Kidnapped by a conspiracy of friends who would not take “no” for an answer, I stood there, awkward as can be, at a little weekend getaway in honor of a friend’s engagement. By no means comfortable in social settings and garbed in an ill-fitting tee shirt and baseball cap, I looked more like a grubby teenage boy than a twenty-something young lady.

Everyone else was off playing golf while I stood there all alone, wondering how many dreadful hours remained until I was safely home. But then, one of the men who was part of our group approached me and struck up a conversation. Given my distorted perception of my own worth (or, rather, lack thereof) at that time, this seemed really weird to me. Weirder still, he stood there talking to me for over an hour about the pasteurization research I was doing that summer (a duller topic I could not imagine). He was all sincerity as we talked on—but then he had said his name was “Ted,” which was the name of my friend’s fiancé (whom I had never met). Maybe he was just taking pity on his betrothed’s awkward friend?

Things just got weirder when everyone else came back and we went mini golfing and he insisted on being my partner. Why was he paying so much attention to me and being so friendly when he was set to marry my friend? It took a while but, finally, I realized his name was not “Ted” but rather “Ed,” and he was not engaged to my friend after all. (We still laugh about my mix-up, though I didn’t tell him the tale until after we were married!)

I truly appreciated his friendly interest in a girl who wasn’t even looking for a relationship. At that time, I had basically given up social relations of any sort as impossible due to some unknown defect in my own character. At the time, I did not understand that past abuse had jaded my view of myself and every sort of relationship. I had never really interacted with a man of integrity before. At a time when I was living in social isolation and cared very little for my outward appearance, he looked past all that and saw the person I was, or rather could be—even when I couldn’t see it myself.

I left him with my email address and a hopeful heart, and, eventually, we went out on what was supposed to be a group date. But all the other parties backed out, and it was just us. I had a great time but panicked: this couldn’t be happening! I had a hundred excuses why it couldn’t, must not happen and very nearly ended it right before our second date. But, in the end, I gave him one last chance, or rather, gave myself one last chance, and after that, I didn’t look back.

He taught me that my past did not define my future, that how others treated me did not define my value, that what had happened to me wasn’t my fault nor did I deserve it. But how could I deserve him? I was terrified, and I was also astonished that he wanted my love. At the time I could not put such thoughts into words; it was only upon reflection years later that I could appreciate what he had done for me.

He taught me what it is to be truly appreciated for who you are, that the acts of others do not impact your value as a person, and that everyone, including me, deserves to be treated with respect, kindness, and dignity—something I had never before known.

No matter your personal flaws or broken past, there are real men out there who can see beneath the thin facade, who value you for you. You are beautiful, valuable, and precious, no matter what other people, the broader culture, or your own misgivings tell you. You deserve a man who appreciates you for who you are—and he is worth waiting for.