The challenges we face dating with psoriasis when we first start out

“I just took what I could get, I didn’t think that anyone could ever love me with my skin at that point, so it was pretty hard.” Reena

Reena and I both dated throughout our teens while living with psoriasis. One of the interesting things is that we had very similar experiences, even though we live on opposite sides of the world.

When I reflect on my dating experiences at school, I was definitely not pro-active. Initially, I was timid about dating and felt like there was something wrong with me because I wasn’t interested in boys until I was about 15. There was very little pro-active work on my part. I chose my boyfriends from the small selection of people who made themselves available to me.

I naively felt grateful that I had boys who were interested at all, and so I never followed up feelings of interest with the guys I liked a few years above me (because why would they be interested in me?) The fact that these same people would come and talk to me at parties did not feature in my version of reality at all.

Reena describes her experience like this:

“I think I was struggling with like myself, so I was just accepting whatever I could get, you know, I was just hoping someone, anyone would love me with my skin. And so yeah, I’m happy to say I’ve definitely gotten better since that point. And you know, going back to, I believe it’s the relationship of self-love and believing that I’m worthy of love, no matter what my skin looks like, and that I really want to be with somebody who cares about me and supports me.”

I just wish I had heard someone talk about this 20 years ago.

The funny- but not really funny thing is – with 2% of the population living with psoriasis, there may have been another person like me, and like Reena at my school. But I hid, and they probably hid, so we never found each other.

If there are 1,500 people in your school…. there could be around 30 people just like you. Experiencing things just like you. Worrying just like you, and feeling isolated, just like you.

People tend to know your hiding.

There are subliminal messages we send out, even when we think we are being discreet. At school, it must have been evident that when I walked out for our class swimming lessons- I walked like a crab… with my back to the wall at all times. My psoriasis was at its most evident down my back and along the backs of my arms- and the school issue swimming costumes were, of course, cut low at the back.

In my twenties and thirties, the giveaways may be more subtle since I can choose my environment and clothing, but things like having a catalog of all of the cavernously dark bars and candlelit dining venues is a sure giveaway your hiding something…when you also turn up in long sleeves…and gloves.

“He called me out early in the relationship and said, ‘Is there a reason you’re always wearing sweaters, cover your hands and wear really long socks.’

And so I ended up telling him that I had psoriasis and I’d never had that conversation before and he… oh my gosh, he didn’t reject me he said can I see it Can I touch it What does it feel like? Does it hurt like he was curious and that was such a beautiful way to be received and being received that way actually really gave me that outside validation I needed to know that like because he and I stayed together for seven years and my skin was never an issue he was there through the flares” Reena

I have been asked many times on a date too. Sometimes its a question: what is that on your arms, or as my boyfriend at 17 said ‘ah you have that scabby flaky scalp thing my dad has…’ CRINGE!

I always dreaded those questions, but I have never had a date decline once they know I have psoriasis. Usually, it’s my behavior because I have psoriasis that ends up shutting them out.

Not everyone deserves you.

Some people will not accept you, and that is life. It’s a theme that has come up several times through this dating series. The positive is that by getting rid of those people at the start means that you have the opportunity to spend so much more time with people who appreciate who you are, which is why I love Reena so much. This last line had me screaming internal screams of Yes! just yes, yes yes…and yes.

“I’m also willing to move on from people who may not like me or I may I may not be their cup of tea, or they may not be attracted to me because of it. That’s okay too. You know, they’re allowed to have their preference, but I want to be with someone who, who loves me the same way I love myself.”

Dating is hard: its time to own it.

Dating is hard for everyone, not just for those of us living with psoriasis. I took cyclosporin in my early twenties and it meant that for the first time in my life I could see my knee caps. It was also the first time in my life I could go on a date without worrying about my psoriasis. It really changed my perspective on my own behaviours.

“The psoriasis wasn’t dictating who I was. I was using it as an excuse. And I started to just be a little more confident in myself when I realized that I was going on the date- but I was still talking about my psoriasis even though you couldn’t see it, it was just so much part of my life. I just learned to be more confident with it.” Gemma

I used my psoriasis as an excuse. An excuse to stay in a safe place. To not ask out the guy I really wanted, or to book that well-lit restaurant. It does make things harder- but it didnt make things harder in all of the areas i thought it did.

Humour as a survival technique.

Humour can be a great way to make a living with psoriasis easier when life is shared with someone else.

It’s hard to believe, but when both partners in a relationship are open about the trials and tribulations of living with psoriasis, there can be moments of humor. Reena talks about joking with her ex about vacuuming up a trail of flakes from around the house, and her friend whose husband affectionally calls her ‘Cheetah.’

In our house, we joke about the UV machine that lives in our bedroom, and the fact there’s no excuse for not having moisturizer on hand for an impromptu massage.

Humour can be great when telling people you have psoriasis too which I talk about more in the six (LINK) strategies you can use on a first date. Telling your partner that you have super healing powers because your skin replicates so fast, or that you’re related to Kim Kardashian because you have the same skin disease.

The importance of being vulnerable

This probably applies more to those further on in the dating journey that the first date, but it’s worth thinking about before you start.

I found growing up with psoriasis, that I put up a lot of barriers to keep myself safe. I could never imagine opening up and asking for help with my skin when I could find some way to tackle the problem for myself.

I have recently learned that having barriers, even though they were for my self-preservation, is not helpful when trying to nurture a loving and all-embracing relationship. In my last flare, I struggled to take care of myself and finally asked my partner to help me apply creams to my back. As we had stopped having sex (it was too painful, and I felt exhausted), this became the love language we used to stay connected. This may sound crazy, but this was an act of love. I was being vulnerable asking for help, and he reciprocated that respect with the gift of touch and acceptance.

I love how Reena talks about this too- she helped me understand why I had put up so many barriers when she described her experience in these words.

“especially when it’s something so intimate to us, our skin is very personal, and something that we touch and we take care of. And we are protective. So allowing another person in and being vulnerable with them, and them taking the responsibility to touch us, I can see that being extremely intimate.

….And when I was going through my flare as well, sex wasn’t an option, because it’s painful. You are in pain, your body hurts, you don’t feel really attractive. If anything, you’re just trying to get through the day, right? Everything hurts so much. So I really like that as an as a strategy to kind of keep intimacy and stay close and allow us to feel good. Because flare times can be some of the lowest moments.”

Talking about what we like to say to our younger selves, learning to be more vulnerable, earlier in a relationships something I would say to myself. It took me almost ten years in my current relationship to start opening up about how psoriasis was really impacting my life, and that really is too long! I also learned that I should have opened up to my friends sooner too- something I discovered talking to Reena in episode 15??. We need our friends to support us, and they can only do this effectively if they really know what is going on.

Reena talks about shame- and this is something I am thinking more about.

“when we’re vulnerable, it allows us to step out of that shame. Like we’ve done something wrong like it’s something to be ashamed of.

Even for myself in my own healing, whether it be with friends and family that I’ve talked about it with, or the online community every time that I’ve given myself the opportunity to be vulnerable (even though I feel ill while I’m doing it- I feel sick, and I feel nervous about sharing) I do it, and it takes off the armor for me, right? It allows me to look at myself with self-compassion and say “you didn’t do anything wrong. This is this is a part of who you are”. This condition has manifested, and there’s nothing to be ashamed of.”

Psoriasis can help with connection.

“psoriasis used to isolate me. And now it connects me” Reena.

“when someone touches you who don’t know what surprises is, it’s very exhilarating because it’s again, it’s it’s not hiding anymore, right? It’s, it’s taking up some space and seeing where we’re worthy of a touch of love and have so much more.” Reena

Onto your questions 🙂

Q: When is the right time to have a conversation about your skin?

Gemma: I think it depends on where your psoriasis is, so if its somewhere really obvious like on your face or on your hands and you can see the other person has noticed it, and they’re kind of itching to ask. I think it’s fair to bring it up on the first date, but if your psoriasis is hidden, then it’s perfectly fine to leave it a couple of a couple of dates in – because really you’re just getting to know each other.

I usually did end up talking about it on the first date because if I didn’t, it felt a little bit like my guilty secret. I judged it based on the guy, so if he was really open and really understanding and it felt comfortable to bring it up, then I would. If I hadn’t quite sussed him out yet and I wasn’t sure how he would react, then I kept it to myself and just waited to see how the dynamic worked.

Reena: Wow, okay, that’s what’s cool because that’s a different viewpoint, so depending on where it is on your skin that’s really that’s it’s such a good point because if it is kind of out there then it’s great to have the conversation up front and then also as you saying that it was like a guilty, guilty secret.

I recently met someone who, whose lives away and we’ve met a couple of times, and we’ve talked, but I didn’t have the psoriasis conversation with them because we’ve just gone out I didn’t think it was necessary to have it. I didn’t feel the urge. And I just was kind of holding back.

……But then he started following my Instagram!

I share everything on Instagram. I am an open book that is a place that I vulnerable, I had no clue that I would be single again and that so it’s like my whole life had been laid out for him right there.

And so I felt really exposed very defensive. I started having doubts. What if he doesn’t like me? What if he thinks my skin is gross? And then I had to remind myself if that’s, you know, what do I want? And what kind of person do I want to be with and what do I deserve and I’m so grateful for being online with people like you, right? And the Instagram community to remind me of my worthiness.

So he followed me, and I went through like a panic attack. But when we finally spoke on the phone, he said that he went through my posts and he had no clue I was going through something like this, but it makes him like me more.

He sees how much work I’ve done. That he found me inspirational. I thought that was really that was a beautiful way to be received. And to affirm to me that people can love you for who you are, no matter how your skin expresses itself. So for me, sometimes I guess the conversation comes right on you. It depends on each person and how comfortable you feel. I have no clue when the right time is.

Q. What words of advice would you give someone who is afraid of not being accepted by their partner, someone who is scared of ending up alone.

Gemma: I think that’s a very rational fear. When I was younger, I feared that nobody would want to breed with me, because I was going to contaminate the gene pool. I think that everyone has these concerns, whether we have psoriasis or not, it’s just about a different thing.

You’re in a happy relationship [Reena], and I got married in December, to a man who’s known me totally covered head to toe in psoriasis, and we have three kids. There are so many people living with psoriasis who are in incredibly loving and nurturing relationships. If somebody does reject you, because of your skin, that not the right person for you. There are so many other people out there who are a good match. And you probably won’t think of it like this, but you will looking back, feel grateful that it ended. Because a relationship that doesn’t nurture you is a waste of your time, and your time is so precious.

You can go out there and find somebody who is really going to love you, who’s going to buy you creams, who’s going to rub them into your back when you’re sore. There are so many people out there who would do that because you are so much more than your skin condition. And people see that.

Reena: It’s so true, we are so much more than our skin condition, right? So even when we’re thinking about our story, it’s not like we don’t need to lead with ‘I have psoriasis.’ It’s just a part of us, not our whole definition. And there are so many things that make us whole, so I couldn’t agree more with that.

I agree too that’d really want someone now I want someone who’s going to take care of me when I’m flaring and going to be there and try their best to understand right, what I’m going through.

Q. What would you say to someone who is wanting to get out there, but is concerned about having psoriasis and being overweight.

Gemma: I think in a situation like this, it’s a case of learning to love yourself. I guess if you’re not confident in who you are, then you more afraid of rejection because you’re more vulnerable.

I think you need to do some self-work to realize how incredible you are as a person, and then that’s easier to communicate when you go out on a date. So when you go on a date, you’re showing that other person how great you are. You need to know how great you are to share how great you are, and then that is what they will see.

They won’t see that you’re overweight, they won’t see that you’ve got bad skin, they won’t see all of the other things that you’re fixated on. They’ll just see you.

Now you might be reading this and thinking- what! That’s easy for you to say! But listen up. I went to a naked spa last year, and it changed my perception of beauty, on attractiveness and the concept of sexy. I think this might help you to see that you are sexy and beautiful and desirable and all of those other things:

“I was just gonna say I mentioned this back in Episode 17. I went to a naked Spa in the Netherlands, and I learned something exciting when I was there. So I was sat in a naked sauna (with psoriasis!). There were lots of the naked people in there, and it was a very unusual situation (for me as a stuffy Brit). But there was this woman, and I was taken aback by how incredibly beautiful she was.

Then I questioned myself because I don’t usually sit down and think about how beautiful other women are. Being a scientist, I broker her into sections in my mind. Looking objectively at her in parts I noticed that when I did not look at her as a whole person, she was overweight, and she did not have a pert bust. She had varicose veins running up her legs.

But when I looked at her, I didn’t see any of that.

I saw this incredibly beautiful woman. And I think we’re very susceptible to breaking ourselves down into smaller sections. We say ‘I don’t like this bit on my skin, and I don’t like my hips.’ But when your best friend looks at you, what do they see? They don’t see that,

If you start to try and think about what other people see what your best friend sees when they look at you. It’s probably a better perspective.

Q- If you could go back to when you first started dating and change something, what would you change?

Gemma: I think I would probably go back and tell my younger self to decide what qualities I was proud of myself, and what my basic expectations were of the person who I was going to date.

I think I think the whole thing about dating successfully, and when you’ve got psoriasis, is being confident in who you are… then you make better decisions- instead of settling.

I went through this phase and my early 20s when I went from one relationship to another, and I described my personal taste as eclectic. But basically, what I was doing was going out with other people who were not massively confident either, and that actually made myself confidence worse. The relationships didn’t go very well because I was choosing people who weren’t confident either and that doesn’t build you up that brings you back down. So I was blaming myself… It didn’t work because of this… It didn’t work because of that… and It just all got a little bit messy in the end.

So I would go back and say: choose the person that you want as number one, and don’t settle for somebody who’s number two, or number three, or number four, just have confidence in yourself. And if they say, No, that’s totally fine. Because you don’t want to date everybody who asked you either, that’s completely normal! If someone says no, doesn’t make me a bad person, it just means when not the right match. And we save time so we can go home and ice cream while watching Netflix tonight, or we can go out with some other hot guys, it’s all it’s all good.

Reena:I was gonna say, for me, I’d tell my younger self that it’s okay to have standards, that you don’t have to take anyone who wants you, you don’t only have to accept that person.

And I agree with you, taking time to really find out what it is that you want, and what you value, and realizing that we can be with people who we desire, it really depends on how much we love ourselves, and believe we’re worthy of that of that love.

And I’m still learning you know, as I’m kind of out there. And I am, you know, kind of dating one person. And he seems to be very, very open with it. But it still is very early in our relationship and having those conversations, it’s going to be something very, very new. But I’m happy I’m in the place that I am now. And also knowing that my skin is a part of who I am. And it will be alright.

I definitely would rather have supportive friends and family while I’m searching, you know, instead of just taking the next guy who comes along. I really want to be with someone who’s kind of in it, and understands and is invested in my health and my well being just like I am in there’s.

Strategies to try if you need to work on self-love:

If you have any other tips you think would be helpful, make sure you leave them in the comments or on Instagram 🙂

About Reena

Reena is a yogi, free spirit and all around happy human. Reena has also been living with psoriasis for the past 20 years. She runs an online Instagram account (@psoriasis_thoughts) where she raises awareness about the condition and documents the ups and downs of living with it. Reena hopes to empower others who are struggling with their skin to love and accept themselves as they are.

You can find her on Instagram and check out her work on LinkedIn