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Can’t Let a Boyfriend Get Close
from M.G.

I've had psoriasis since I was 7. I'm 24 now. It wasn't always as bad as it is now. I don't have insurance anymore. I don't really have "flares" I just have half my body covered in red plaques. In addition to psoriasis, I have another medical condition, a syndrome that effects the symmetry of my face. To make a long story short, despite these issues and many other unrelated non-medical traumas of my childhood, I have by the grace of good people, emerged basically well-adjusted, unharmed and with a good sense of self-esteem, at least within certain contexts.

I have no trouble with public speaking (little jitter, but I can over them), no problem meeting friends, and what I just generally consider very average self-esteem in normal social settings. I'm currently in my third year of college, have done a lot of traveling, have worked and experienced quite a lot for which I am thankful. It seems that in spite of all the challenges life has given me, I learned bravery. I've learned how to pick up my head and face the world as I am. People will either accept me or not, and I'm okay with that. It's not so different from what we all experience anyway, right, regardless of how we do or don't appear?

I've met a guy. I'll call him Donovan. I met him after a movie on a bus ride back to my college. A few days later I saw him on campus and he asked for my number. It's hard to admit this, but I was confused. I wanted to believe he was asking for my number so he could call me later and maybe go out, but at the same time these gestures are fairly rare. Not that it doesn't happen. It's just that usually people try to hook me up with other people. Anyway, adding to the confusion was that this guy was really good looking, smart — what I mean is, how hypocritical of me is this? — here I am commenting on his physical appearance when that's my problem and insecurity — anyway, he WAS good looking — so good looking I felt he was "out of my league." When he called and asked me out, I was … happy.

I immediately went into high confidence mode — or at least in the way I act with friends, peers, in public, etc., which probably doesn't really appear as true high confidence — but at least as confident as I can be, knowing who I am and the social sanctions under which I live. I didn't lower my standards — or at least I didn’t lower them below what I imagined my standards to be.  Basically I wanted to know how intelligent he was. I wanted someone to be able to talk with and connect to. I also wanted him to be sweet and have a sense of humor, and have passion. These were all the barriers I told myself he needed to get passed for me to tell him that on top of having a deformed face, I also had a terrible skin condition.

Sorry, I'm laughing now. Life is so fucked and beautiful, ain't it? Anyway, imagine my surprise when not only did he meet these criteria, but I found myself growing more and more attracted to him every time I saw or spoke to him. So, pretty early in the relationship we were making out. I stopped him. I wanted to keep going, but I didn't want him to see my skin. I didn't want to have to tell him. I didn't want to be rejected — I feared it, I feared it so much. It was a pride thing, you know? I never have to deal with my psoriasis because even though it covers so much of me I hide it pretty well. It's enough to get over (as much as possible) a facial deformity — but my skin? I guess it hasn't had 24 years (like my face) to get used to the world and the reactions people could have to it. At least with my face, I've had people reacting to it for so long — I've seen and heard just about every response under the sun.

O God. I'm getting morose and ecclesiastical. Sorry.

So anyway, I broke it off with "Donovan" (I've always liked the real Donovan’s music, even if he is a sexist — though this guy I'm writing about is definitely not a sexist). He was really confused (my stupid fault), but really sweet. I told him I wasn't ready for a serious relationship with anyone and liked being single and enjoyed being alone. It was apparent he didn't like this — and tried to convince me to rethink it, and kept saying "well if that's what you want." I felt like such a horrible person. I didn't think we'd ever get that far. I didn't mean to lead him on (let me iterate we were just kissing, but I never wanted to ever tease, even accidentally). I kept thinking I'd find some flaw and I'd break it off without having to deal with intimacy, but I never found one. I feel so bad for this guy. He's probably over it and it's not a big deal to him. But he'll never know — and that's for the best.

A week went by and I didn't see him. Then we ran into each other. He was so sweet. We chatted for a few minutes and I was pretty lukewarm with him. We parted ways, but then he came. He said he really did want to be friends, that he really did want to get to know me better, and so I said okay. Tomorrow we're going out with some other people to hang out as "friends."

It's not important, but it is. He said the reason he liked me so much, was because I seemed real to him. I seemed genuine.  What a phony I am. I should've told him the truth, but I was too afraid. I couldn't be as brave as I needed to be.

I don't want to be a case to anyone, you know? It seems easier — it seems more merciful, more human, and less painful — not only for "Donovan" but also to any other future interaction with potential boyfriends — to simply not let myself get involved — or whenever this happens again make it clear that I'm married/not interested/asexual etc. God has an interesting sense of humor. You see, I'm passionate, too. I'm not uninterested in sex. If my body had been a little different, I might very well have chosen to be a stripper or call girl for a living. Ah, I don't know. Maybe that's just a consequence of wanting to be desired my entire life.

What scares me most is that I’ll never learn how to deal with my body and thus never be able to become serious with someone again so long as my psoriasis is active. Sometimes I daydream about the day I can afford Enbrel (all the while assuming that it would naturally work for me — even though it doesn't help everyone and I know this fact) and show off my goddamn (sorry) mightily fine shaped legs, or once again find that rare guy who can see passed my face into my soul — and judge me from there.

I don't know what to say for myself. Is it more merciful to be alone? I always assumed I'd find someone some day, even though I told people around me otherwise. It was just to escape the pressure of having well meaning friends and relatives asking after my dating life — which while surprisingly not completely void — has often been (surprise surprise) far from active.

It's about "Donovan," but then it's not. What's so scary about Donovan is that I truly have feelings for him, and I won't can't tell him about my health — and God help me, when I dare think about what this means.  It means that even if the perfect guy came along, and I was attracted to him, and I wanted to give a shot at being with him — it means that I couldn't lay it all down on the line and risk rejection.

Live and learn, right? Take a deep drag off my pipe. Go back to my relatively normal life — at least the farce of it. Maybe it's all a farce. My interactions, the front I put up, the appearance of confidence — but then I feel so good. So thankful to be alive, so accepting and almost Zen about it. I will be alone the rest of my life — and if I am it will be my fault, but it will also spare anyone who might like me pain, too — right? Am I irreparably fucked up?

*****

Ed’s Response:  Your email is likely to draw a lot of response from FlakeHQ readers, M.G.  And they’ll all say, “No, your life isn’t f’d up.”  You are stumbling, hesitating, waffling — what’s the right word? — before traversing a “rite of passage.”  For someone with psoriasis, the moment, the challenge you’re facing may be the absolute hardest.  If it were an easy challenge to overcome, our disease wouldn’t be half  the problem we know it to be.

Many of us, myself included, would probably not fare as well as you have in your 17 years living with P. Most of us would not be nearly so eloquent in considering and articulating the issue you are facing.  When I read your email the first time, I was tempted to put together a list of all the correspondence at FlakeHQ that describes similar stories, but I thought better of it.  You can find those on your own – or perhaps you already have.

Make sure not to miss Dena Feldman's essay, “Bear.”

When, where and how you finally test the waters of complete intimacy with a prospective lover is something no one knows.  Is it likely you will remain celibate and not “take the chance”?  

I would only say this:  There are limits to how much the demon we share — psoriasis — can govern our lives.  There are other qualities innately human that are just as strong and counter to the ways of our flaking and not the least among these is the passion of our sensuality.  I would bet that some day – perhaps not tomorrow, perhaps not with “Donovan” — your passion will thwart your stigma and you will allow yourself “the chance.”  And it doesn’t matter whether the outcome is enduring — it doesn’t matter if that lover becomes a life-long mate or even if the whole experience ends more-or-less disastrously.  What matters is that you will have accomplished the rite of passage and from that moment on the terms you establish with your own passions will be different.  They will be more informed and hence more reliable. 

Now, let’s see what other’s have to say.  -Ed

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