8 Ways to Stop Letting Psoriasis Hold You Back from Dating
When it comes to the singles scene, it’s a jungle out there. Add to that having a chronic condition that’s widely misunderstood—like psoriasis and/or psoriatic arthritis—and looking for love can be about as enjoyable as being stung by a scorpion. Not to mention, the sting of rejection so many psoriasis patients deal with in the dating world. That may hurt even worse.
Gina, who has psoriatic arthritis, always tells matches on dating apps about her chronic illness; and they act like they care, at first, she says. But when they see her in person and realize how bad it as, “They tell me that they don’t want to have a relationship. They really just ghost me, honestly.”
Psoriasis not only causes red, raised, scaly patches on the skin; it can also cause severe anxiety and apprehension about dating. That’s not only because of the vulnerability making a good first impression appearance-wise evokes, but also because some people with psoriatic arthritis worry that divulging how serious the disease is could scare away potential suitors before the appetizer arrives —they may feel that psoriasis requires a lot of extra care they’d have to provide or think that you can’t have fun because of your physical limitations.
Those concerns are legit. According to a recent study in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, more than 50 percent of those surveyed admitted they wouldn’t date someone who had psoriasis. Adding insult to injury, 45 percent said psoriasis patients were unattractive and 30 percent believed the condition was contagious, even though it isn’t.
“I’ve been single for a while and it fills me with dread, the thought of meeting someone,” laments Samantha S. “And to be honest, I’m scared of the rejection because of this illness.”
“That fear is very powerful,” notes Katie Willard Virant, M.S.W., L.C.S.W., a psychotherapist in St. Louis who specializes in chronic illness and authors Psychology Today’s blog "Chronically Me: The Emotional Landscape of Chronic Illness.” She says, “People think, ‘Will anybody love me like this?’” The good news, she reassures, is that of course someone will. But dating takes patience, perseverance, and confidence, all of which may have been shattered after your diagnosis.
It is possible to rebuild your self-esteem and move past rejection. Here’s how.
Acknowledge the Internalized Shame
“Dating for me at the moment is difficult because my psoriasis is literally everywhere,” adds Gina. “I have Dactylitis in my hands, and they are very swollen. People’s reactions have been horrible. Hopefully, my psoriasis gets under control because that’s all that’s holding me back.”
In a survey conducted by the National Psoriasis Foundation, 35 percent of people with psoriasis said they’ve limited dating or intimate interactions because of their condition.
Willard Virant believes it’s essential to acknowledge and confront any feelings of shame or self-loathing. That’s because you may be projecting your own feeling—that no one will love you because of your psoriasis—onto others. “It’s true there will be some who consider it a deal breaker, but not everybody. You have to dislodge the idea that you’re unlovable with psoriasis.”
The way to do that is to make space for any sadness you’re feeling about it. Give yourself permission to feel the grief instead of running away from it or numbing yourself to get over it. “Dig into the feelings and say, ‘Okay, this is my reality, this is where I've been planted. How do I bloom? What do I do? What do I want for myself?’”
Sometimes, it feels like the pain of rejection is going to kill you. But once you acknowledge the hurt, you’ll get to the moment you realize, “’Well, it didn’t kill me.’ You got through it and you’re okay,” Willard Virant says.
Take Yourself on a Date
It might sound silly, but go ahead and take yourself out for a nice dinner, to a movie or a museum…how about axe throwing? Whatever couples do on dates, you should go do by yourself. “I ask patients if they can imagine giving themselves those experiences,” Willard Virant explains. “How can you treat yourself as a loving, attractive person? You deserve to do these things, and you can.”
Plus, having psoriasis, or any chronic illness, can be isolating. Sometimes, it can be hard to even leave the house, but social interaction is important for happiness and well‑being. That’s why it’s important to take yourself out. “Being un-partnered doesn’t have to mean not having a full life,” Willard Virant adds.
Learn to Love Your Body
With chronic illness, there can be a feeling of distance from the body. Your body has been a site of pain, of shame, of grief. “A lot of people that I see with chronic illness, they're sort of walking around almost disengaged from their bodies,” says Willard Virant. “How do we find a way to be in our body and love our body? Is it imperfect? Yes. But almost everybody's body is imperfect.”
Willard Virant recommends gentle movement, such as walking or yoga, whatever you’re drawn to and capable of, to connect back to your body.
Get Back on the Horse
After rejection, it’s so difficult to put yourself out there again because you’re vulnerable, Willard Virant says. “But the bottom line is that we are wired to connect with other human beings. It’s too sad to give up on that idea.”
Plus, some studies suggest that being coupled up is good for our mental and physical well‑being. Romantic relationships have benefits from alleviating anxiety to activating the feel-good neurotransmitter dopamine. “I think being in a loving relationship works wonders for our health,” agrees psoriatic arthritis patient Dee A. “For me, a good relationship equals no stress, equals no pain!”
That’s actually scientifically proven to be true. In 2018, the Scandinavian Journal of Pain reported that just being in the same room as our romantic partner can improve our tolerance for pain. So, keep getting back out there.
“I’m young,” says Gina. “I still want to find some kind of love in this world!”
Look in All the Right Places
To cut your chances of outright rejections, make sure you’re not looking in the “wrong places,” Willard Virant suggests. For instance, some of the popular dating apps may be a little more “shallow” about physical appearance and not tailored to matching people with chronic illnesses. “Are you looking in a place that is not going to result in a connection?
Are there other places that feel more real?” You might have better luck meeting someone more accepting or empathetic in a psoriasis support group. A few dating sites, including Prescription4Love and DermaDate, for example, were specifically designed for people who have conditions like psoriasis to hook up.
If you don’t want to limit your pool of potential paramours and want to date in the “gen pop,” but are wary of dating apps, your best bet might be signing up for group activities—like hiking, photography, eating, LGBTQ, music, knitting, dance, and more—on Meetup.com and other local groups. That way you can ease your way back into the singles scene by making platonic friendships first. “Some patients have done this very successfully,” Willard Virant says. “It takes the pressure off yourself to find a romantic partner. You don’t have to dive in. You can just do an activity with other people. Dip your toe in and see what it feels like.”
After being single for the last year and a half, Sara C. is just now ready to start dating again. But she’s confused about exactly when to tell her dates about her psoriasis. “My ex was with me when I was diagnosed and I feel like my problems with pain and fatigue contributed to him cheating on me multiple times. Now, I’m terrified to tell anyone. I don’t know if I should wait, or if I should just come out with it very early on to avoid really liking anyone just for them to walk away without giving me a real chance. I really don’t know.”
There’s no right or wrong answer, of course, but the consensus from several psoriasis patients seems to be “the earlier the better.” It eases the anxiety, allows you to control the narrative, and you’ll know much more quickly if it’s going to pan out.
Lyndi M. says she reveals her condition on the second date “every time. Because if you make it to the second date, it means there was some interest and it’s worth telling.” Her strategy works. She’s now dating an “amazing man. He is very understanding! I don’t overly complain about pain, but he understands when I'm tired or why I only eat certain foods,” she says.
Dee A. had a successful first date but then was “freaking out about how to tell him.” On the second date, after he revealed something personal about himself, she felt it was safe to reveal her psoriasis diagnosis. “I just wanted to be upfront… [and] begin a relationship with honesty,” she says. “I’m in my early 30s and I want a long-term, calm relationship. Also, I’m not going to hide my sharps containers or my refrigerated injections when someone stays over.” They’ve now been dating for six months and her condition hasn’t been an issue. “He’s very understanding,” she says, but admits, “We don’t talk about it on a daily basis, but I can tell him if I’m in a lot of pain. I’m always a little afraid to open up and tell him everything.”
Nena B. also is a fan of the second-date reveal. She has plaque psoriasis on her scalp and joint pain in her knees and spine. On her last dating experience, she found a keeper. After the first date, “we really hit it off, and so, on our second date I just told him. He has been nothing but supportive. We have been together almost two years and are talking about living together.”
If a second date seems too soon, Nesia K. recommends opening up when you’re certain it’s a serious relationship. That could be two weeks, two months, or even two years in. She’d been dating her boyfriend for a year before she was diagnosed with psoriasis. “I decided to tell him when I was close to ready to get serious,” Nesia explains. “I figured I would rather lose him then before spending any more time dating him.” Five years later, they’re still together. “Clearly, it worked for us, but every person and every relationship is different.”
Talk Yourself Up
You are a complex, multi-faceted human being. Your psoriasis alone doesn’t define you. “I may have this disease, but I’m not broken and I don’t want to be treated as if I am,” says Dee.
Chelsea B. found “an amazing guy who doesn’t view me as having an illness. He loves me for me and is very helpful. It feels great.”
Before you go on a date, try not to obsess about your illness. Ask yourself, “What are the positives and strengths that you bring?” Willard Virant says. Even though you need to reveal your psoriasis at some point, you also need to reveal everything else about you that makes you awesome. “Remember that it’s tough for everyone and that you are so much more than your disease!” says Nesia. “Show people all those amazing sides first. Literally, everyone does it regardless of health.”
And don’t put your date on a pedestal. Yes, your scars may set you apart but what you have in common with your date is your humanity. “Everybody wants to be accepted,” Willard Virant says. “That doesn’t magically go away if you have a healthy body. Everybody wants it and we are all equal in that sense.”
Make Your Mantra “It’s Not Me, It’s You”
Teresa L., who has psoriatic arthritis, says her 13-month relationship ended when her boyfriend bailed. “He left, not after hearing about the illness but more because I couldn't keep up with him and all the things he wanted to do. I couldn’t walk for hours in museums or help build things or stay at parties late. He wanted a partner that could do things.”
If your goal is marriage, then remember you want someone who can vow faithfulness in sickness and in health. And every person you meet needs to pass that litmus test. And if they can’t? You’re the one doing the rejecting, not them.
“There are some rotten people out there and you wouldn’t want to be partnered with those people,” Willard Virant says. “Somebody who doesn't accept you because of a disability, because of the way an illness is affecting you, is probably someone that's not going to be a great partner anyhow. If they reject you, understand that it says a lot more about that person than [it says about] you.” When you see that red flag early, sing “Thank you, next” like Ariana Grande and move on. Hold out for the person who will love you, red, patchy scales and all.
Jaime B. revealed early on that she was “slightly disabled” and she got an immediate clue about her date’s character. “I knew he was the one for me when he took my elbow to help me off a curb. To me, that was huge.” Ivie G.’s boyfriend hates watching her give herself shots (who can blame him?) but three years into their relationship, “He’s very accepting of my issues,” she beams.
Teresa’s anxiety from her psoriasis was so bad, she hadn’t had a date in years. “The entire concept was terrifying,” she says. Then she started texting with a guy. She slowly built up the courage to meet him in person. “We clicked. From the start, I told him about my arthritis. It was hard to hide, as I was wearing a wrist brace. He didn’t even care and he was pretty cute! I survived the date. That was a major milestone for me!” Flash forward two years: They moved in together. “He's a pretty great guy. I definitely met my equal. We complement each other well. I’m one happy girl!”
“Don't let your psoriasis define you,” Teresa adds. “It might be a part of who we are, but we can't let it hold us back from enjoying life and finding that someone special. The right person is out there, and they won't care whether you've got it. They are going to love you for you.”