It took courage, but I got out there into the fearless world of dating with food allergies. First published in Allergic Living magazine.
He asked me if I minded if he ordered a sandwich, and I couldn’t figure out why. My food allergies to wheat and shellfish aren’t like vegetarianism; someone eating bread or shrimp isn’t going to offend me. Slightly startled, I told him to go ahead. I was just going to get a salad (because that’s what ladies eat on dates, right?). The thing is, I wasn’t sure this was a date. We’d known each other for a few years and grabbed drinks or dinner after work a few times. Sure, he was good-looking and sure, I’d had a crush on him for a while. I was even confident there were sparks a few times, but I chalked it up to wishful thinking.
After a few glasses of wine and dinner, it was time to head home. When we got to my driveway, I thanked him, and started to get out of the car when he asked if he could walk me to my door. (This wasn’t the first time; after our last post-work meet-up, he had made the same offer and I had said, “Nah, I’ve got it.” Clearly, I am great at missing signals.)
I smiled, said yes, and thought to myself for the first time that night that we might actually be on a date. When he leaned in for a kiss at my door, I kissed him back, without thinking. Crap. He had a sandwich. On bread. Full of wheat.
I stepped back while I came back to my senses. Was my mouth itching? Could I breathe? What was I thinking? How did I end up risking anaphylaxis? Oh yeah, he was handsome and I was smitten.
Thankfully, I didn’t have a reaction, but that night was a reminder about just how vigilant I need to be when I’m out — not just for me, but for whomever I might find myself kissing at the end of the night as well. Just one more item to add to the list of all the other things I think about when I’m out on a date.
Does my hair look OK? Is there food between my teeth? Thinking of teeth, did I get lipstick on them? Do I tell him about my allergies now, or wait? Am I fidgeting too much? Is he going to think I’m crazy when I start asking the waiter three dozen questions about how my meal is prepared, or do I shut up, order a salad and hope for the best? Is a third glass of wine a bad idea?
Oy. Dates make my brain go into overdrive, just as they do for all my girlfriends. But I’m sure their browsing history doesn’t include asking Google whether brushing teeth is enough to clear the mouth of allergens, or if they could some-how end up in semen.
When I first started dating, I never had to worry about what my date ate or drank. I wasn’t diagnosed with anaphylactic allergies to wheat and shellfish until I was in my mid-twenties. At that point, I was in a serious “let’s think about getting married” relationship, so we just rolled with the punches. He didn’t eat shellfish or wheat when we were together, he used toothpaste that was gluten-free and those three dozen questions at a restaurant weren’t a deal-breaker. They just were.
After we broke up and I started to date again, food allergies at first felt like an insurmountable obstacle. I dreaded the thought of having to explain to an almost-stranger that I carried an auto-injector and then showing him how to use it.
But again, I rolled with the punches — and I got used to it. The thing is, those extra few worries don’t make dating any different for me than anyone else. I’ve been dumped by guys, and I’ve broken up with a few myself, for both good and bad reasons. Food allergies aren’t part of that picture.
Sure, they’re something I have to be vigilant about, but they’re not something to fear. My shellfish allergy doesn’t make me any less datable than my blue eyes. My wheat allergy is no different than the size of my feet — both tend to get in the way at inopportune times, but neither has any bearing on my worth as a person or potential partner. Dating is about me, not my allergies.
Mary Fran Wiley is a web designer and self-proclaimed cupcake therapist based in Chicago. see her blog at maryfranwiley.com.