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Dear Ed: M.G.’s letter in the January-February mail really touched me [Can’t Let a Boyfriend Get Close]. I went through a half-dozen girlfriends in my twenties because I could not bring myself to make love to them. Worse than that, I could not tell them why. A few of them knew I had a skin problem because occasionally a sleeve would ride up and they’d see a lesion above my wrist and ask about it. I always shrugged it off as a rash. It scared me to death to imagine how they might react to the big flexural lesions in my armpits and groin and the large areas of plaque P on my back, buttocks and legs. I had genital P, too.
I was in college in my early twenties and not to date at all when you lived on campus was also stigmatizing. People always wondered why you weren’t going out and they’d draw conclusions that were wrong! So I dated and fell in love a few times and tried to maintain a relationship “fully clothed.” There always came a point where both me and my girlfriend knew what was next and at that point I’d bow out before she started asking questions.
It was a lot easier after I graduated and went to work. I mean people weren’t paying attention and there wasn’t any pressure to date. I guess that’s because I pretty much stayed to myself. But I did go through two more girlfriends. I got involved with my first girlfriend after college because I was on methotrexate and my skin was much better. I think that relationship could have gone all the way, but I was scared to death. I think then I was embarrassed about my virginity. If my skin wouldn’t repulse her my inexperience probably would! This time I got dumped. Well, she told me she was dating other guys and I just stopped taking her out.
The other post-college disaster involved a girl I worked with who had enough problems for both of us. Odd as it may seem, she showed me what I thought life would be like for anyone who would become intimate with me. My skin problem would become their problem, they would have to live with the treatment rituals and stigma, same as me. All this occurred to me as my girlfriend was endlessly sharing her problems with me. It was too much.
My last girlfriend — “last” because today she’s my wife — entered my life at the point where methotrexate was losing effectiveness. I wish I could say I courageously survived a “rite of passage” like you described in your reply to M.G., but it didn’t happen that way for me. I guess the methotrexate had allowed me to become complacent about how I dressed and what got exposed. My wife-to-be spied a lesion on my lower back before I knew it was there. She knew what it was! She had an aunt with psoriasis. I’ll never forget that afternoon when she discovered my secret. We talked and talked and talked. It was like a dam had burst for me. I told her everything. I showed her everything.
I didn’t marry Suzy because she knew about psoriasis or because she literally pulled me through the fire that had inhibited me. In fact, it was three more years before we got married, and for awhile during that time we dated other people. I married her for all the right reasons, which to try to list would make this sound like a commercial for a dating service web site. My psoriasis is a fact of life for both of us. We’ve been together through my rebounds and now we’re enjoying an almost flake-free life thanks to Enbrel.
I don’t know whether my story is inspiring or not, since I didn’t have to wrestle my way out of my fear and stigma. But I am a survivor and wanted to let M.G. know there are many of us who know how she feels. Thanks, -Gene R.
Ed’s Response: Thanks for sharing your story with us, Gene. I read things like this and am in awe. By the time I “got P,” I was into my second marriage and old enough to consider my love life in historical terms. I simply could not imagine what it would have been like for me to carry this disease through my dating youth.Don’t miss M.G.’s followup in this month’s mail: She Told Him!