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Food Allergy

Dating with Allergies, a Tricky Business

Having the Big Talk

Finding a love match is fraught with ups and downs, with tried and failed Internet dating site connections and blind dates set up by well-meaning, if sometimes misguided, friends. Allergies simply add an important extra aspect to finding the right personal chemistry.

Andrea Shainblum of Montreal knows this well. She was single in her 20s and 30s, and dated a lot. Some men did not respond well to the fact she has severe allergies to sesame, peanuts, tree nuts and eggs. There was the boyfriend who swore off all foods that might kill her, only she’d find empty candy bar wrappers that carried the warning: “may contain traces of peanuts.”

Then, there was the doctor who, on their first (and only) date, appeared uncomfortable while Shainblum was telling the waiter about her severe food allergies and checking which menu items were safe. By the time the appetizers arrived, the doctor’s attitude had cooled perceptibly.

“He had an idea of the kind of person he wanted to be with, and someone with severe food allergies wasn’t part of the picture,” says Shainblum, now 40, a married graduate student, and mother of a toddler. “I thought, ‘OK, next?’”

Miller, the allergy coach, has had mostly positive dating experiences. Still, like Shainblum, she notes that her dates’ responses to her allergies are as varied as the men themselves.

“Recently, I was out with another guy who kept interrupting me as I explained what do in an emergency. It was clear that he was uncomfortable. When I showed him my Benadryl, he rolled his eyes and said, ‘I know what that is.’ I didn’t see him again.”

Miller’s story raises another key issue of dating with allergies or celiac disease, namely, ‘the talk.’ The talk encompasses more than kissing. It’s about lifestyle and having to explain that the most severe form of food reaction, anaphylaxis, can be life-threatening and usually comes on swiftly.

Or that you have celiac disease and if you accidently ingest gluten, you’re likely to get symptoms such as severe bloating or diarrhea or perhaps cramps that can make you double over. While any of those would make for a painful date, you’d also be damaging your small intestine, and affecting your ability to absorb nutrients.

As with kissing, this talk is better done at or near the beginning of a date. In the case of allergy, you have to show a date where you keep emergency numbers, your epinephrine auto-injector, and you have to demonstrate how to use that auto-injector. (Remember, without instruction, novices may mistake which end is up and inject themselves.)

As well, for either condition, being upfront with the talk will prevent your date making plans at a restaurant where you cannot possibly eat. Shainblum, Miller and Medoff all agree there is no easy or perfect way to broach “the talk”. Like the Nike slogan counsels, they say to “just do it.”

“When you’re out for a first time with someone and giving him instructions in how to use an EpiPen, that may not be romantic, but neither is being rushed to hospital,” says Miller.

Next: Finding Safe Spots to Dine

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Allergic Living acknowledges the assistance of the OMDC Magazine Fund, an initative of the Ontario Media Development Cooperation.