by Elisabeth Veltman
Dating. We know we need to put our best foot forward when the latest Mr. Right asks us out, but food allergies, sensitivities, and intolerances can make us feel like we are an alien. A first date equals a new, unknown person to trust with private information. We have to answer a list of embarrassing questions and risk appearing “odd”. We also have to confront and change a set of social standards that have been in place for generations.
For instance, you may have to take some of the control away from the man, as well as some of the fun. Your date can’t surprise you with the restaurant. He can’t buy that big red box of nutty, milky chocolates. And for some of the most sensitive Tender Foodies, he can’t eat peanuts before a good night kiss without an Epi-pen loaded, an ambulance waiting in the wings, and a high risk tolerance for life and death situations. This is unusual, but true.
As with most things in life, however, a complicated scene can be simplified by starting with the truth.
For me, there is always a shining moment where I set my jaw ever so slightly and tell it like it is. Before this single Tender Foodie gives counsel, however, I crosschecked my methods with actual relationship experts, Jeff Gorter, MSW and Carolyn Aibel, Ph.D.
Both confirmed being up front right away is the best solution and they helped me with a little action plan.
“If you have to eat a big, hairy frog, you might as well eat it first thing in the morning and get it over with. Unless, of course, you are frog intolerant.” – Jeff Gorter, MSW
Be Confident in Your Character
Someone you like (we hope you like) is asking you out. This is a beautiful thing. With food allergies or any serious, chronic health condition, it is easy to let fear construct unnecessary obstacles. But remember, your condition is not a reflection of your character and your food allergies are not who you are.
“There is nothing shameful about it. We all have our stuff. A food allergy / sensitivity is just one of those things.” – Carolyn Aibel, Ph.D.
Lead with Your Weakness
The perfect time to discuss your food allergies is right after you tell your date how happy you are that he asked you out. Calmly say something like, “I’d like you to know that I have some [pretty serious] food allergies. Would it be OK if I chose the restaurant?
Not all restaurants know how to handle these allergies properly. And I’d rather just focus on getting to know each other and not have to worry about it during our date.” “If your thoughts are ‘I don’t want him to think I’m weird’ and you avoid telling him, you have automatically created a barrier to success. You will then put your date in an awkward position when he does find out, and he won’t have the opportunity to make choices that are good for both of you.” – Jeff Gorter, MSW
Know Your Reactions to Food
I cannot stress this enough. Talk to your doctor. Know what you have and what the consequences are if a mistake is made. Do you need an Epi-pen? Can you kiss a guy right after he drinks a beer, downs a shrimp, or eats a peanut? What is your action plan if you have a reaction? If you have a delayed type of immune response, celiac disease, or a sensitivity don’t “suffer through” in order to avoid confrontation. If you know what you need, it is much easier to communicate the right things to the people that need to know. To help, visit www.tenderpalate.com and visit “10 Steps to Get Started” & “What is a Food Allergy?”
Rehearse Your Story
Inevitably, personal questions will come up, and I always dread them. But questions are good because they usually indicate that your date is interested and cares. The trick is to keep your answers informative and to the point, then move quickly to topics that are more fun and mutually interesting.
“Your story needs to reflect your own comfort level and this takes some soul searching ahead of time. Practice like you are giving an elevator speech. You can’t expect someone else to be more comfortable with your story than you are.” — Jeff Gorter, MSW
Use The Food Allergy Filter A few Tender Foodies on Facebook gave some great advice:
- Food allergies can serve as a great filter for “insignificant others.” A good guy will seek to understand, care and learn. A self-centered guy won’t.
- If your date has been trained by other people before you . . . Bonus.
- Dump the date that takes you out, eats in front of you and makes you eat at the “next” place. Yes, this really happened.
Leave Your Baggage at the Door
If you are tempted to over compensate, ask yourself “why”. Your requests to protect your health are reasonable. In reality, you haven’t really deprived your date of anything.
“Really, what the food allergic person might be feeling is their own sense of deprivation that they are projecting onto the other person. You’ve only given them a piece of information about you. After all, food allergies are not contagious.” — Carolyn Aibel, Ph.D
Now Go Have Fun!
Even though you must control your food, you don’t have to control your date. Simply be aware of other areas in which you can be more flexible. If you have a list of restaurants that can serve you, let him surprise you from the list. If you can’t eat out at all, ask him if he has any non-food ideas like a museum or a sporting event, and tell him you will pack the lunch.
If your relationship is at a comfortable point, perhaps you can cook for him, or grocery shop and cook together (now, how fun would that be).
If we boil this down to the fundamentals, dating with food allergies is not so different from “regular dating.” Know yourself. Be up front. Choose your partners wisely. Then be creative.
And let him be creative back.