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What Dating With Trichotillomania Showed Me

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I’ve lived most of my life in deep shame around my trichotillomania, especially in romantic relationships. In most partnerships, I attempted to hide my condition entirely. It felt easier to pretend than face possible rejection. That’s how disconnected I was from my sense of self-worth. I believed that I was a freak, that no one could actually want me if they knew the truth about me. Four years with my college sweetheart, and he never, ever saw me without my eyeliner on. I’m sure he knew something was off. How could he not? But he never asked.

Over and over again, I played the same intricate game. I carefully applied eyebrow pencil and false eyelashes, every single day. When anyone met my gaze for a second too long, I looked away — as if lack of eye contact would somehow keep them from noticing my condition. A lifetime of criticism and bullying meant that I’d become hyper-aware of the moment when someone did notice. I learned how to sense it, so that I could then divert attention or excuse myself before the conversation got too real.

Dating meant constant, obsessive focus on my trichotillomania. Was I hiding it well enough? Did they know? Whenever I had sex, I worried the entire time. Had one of my eyebrows smudged off on the pillow? Was my eyelash glue melting away? It. Was. Exhausting. The first thing I’d do when we finished was excuse myself to the bathroom to check on my face before my partner could get a good look at it.

I hated living that way, but I hated the idea of explaining something that I myself did not even understand more. I finally told one long-term boyfriend, but I never owned my condition. It remained a perceived blight on my worth, something which I thought overshadowed everything else about me. When that relationship failed, I decided to hide myself away again. I didn’t discuss it with another partner for years.

Even when I revealed my trichotillomania to my most recent partner, I treated it as a stain on my worth. I let it become the elephant in my brain, each and every time. I’m always dreading the day that I see confusion or disgust in someone’s eyes as I reveal one of my most vulnerable truths. So, mostly, I just don’t.

I’m not proud of the way I’ve felt about my trich, or the way I’ve handled conversations around it. I’m not proud of the fact that I’ve treated myself as unworthy or less than, that I’ve felt I need to be loved in spite of who I am instead of because of it. I want to accept myself completely, and I am working on it. It’s felt like an uphill battle because of the way my family treated it when I was a child.

When I was growing up, my parents did not understand what was happening with me. My mother shamed me, publicly, over my trichotillomania. She repeatedly confronted me to stop, as if I wouldn’t have if I could have. It was not the way to help a young girl. I know that their handling of the situation colored the way that I feel about it now. I also know that I am an adult and it’s my responsibility to take back my power and decide to love myself. All of myself. No one can shift my perspective but me.

I cannot change how my family dealt with my confusing and, to them, alien condition. I can only work on developing the courage and self-love to see myself as whole now. To retrain myself to know that I have inherent worth. It is not dependent on conventional ideas of beauty or mental health conditions I did not ask for or create. I have had some success in shifting — I’ve spoken to friends and even acquaintances about the condition, calmly and normally, without begging for their approval or understanding. I am learning to stand confidently in all of who I am. It does take practice, and self-compassion, to navigate adjusting this perception of myself.

My goal is to now approach dating with no fear around my trichotillomania. The right person will love and accept me — all of me. I know to find that, I must first love and accept myself. Unconditionally. Knowing that I am beautiful, whole, and perfect — exactly as I am.

Getty image by Davin G Photography

Originally published: October 4, 2022
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