I’m a huge advocate for seeking out things to look forward to, especially when it comes to romance. The anticipation is always one of the best parts of any relationship. If you have a crush from afar, simply seeing that super fine fitness instructor can game-change your day; your fingers will flash across your smartphone keypad in a flourish to report their latest inflection of “Hi” to your best friend. If you are heading out for a first date, you delight in determining the perfect outfit and showing off your favorite snap of your suitor from their Facebook, Tinder, or Instagram page to your friends, mom, and/or anyone who will listen.
Unfortunately, with anticipation also comes anxiety, and there is plenty of room for that within the realm of romance. Questions muddle our minds as we head over for the seven o’clock reservation: Will there be awkward silences? Does he actually find The Big Bang Theory remotely funny? Will he notice my baby smooth skin if he takes my hand – or if he tries to run his fingers through my hair? What are his thoughts on a chick with a five-finger forehead hidden underneath the cute bangs?
We squash the fun anticipation of the first date when we obsess over the possibility of not getting a second one. The far away crush is not so fun when we realize we truly want it in close-up. There are so many reasons a date may go south (or never happen): The person is rude to the bartender. The person is (actually) going through a lot at the moment and seriously cannot make time to date. The person is not over a past relationship.
Still, when we think about rejection and romance, we almost always blame our physical appearance: I wasn’t hot enough. Her ex was way cuter than I am. I wore the wrong underwear.
Last fall, I was on my first date after ending a long on-again, off-again relationship. It was actually going really well: The conversation flowed easily. He was totally down to leave the bar and go grab ice cream at my favorite spot before it closed. And the fact that he was super cute and played guitar at the music venue we went to definitely didn’t hurt. Being out with the hot musician made me feel like Taylor Swift (except he wouldn’t make my chart-topping hit list if he didn’t want to hang out again).
As the night went on, I had my Cinderella moment. Not like the “He’s my Prince Charming” epiphany kind. More like the “Holy crap, he might notice I drove here in a pumpkin” kind. Everyone was on their feet dancing to the last band, and he decided it would be a great idea to wrap his arms around me from behind and sway to the music with his head on top of mine. Part of me was totally stoked: this Jason Mraz-esque guy was into me! The other part was terrified he’d notice it: the flaw that I felt vanquished all of my bawdy jokes, bright-eyed talk about my love for writing, and understanding of his busy schedule.
I have alopecia areata. This is a fancy way of saying that I rock no eyebrows and a bald patch on my head. How To Get Away With Murder star Viola Davis speaks up about it from time to time, but the condition tends to fade to the background, especially in the media and especially because it is viewed as a purely cosmetic issue. However, according to the National Alopecia Areata Foundation, over 6.6 million people in the United States will develop alopecia areata at some point in their lives. While alopecia areata does not affect one’s physical health (it actually means the autoimmune system is working overtime), the emotional results from hair loss can be devastating.
The disease is also highly unpredictable. Dr. Jerry Shapiro has been specializing in hair disorders for the last 25 years. While he recommends treatment in the form of scalp creams and injections (which can be astoundingly pricey and/or painful), there is currently no explanation or cure for the condition.
My mother discovered bald patches on my head during tubby time when I was two. I wore hats all through elementary and middle school and was subjected to some pretty brutal teasing as a child. The disease has crippling psychological effects, especially for children and those who are newly diagnosed.
In high school, I had enough hair to opt for a super sexy combover look where I would shift sections of hair into specific areas, shackling them into place with bright butterfly clips to cover the spot (not all at once, gentlemen). I felt ugly on the regular, and as I crept closer to my senior year, never having had a first boyfriend, date, or kiss definitely didn’t make me feel like Angelina Jolie.
At the end of my junior year, a close friend of mine told me that I shouldn’t bother with the clips. She was one of the privileged few who I would allow to see with my hair totally down when we were in the comfort of my own home, and when she did, she said, “Your hair looks so much better down.” Unfortunately, this friend passed away before our senior year, and only then did I decide to heed her words. I spent the summer not covering up when I was with my friends, and the first day of senior year, I was only a smidge nervous when I let my bald patch sit proudly atop my head in plain view.
In not obsessing over whether my spot was visible, I let myself have more fun. I became far more confident in myself. And it was because of this – not the fact that I looked better with my hair down, but that I felt more confident – that I was able to fall in love with my best friend at the time.
He didn’t make falling in love with him difficult; we never ran out of things to talk about, he always gave the best advice, and he could cook. What shocked me was that he fell in love with me: I had a bald spot, my kissing experience was nonexistent, and I once managed to ruin a microwave pizza.
Our relationship ultimately did not work out, but it certainly didn’t end because I have alopecia. The last date I went on did not get cut off at 9:30 p.m. because I don’t have eyebrow hair. And Jason Mraz guy and I simply weren’t looking for the same thing.
I am by no means a femme fatale and my dating advice goes like a soccer mom’s: Meet in a public place. Always bring a sweater. On any given romantic encounter with a male, I will likely order a grilled cheese from the kids menu, reference Billy Madison at multiple points in the evening, and practically cry over how much I love Josh Groban at least once. I don’t know much about love. But I do know the right guy will find those things endearing, because someone great already did.
Everyone’s got their “thing” that they do not like about themselves, and it’s too often a physical attribute that they not only cannot control but also simply will not matter to the right person. That “thing” prevents them from looking forward to the wonderful things; they either analyze the past or dread the future.
The worst part of losing my first love was losing the friendship that went along with it. We had started off as friends, and the idea of meeting a new guy for the very first time on an actual date can be terrifying, especially with my condition. But the only way to look is forward, and I look forward to falling in love again (and again and again, if Andrew Garfield and Hoodie Allen decide to return my phone calls). There are so many reasons dating can bring us anxiety. Beating ourselves up for the way we look should not be one of them. There is simply too much to look forward to.
So tell your morning commute crush you’ve read that book too (if you actually have). Leave your digits and a smiley face on the napkin for your waiter to find when he goes to grab his tip. Ask that super friendly acquaintance you keep bumping into if they want to grab coffee. The worst someone can say is, “No thank you.” If they can think of something worse to say than that, do you really want to hang out with them anyway?