Mermaid Melissa Dawn Finds Love With Merman Antonio Padilla (PHOTOS)

First Posted: 07/02/13 EDT Updated: 07/04/13 EDT

Lots of people start dating someone at work, but how many people meet the love of their life while wearing a 60-pound fish tail underwater?

That's the workplace romance of how Melissa Dawn, 31, a Florida-based "professional mermaid," found her true love.

Dawn, better known as "Mermaid Melissa," has a huge web following because she can hold her breath for five minutes underwater while swimming in a realistic, not to mention, sexy mermaid outfits.

Perfecting her aquatic talents took up so much of her time that this mermaid was afraid to jump into the dating pool for a long time.

Now Dawn is done waiting to exhale: She is lifting her head up out of the water and, for the first time, publicly admitting she is in love with a merman.

It sounds fishy -- and it is -- but Dawn is in love with Antonio Padilla, 33, a fellow performer who dresses up as a merman for her shows when he's not performing at Sea World in Orlando.

"From day one, there was a connection, but I didn't know what it was," Dawn told The Huffington Post. "I got along with everyone [at Sea World], but he was the only one I wanted to socialize with."

GALLERY: MER-PEOPLE IN LOVE (Story continues below)

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  • Mer-people In Love

    Mermaids are fictional creatures but two people who dress up in fish fins for a living say their love for each other is no myth.

  • Mer-people In Love

    Melissa Dawn, aka "Mermaid Melissa," has found love in the past year with professional merman Antonio Padilla.

  • Mer-people In Love

    The two met in 2009 at Sea World in Orlando, Fla., and got along swimmingly as friends.

  • Mer-people In Love

    The friendship blossomed, but Dawn realized she had stronger feelings for Padilla after a female friend confessed she had a crush on him.

  • Mer-people In Love

    Dawn said she is very business-oriented, but said Padilla is someone who taught her to be more laid-back. He also showed his support by willingly putting on a fish fin for her.

  • Mer-people In Love

    Dawn said Padilla fits the perfect embodiment of a merman, but he said he is still surprised by the reaction he gets from fans, some who want to pet his scales.

  • Mer-people In Love

    Padilla said he always thought Dawn was good-looking, but tends to be shy around women until he gets the green light.

  • Mer-people In Love

    Some people believe the two are really mermaids, and Dawn tells people who ask that she is as real as a mermaid gets. Padilla is more forthcoming about being human and admits he doesn't sit around watching TV in his fish suit.

  • Mer-people In Love

    It's not easy being a professional mermaid. Earaches are common and the fins weigh up to 60 pounds.

  • Mer-people In Love

    Padilla says he and Dawn are best friends and doesn't see their love ending.

  • Mer-people In Love

    Dawn says being in love helps her give better performances and that Padilla has taught her to stay calm.

  • Mer-people In Love

    Padilla says being a merman has turned out to be one of the most exciting things he's ever done. For Dawn, it's the fullfillment of a lifetime dream.

  • Mer-people In Love

    Dawn is currently working on a nationwide mermaid tour including Padilla that will end at the Los Angeles County Fair in late August.

  • Mer-people In Love

    As great as their love is for each other, Dawn wants the two of them to each be seen for their talents rather than just as mermaids in love.

The two met in 2009, when they were both working as aquatic performers at Sea World. Dawn was building a private business doing mermaid shows at various aquariums and in her own bus equipped with a water tank.

"I was never looking for love, because I'm so business-oriented," she explained. "I noticed his ability right away. He really brings in the crowds.

"I didn't realize I liked him romantically until a mutual friend admitted having a crush on him," Dawn said.

Padilla tells it more like a classic boy-meets-fish story.

"She's good-looking, and I was attracted, but I tend to be shy with women until I get the greenlight," he told HuffPost.

The two have been a couple officially for a year, but held off announcing it until now. Dawn didn't want Padilla to be seen as just another fish in the sea.

"I want him to be seen for his talent and me for mine, rather than just two people who are mermaids," she said.

Dawn describes their love as friendship caught fire. She knew he was quite the catch because he's willingly to help out her shows by hopping into the tank wearing a mermaid tail that weighs up to 60 pounds.

"He just fits the merman ideal," she said. "He gets women wanting to pet his scales."

Padilla said when he was approached about becoming a merman, he was willing to give it a try for Dawn, who, was at the time, just his friend.

"At first, I was skeptical, but I like a challenge," he said. "It's hard on the legs. Sometimes, my toes are completed pointed in the fins for two, three hours at a time."

Over the past few years, Dawn has built up the Mermaid Melissa business, which includes a whole "school" of mermaids and mermen, and tour buses with tanks. She started depending on Padilla more than she expected. He works as an emcee dressed as a pirate, drives the bus and helps keeps his mermaid lover's emotions buoyant.

"I put on a better performance now, because he's around me," she said. "He challenges me without realizing it. To give up control is hard, but he's taught me to stay calm."

There are other differences as well. Padilla is perfectly happy to keep his life as a merman separate from his real life, even admitting, "We don't watch TV in mermaid suits."

Dawn is a little more cagey and doesn't like to come right out and destroy any illusions that she's not actually half-fish.

"I will say that I'm as real as a mermaid gets," she said. "But so much of the ocean has not been explored, so it's crazy to think it's just us on this planet."

The deep-sea duo aren't able to fathom what the future holds, but are simply enjoying the wave of excitement that being in love offers.

"We are best friends as well," Padilla said. "I don't perform at every show she does, but we love getting a chance to work together. That's the best. I don't see this ending."