Dear Renita,
I am a 37-year-old female who has never really been in a relationship with a man. Until recently, I had been overweight all my life, but not obese. Men were always cruel to me and ruined my self esteem. Now that I've lost the weight guys are always looking at me, and I get so angry--almost violent--because I know that men will always be superficial. I have never been sexually active (thank God) and have no desire too. I am considering marrying a man that is much older or somebody that has no interest in sex for whatever reason. I would love to have male companionship without all the "red tape" that comes with it. I really don't want anything to do with men, but I would like to know how to forgive or at least get over my severe hatred for them. I feel that my hurt is only doing more harm to me than them because just the sight of them makes me physically ill--dizziness, feeling as if I want to vomit, and sometimes anxiety attacks. If there is any advice you can offer, it will be greatly appreciated.
--The Pain Lingers

Dear "The Pain Lingers,"

Listen to Renita's Answer
First, congratulations on taking the steps needed to lose weight and get healthy. With federal researchers estimating that 6 out of 10 Americans are overweight and are in danger of facing chronic health challenges as they get older, you've taken an important step in protecting yourself against weight-related medical problems later in life.

Now that you've dropped the physical weight, it's time to shed the emotional and internal pain you've been carrying around. I applaud you for wanting to tackle the lingering anger you feel toward those who used and abused you when you were overweight.

Your ambivalence about getting into another relationship with a man comes through clearly in your note. Based on how they treated when you were overweight looking for love, you don't trust men to love you now that you're slimmer and healthier. But you've somehow convinced yourself that perhaps it'll be possible to avoid dealing with sex especially if you just marry an older man. Well, forget it. That's wishful thinking on your part. Sex is a natural part of marriage, and you'll have to deal with sex in some form regardless of who you marry. Better to get over the pain of past relationships than rob yourself of the joy and pleasure that can be had when you marry a man worthy of your love and trust.

Let's be honest: you were treated awfully in your past. You'd hoped you'd be loved from the inside out. But the men you gave yourself to couldn't get past your weight and treated you cruelly by making your weight an issue in the relationship. Your ego and self-esteem took a beating, and you're still carrying with you the pain of those relationships. If you've been reading my column for any time you know already that I believe strongly in professional counseling. We all could do with some professional help when it comes to healing the emotional pain we carry around with us. The chronic emotional pain that eats away at our confidence and self-esteem takes its toll on our relationships. I believe that if you do the work needed to become healthy within with the same enthusiasm and commitment you tackled getting healthy without, you will heal.

Find a counselor who can help you figure out what made you choose the men you chose in the past (after all, there are men out there who love and know how to treat plus size women). Counseling will help you avoid making the same choice in men now that you've lost weight. Counseling can also help you recover the bits and pieces of yourself you gave away to undeserving men, and reclaim those bits and pieces in your journey to becoming a whole and healthy woman.

Finally, I won't lie and make you think there's some magical formula to forgiving. There isn't. Forgiving, letting go of the past, and moving forward with you life are processes, and they take time. Sometimes in our struggles with the hurts and betrayals we've endured, it's helpful simply to understand what made folks do what they did to us and why we sat by and permitted stuff to happen that we had the power to prevent.

There's, admittedly, sadness in understanding, a sadness in coming to grips with the fact that people are not who you hoped they were and needed them to be, a sadness in coming to grips with the fact that we were more needy and desperate that we should have been. But with the passing of time, it's a sadness that's no longer tinged with anger. Sometimes that as close enough to forgiveness as many of us can get. After a while, the anger toward the other person evaporates. After a while, you forgive yourself. And from there, you can move on.

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