my plans to marry her. When you’re a good Witness, you don’t rely on yourself — the organization dictates everything in your life.
The Elders told me, in no uncertain terms, that I couldn’t marry Flora because she wasn’t baptized. I’d been baptized as a teenager and was one of the “great crowd” who had the hope to live forever on a paradise earth. But, Flora was not, and I shouldn’t have promised myself to her.
As you can guess, this didn’t sit with me very well. I was not a child that my life should be dictated by men whose only guides were a book of fiction and the literature written by the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
I ignored the Elders eventually, but first, in a moment of weakness, I told Flora we couldn’t marry. She broke down (who could blame her), and if she had cut me off and never spoke to me again, it would have all been over. But she stuck with me, and we talked. We decided we would go forward despite what the Elders told me.
And even though the seed of my freedom from religion had taken root, I was still very much brainwashed by the Witnesses when I came to the Philippines.
We had a room together in Manila, which made the Witness in me nervous. That first night was wonderful, but we didn’t make love. I wouldn’t know until many years later that Flora thought I didn’t want to be intimate because I didn’t like her. She thought I wasn’t attracted to her. It must have been horrible for her.
I was clueless.
I was trying not to give in to Satan and sin.
We made love the second night, but it was nothing to brag about. I’ve never been a sexual dynamo.
I wouldn’t become comfortable with sex until the night before we married a month later. But by then, the damage had been done in our relationship. Flora believed I wasn’t happy with her and I didn’t want to tell her.
A few weeks after I arrived, we decided we would see her family in Iloilo City so I could ask her father for her hand in marriage (I’m an old-fashioned guy and still had a misogynist’s brain. I’ve learned since that women aren’t property to hand off to another man). I wanted to fix the distance that had come between Flora and her family, and the best way for me to help was to get everyone together.
I’d been sick since I arrived in the country. The medication I was taking wasn’t working, and not only was I having bad reactions, but I felt depressed and anxious. Flora didn’t know what to do. She knew I was mentally ill, but she never realized the degree to which I was sick.
She thought I was having second thoughts and pushing her away. She felt hopeless. We’d been arguing, and I knew a trip would be the perfect thing to smooth things out.
But, by the time we got to the airport, I knew something was very wrong with me physically. I had terrible diarrhea and nausea. I didn’t know what was going on, and I wasn’t looking forward to an hour-long plane ride.
When we landed in Iloilo City, we went straight to the hotel, and I collapsed in bed. I had a fever, and I didn’t want to eat. I laid in bed and moaned while Flora worried I was dying.
The next day we went to the family farm even though I was sick. I was weak and didn’t know if I could make the walk through the rice fields. I couldn’t eat, and I made the new family I’d met moments before worry about me. I went straight to bed and lay there for the rest of the day. Several times I had “accidents,” and my new Mamang cleaned up after me even though she didn’t know me.
What must they have thought of the big, fat white guy their daughter brought into their house — the one who was now crapping all over the place?
After a horrible night — at the urging of Flora’s family — I went to the hospital.
It turns out my weak American immune system wasn’t acclimated to the food and water in the Philippines. I had traveler’s diarrhea and was fighting a bug in my system.
Don’t let anyone ever talk about the healthcare system in the Philippines. I had the best care in the world by a team of doctors and at least 12 nurses. They made sure I was comfortable, and I had everything I needed.
During the three days I was in the hospital, not only was Flora there in the room with me but her family was as well. None of these people knew me but treated me as if I were one of them.
I was so weak I couldn’t even wipe my own butt. Not only did Flora wipe me but she cleaned me with soap so I wouldn’t smell. This delicate little thing dragged me to the bathroom and did something disgusting for someone she hardly knew. My new mother-in-law-to-be (Mamang) even washed my soiled underwear!
If that’s not love, I don’t know what is!
I knew I was feeling better when my new brother Josh brought in some mango ice cream and I ate some. Okay, I ate a lot. I can tell you — there is not much better in this world than mango ice cream on a hot day.
Once back at the farm, Mamang cooked up a storm. I’d never tried real Filipino dishes and was in heaven. I know I should have taken it easy after my ordeal, but I couldn’t resist the food in front of me. It was the first time I tried Manok (chicken) Adobo, and it’s still my favorite dish to this day.
I felt at ease and like part of this wonderful family. In all the years I’ve known them, they’ve always taken the best care of me. They never ask for anything in return.
They are not showy people, but I know they love me as much as I love them.’
Flora and I married a few weeks later and have worked on building our love ever since. It’s not been perfect, but I can truly say it’s been the best years of my life.
I almost missed out on love because I was stupid — over and over again. I could have ruined everything, but somehow, our stars aligned and we made it through the worst of the bad times.
Love found me, and I embraced it.
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Jason Weiland is a writer, blogger, vlogger, and mental health advocate living a dream life in places 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.
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