Welcome to It’s Complicated, stories on the sometimes frustrating, sometimes confusing, always engrossing subject of modern relationships. (Want to share yours? Email pitches to email@example.com.)
The kiss was okay. There was nothing bad about it, and nothing remarkable, either — until his hands went for my hair. I should have stopped him, or at least warned him. But I didn’t. And then, suddenly, a piercing yelp split us apart as he stared down at my hair in his hands.
For him, I’m sure, it was quite the shock; for me, though, it felt more like an incident a long time in the making. I’ve had alopecia, a stress-related autoimmune disorder that results in hair loss, since I was a kid, and I’ve worn wigs since I was 21. It was inevitable that one would eventually come off at an inopportune moment.
But waiting until I was an adult to start wearing wigs means that at the age of 33, I’m still a rookie at navigating wig etiquette.
It took a long time before I was confident enough to think about flirting, kissing, and getting naked in front of another human being with a bunch of synthetic hair on my head. Even now, I haven’t figured out how to lose myself to hot, sweaty, hold-onto-your-seats sex without worrying about whether my hair is going to fly off as a result. Once I get over the initial hurdle of telling someone my secret —usually right after I’ve taken my top off — comes the main battle: looking and feeling sexy while keeping my hair in place.
Removing the wig isn’t an option. Besides for one time I took a shower with my last boyfriend, I haven’t been able to shake the fear of letting a partner see me fully bald in an intimate situation.
So instead, I live with the worry, and make other compromises to go along with it. I would love to have my hair pulled in bed, for example, but that’s a no unless wig manufacturers finally invent hair pieces with suction plugs. Nor can I lie on a bed with my head over the side, unless I want to come back up looking like Fester Adams. And I’ve mastered my wig-specific moves: the reverse-cowgirl don’t-look-at-me-while-I-adjust-my-hair ploy, the doggy-style oh-god-it’s-slipping-over-my-eyes head flip.
Next comes the sleeping part. I do it with my hair on, which is highly uncomfortable and totally messes up my wigs; occasionally, I’ve slipped them off once my partner has gone to sleep, then woken up extra early to place them back on before he wakes up. With my exes, I eventually got comfortable enough to take my wigs off at night, but I still never felt fully at ease.
I have good reason to be skittish about it. More than one of my past partners has been less than diplomatic when the topic of my baldness came up. Like A, who loudly proclaimed it was weird when I took my wig off in the morning. Or my last boyfriend, J, who thought it was funny to tell me I looked like one of Roald Dahl’s Witches. You know, because I have big feet and no hair.
In all these situations, I’ve found myself silently agreeing with the reactions. For the most part, I like the way my body looks. I work out, and I work out hard, because if I’m going to be bald, then goddamn it, I’m going to get as close as I can to having a six pack. But the confidence I feel when I look in the mirror has never quite made it up to my head. And that means that even if the sex somehow goes off without a hitch, it’s still shitty — because I’m grateful. Grateful that they didn’t run away after learning my secret, grateful that they’ve decided to sleep with me anyway. And gratitude isn’t sexy. Gratitude means treating sex as something I lucked into, something I shouldn’t dare to try to control.
I wish I could say I got over it on my own. I didn’t, but at least I’m getting over it. And just as I had men in my life to thank for reinforcing my insecurities, I have men in my life to thank for helping me move past them.
First there was S. The last time we had sex, I started off underneath him. As S lifted me up so I ended up on top, my hair didn’t follow. “Well, that happened,” I mused, trying to make light of the situation while willing the ground to swallow me up. But S — who, until that point, hadn’t seen my hair come off head — did not bat an eyelid, the ground did not swallow me up, and the two of us had a great night.
And S, in turn, paved the way for my current partner, a man I’ll call F. One of the first times we met, he stayed behind with me after closing as I tidied up at the bar I work at, then sat in a booth and nursed a few drinks with me into the early hours. He asked to see me without my wig, felt my head with his warm, comforting hands, and for the next few hours, made me forget I hadn’t put it back on.
When we went back to his place, he asked me if I would keep my hair off, but only if I was okay with it. I wasn’t, not entirely, but I also wanted to see how I felt if I did. And I felt good. No, great. It was, in all my 33 years, the first time I had been intimate with a man without my wig on. Who knew the back of my neck was an erogenous zone? Not me, with all that synthetic hair in the way. These days, when the hair comes off at night, it’s not by accident.