Back then, I was a very different girl than I am now. I was 24 and had just moved to New York City to pursue my dreams of starring on Broadway. I was overweight, as I had been my entire life, and while I felt great about my talent and intelligence, I had never felt good about my body. Multiple tortured attempts at weight loss never resulted in the slim physique I’d dreamed of since childhood, and my self-esteem wasn’t terrific. I was young, hopeful, and romantic, albeit a little damaged.
James’s band had back-up singers, and that was my in. After months of campaigning, I got my first gig singing with them. The whole night, I stuck by James like glue, and he took me home. We hooked up, but we didn’t have intercourse, because he wouldn’t let it go there. He said he probably shouldn’t get involved with someone who was going to be in his band — but of course, he waited until after we’d already fooled around to say that. Still, I was sure this was the beginning of a beautiful relationship.
For the next 10 months, James swung me back and forth so many times, I developed a kind of emotional whiplash. He’d be all about me one day, and the next time I saw him, he’d give me a speech about how we could only be friends — because, you know, the band. But whenever I would start seeing someone else, he’d come knocking, saying how much he missed me. And the whole time, he made sure our sexual relationship never progressed to anything that resembled a satisfying situation for me. Meaning: no orgasms for Samia.
While that was going on, I made myself as indispensable to the band as I could. I worked harder than anyone else, way beyond my role as a backup singer. I would carry equipment and help figure out logistics. I did whatever I could to prove my worth to this guy. I thought if I showed him all the ways I could be useful, he would fall in love with me.
Nearly a year after we met, things seemed to be progressing. James asked me out to dinner at a sexy, upscale Thai restaurant — we were going on a real date, I thought. I wore a new dress and did my hair, thinking he was finally falling for me.
But I soon found out that he’d only asked me to dinner in order to explain why we could never be together. He looked at me and said, "Samia, I’m really superficial, and you’re not…you’re just not…" He trailed off and shrugged.
"I’m not what?" I said. I waited. He said nothing. "I’m not…hot enough for you?" I grabbed my purse and stood up, shocked and fighting back tears as I ran out of the restaurant.
He followed, sputtering excuses about how that’s not what he meant, and when I put it like that, it sounded so ugly.
Ugly, like me. I cried on the street and let the asshole hug me.
After that, I started dating someone new who got serious about me really fast. And of course, James’ response to watching me slip away was completely predictable: He tried to get me back. This time, he said he’d been too scared to admit how much he cared for me, and he was ready to take things to the next level. And we finally had sex. (Holy hell, that took forever.)
I believed in all the clichés about men being too 'afraid' to let themselves love you, and I was so happy that this man had broken through his fear.
A few months into our newly official relationship, I realised something that blew my mind. I’d been walking around my whole adult life with a deeply held belief that no one would ever love me. That sounds so dramatic, but deep down, I believed it. And even though James wasn’t perfect, he loved me. Or at least, he said he did, and that was enough to blast that damaging self-belief right out of my subconscious and into the front of my mind, where I had to deal with it for the first time.
Somebody loved me. I was deserving of love. It was insane that I had felt otherwise, and that I hadn’t even realised it until now. I kicked those ideas right out of my head and heart, took a good long look at myself, and experienced nothing short of a life-changing epiphany.
After dispelling the damaging belief that I wasn’t loveable, I could no longer justify treating myself like I wasn’t the most important person in my own life. I’d been so down on myself that taking care of my body just didn’t seem worth it — and as a performer, being in great shape could only help me. By not eating healthfully, exercising, and treating my body as well as possible, I wasn’t giving myself my best chance in life. I couldn’t in good conscience let that state of affairs continue. I had to do something.
After dispelling the damaging belief that I wasn’t loveable, I could no longer justify treating myself like I wasn’t the most important person in my own life.
I reveled in it. I bought all new clothes. I started wearing jeans again, which I’d always found too uncomfortable when I was bigger. I stopped hiding my stomach with bags or pillows. My confidence skyrocketed.
I started attracting male attention in a way I had never experienced before. It was like the whole world had suddenly awoken to my hotness. In a way, it was infuriating (like, hello, guys, I was sexy literally this entire time), but I also don’t think it was just my physical transformation that changed the game for me. I was holding my head higher, smiling more, walking into every room like I was the most fabulous creature in existence. Happy, confident people are magnetic.
For the first time in my life, I was firing on all cylinders. I was strong, fit, and healthy. I was feeling myself, and I felt great.
But when it came to my relationship with James, ostensibly the trigger that had sparked all these positive changes in my life, cracks began to run through the rose-coloured shades I wore when I looked at him. As I blossomed into a happier, more confident version of myself, it started to dawn on me that maybe he wasn’t the epic catch I’d always thought he was. He didn’t really pay much attention to me. We could hang out for an entire evening without him ever once really looking at me. He didn’t kiss or touch me much, and he almost never initiated sex. And weirdly, it was like the stronger and more confident I became, the less interest he seemed to have.
He also wasn’t supportive of my career unless what I was doing served him somehow. When I was super excited about booking a job doing summer-stock theatre for two months on the Jersey shore, he reacted with hostile disappointment: "What about the band? What am I supposed to do about all the gigs you’re going to miss?"
Our dynamic within the band was horrible. He would actively devalue and degrade me in front of the other musicians if he thought it would make him look powerful. He didn’t treat me with the respect that I deserved as a featured performer in his act, let alone as his girlfriend.
This man, who had originally told me he was "really superficial," who played hot and cold with me for nearly a year, who only wanted me when he was losing me, who let me work my ass off for him and sacrifice my own career aspirations in order to support his, who never once did a damn thing to support mine — this man did not love me. At least, he didn’t love me right. And it wasn’t like he had changed over the course of our relationship. He had always been that way. I just hadn't seen it, because I was so down on myself that I didn’t think I deserved any better.
I have no regrets. James, as flawed as he was, gave me a beautiful gift by forcing me to confront my darkest inner voices. I’m sure I would’ve gotten there eventually without him, but that’s not how it happened. His confused, imperfect attempt at loving me was just a mirror for how poorly I loved myself. I attracted the love I thought I deserved.
For a person who’d always considered herself confident and capable, that was such a shocking realisation: that everything in my life had to change. When you love yourself, you don’t let people treat you like shit. You don’t beg for love. You don’t half-ass your life. You live your life, you dream big, you set goals, and you achieve them. You focus on joy and gratitude, and you surround yourself with people who support you and who are living their lives similarly. When you really love yourself, it’s impossible to be with someone who doesn’t feel the same way.