The challenge of dating and relationships

The challenge

It’s fair to say that most people, whether they have a condition which affects their appearance or not, will have experienced challenges when it comes to dating, relationships and intimacy. There’s lots of reasons why people can feel nervous, worried or stressed when it comes to considering a new relationship. Here are some common worries people might have:

  • What if they don’t like me as much as I like them?
  • What if they don’t find me attractive?
  • What if the date is really awkward?

Naturally, when we meet someone for the first time, the first thing we notice is their appearance. This is all we have to go on at first. However, this can mean many things – how someone looks physically, their hair, their skin or eye colour, their style or dress sense. If you have concerns about your appearance, then you are understandably likely to focus on this, and worry what people will think. You might worry about this more when looking for a partner.

If you have a visible difference, yes, it is true that people will see this, and, yes, they may have thoughts about this. However, often these thoughts might not be what you think. Most people will be curious and wonder why you have a visible difference. However, once an interaction starts, people also decide how attractive someone is based on other things such as their friendliness and warmth, their sense of humour and so forth.

Take some time to think about what qualities you are looking for in a partner and write these down.

When you look at these, how many are about appearance? You will probably find that most of your list is about personal qualities. When we are looking for a partner appearance is only one small part of what attracts us to others, having things in common, being able to make each other laugh, honesty, warmth, and intelligence have also been found to be important when looking for a long-term partner.

You may think it’s easier to keep to yourself – and steer clear of anything that could upset you. “If I don’t date I won’t have to put myself in a situation where my appearance can be judged or ‘on show’”. This is a very natural response, and is actually one way of managing your anxiety. But you are missing out on the chance to meet people – and to experience all the fun, the interesting things and the enjoyment that relationships can add to your life.

Try and remember that dating is much more than how people look. After you initially meet the person, and start talking, a date is about both of you and how you get on, chemistry, what you feel. The person will want to hear about you – and you will want to hear about them..

Common concerns about dating and new relationships

If you have a condition which affects your appearance, you might have particular concerns, How you feel is personal to you, however, people with a visible difference often report certain worries about dating and relationships, which we’ve explored below.

Will anyone find me attractive?

You may worry about your appearance – and worry about how other people will view this. You may think your appearance sets you apart from other people. If you’re not used to being complimented on your looks, or you have been teased or bullied about your appearance, it is understandable that you may believe that you are unattractive, and even unlovable. You may believe that you are not ‘good enough’ and assume that no one will ever find you attractive. Other people may also make judgements about your ability to find a partner.

I’m so used to feeling rejected. I will never meet someone special.

Being on the receiving end of unkind remarks or being avoided is very hurtful and can feel like a rejection. If this happens to you several times, you may begin to expect people to find you unattractive and anticipate being rejected. Understandable as this is, it may help to be aware of the assumptions you make. Think about how you feel in a new situation. Have you already decided how people will act or what they will say? By recognising the expectations you have, this may help you to put these aside and wait and see how people react.

If you’ve been upset, hurt or rejected by people in the past, understandably you may want to avoid this happening again. But remember, this happens to everyone and for lots of different reasons.

“It is so easy to feel negative about your appearance, to wish things were different and to generally consider yourself unworthy of an intimate relationship. I experienced a spell in my late teens where I basically reduced my social contact with other people because I was afraid of being rejected. I felt completely unlovable particularly as all my peer group seemed to be in a relationship so decided that not going out was the better option. How wrong I was – my self-esteem plummeted and after several months I decided that going out with friends and joining new things was far more rewarding.”


I don’t know how to let someone get close to me

You may feel shy and avoid chances to make date or meet a future partner. Some people feel naturally more shy or apprehensive about being open or talking about themselves. On top of this, some of the negative experiences people have as a result of a visible difference can add to worries about getting close to someone. You may find it hard to share the things that are important to you – your thoughts, feelings, dreams – and, especially if you haven’t discussed it much before, you may feel uneasy about talking about your visible difference.

On the other hand, if you have always been very independent – and used to dealing with life’s challenges on your own – you might feel reluctant to share your thoughts or feelings with someone else. Someone else’s interest in getting to know you better might make you feel naturally defensive – you might clam up or not know what to say.

These feelings are natural. Your head might know you need to tell someone about the things that are meaningful to you and to show someone who you are. But in your heart, it’s not easy – it takes time to feel trust in people and to open up.

I’ve never been out with anyone before

The thought of being with someone can feel very daunting, especially if you’ve never flirted, gone out on a date, had a partner or had sex before. You might feel nervous, unconfident and not know how to behave. You may worry the other person is judging you or doesn’t like you. You may feel under pressure to act as if you are more experienced or blame yourself when things don’t go so well. When it comes to dating, we all have to start somewhere – it is perfectly normal to have these feelings when you first get into having relationships. And for some people, it takes some time to relax and feel confident. Being brave is part of it – but also giving things time and taking it in stages can be helpful.

Many people with a visible difference enjoy very successful personal relationships, whether this is dating, finding a long-term partner, getting married or having children. You may need to work yourself up gradually to being brave and taking risks, but this may lead to better things too.

For more help, see Top tips on managing worries about dating

Managing worries about dating


Let’s talk about sex


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