A few months ago, I put myself on an Internet dating website. I was still having radiotherapy for my breast cancer and barely had a few sprouts of hair on my head, but after eight months of being cooped up at home during surgery and chemotherapy, I was more than ready to put myself back out there.
The question was how to advertise myself. You see, an Internet dating profile is like a CV. Just as you have to find a way to explain the massive cancer-shaped hole in your resumé, you also have to think about how to factor your illness into future relationships.
Should I post an old picture of myself with flowing locks and bushy brows and not mention that I ever had cancer? Or should I use a photo of my natural, bald self and come clean about my possible infertility, ongoing treatment and scarred breast?
I opted for honesty. I didn't want to have to have 'The Conversation.' If there were guys out there who wouldn't want to date me if they knew I was bald under my wig, then I didn't want to date them either. I didn't want to go on three dates with a guy, have him try to run his fingers through my wig, then watch him gasp in horror as he realises it's not my real hair. Nor did I want to advertise myself as a long-haired gal and then turn up on the first date looking like a baby chick. One of the most annoying things about dating sites is when people are nothing like their profiles, right?
So I included a few pictures of myself - a couple showing me bald but healthy, and another two of me post-diagnosis but pre hair-loss. Looking back, I can barely believe I put myself on a dating site so soon. I mean, I've seen more hair on newborn babies and I look like I've drawn my eyebrows on with a felt-tip pen, but at least it was all me.
I wrote a few words about myself, my interests, my job, then I spilled the beans. I explained I was bald, recovering from breast cancer and possibly infertile, with a baby-shark-bite-like scar on my left boob. "Take me or leave me" was the message.
When I told friends my plan, they said "You'll get loads of responses, because guys want a girl they can take care of."
They said my profile would deter anyone who just wanted a cheap one-night stand, which was good. My intention was also to give potential suitors a choice. Not everyone wants to date someone who has a history of cancer, and I completely get that. I have a very public blog with a lot of very personal information, so it's not like I'm trying to hide anything.
I didn't expect the hottest, most eligible guys on the site to contact me, but the thing is, those guys didn't contact me a few years ago when I signed up briefly to another dating site as a flowing-haired, non-cancerous, presumed-fertile woman in the prime of my 20s. It was useful to know from previous experience that you get a completely mixed bag of responses in the weird and wonderful world of Internet dating, and none of it should be taken personally. I did expect to get some responses though.
What I didn't anticipate was receiving quite the amount of interest I got, and from the amount of genuinely eligible gentlemen I did. The biggest surprise was getting responses from a nicer, better-looking and more genuine-seeming crop of men than I had a few years ago. (It's worth noting this year's experience was in Dublin, while the 2010 experience was in London - maybe it's just the Irish men?!)
Of course, there were plenty of the usual charmers one finds on a dating site: the ones who think "Wanna cum 2 mine?" is what the ladies want to hear, the ones who send the same message out to 100 women and make it blindingly obvious and, of course, the ones with the penis profile pictures. One guy even wrote in his description "No boars I want my smile to stay". (sic) I'd imagine his smile would indeed be wiped from his face if a boar turned up to meet him on the first date.
The majority of emails, however, were from guys who had actually bothered to read my profile and who genuinely seemed to care.
"This is the most honest profile I've seen," wrote one.
"Congratulations on defeating the C-bomb," said another.
"I'm bald too!" wrote several. (Who knew so many men were into bald chicks?)
I even had replies from a couple of men who'd had testicular cancer, and one from a guy who was "not actually interested because I'm already seeing someone but I just wanted to say fair play to ya!" Oh, and there was a genuine offer of a threesome. (They did seem like a lovely couple).
In the middle of all these heart-warming messages came some genuine, interested responses from some genuinely interesting chaps - exactly the sort I would have chosen to go out with pre-cancer.
One of them, in fact, just so happened to be working in the very hospital where I was having my radiotherapy, so I suggested we meet for a coffee. (I can't imagine anything more romantic than a mid-afternoon coffee date on Valentine's Day in a hospital surrounded by fellow cancer patients - can you?!) That particular date didn't materialise, but we met up in a pub a week later and he turned out to be a keeper... but that's another story.
Over the course of a few weeks, I went on a handful of dates and met some really nice guys, including the man who is now my boyfriend. Whatever happens in the future, I'll know I chose a guy who didn't mind being seen out with a girl with no hair, and who is with me because of who I am. The confidence I've gained from that is far greater than the confidence I've got from growing my hair back.