With Valentine's Day around the corner, I figured it'd be a great time to touch on the topic of dating with food allergies! Navigating the world of dating as an adult with food allergies can be anxiety-inducing to say the least. Not only do we have to deal with the typical nerves of going on first dates, but we have to worry about telling the people we date about our allergies, making sure they understand the severity of them, making sure they don't eat our allergen(s) prior to the date if the allergy is severe enough, helping them choose a restaurant that is allergy-friendly but also caters to both of your food preferences...the list goes on.
In the past couple of months, I've learned a lot about how to advocate for myself and how to navigate dating as an adult with severe food allergies. Although it's been really challenging, I've learned so much about myself and have been able to be more confident in my ability to advocate for myself and communicate my allergies to others. I wanted to share a few of my biggest takeaways that I've learned in the hopes that this will help inspire or give confidence to another person with food allergies who may be struggling with this.
1. Communicate Your Allergy As Soon As Possible
It is crucial to say that you have food allergies as soon as you have established interest in this person. In my opinion, the best time to tell someone you're interested in about your food allergies is before the first date. That way, you can inform them of the steps they need to take before the date to keep you safe and collaboratively choose a date/venue you feel comfortable with. If the first date is at a restaurant, you can choose a place that you feel safe eating at or give them a list of safe restaurants if they are taking the reins on planning the date. If a restaurant isn't something you feel comfortable with going to, you can always opt for a date that isn't centered around food like painting, pottery, or hiking.
The message below is something I might send if the other person has just asked me out for dinner or drinks. I usually start out with a brief message like this to state my allergies and then send a more detailed follow-up message to elaborate on what I'm allergic to, the severity of my allergies, and what my date needs to do beforehand to keep me safe.
Usually, after I send the first message I'm met with some questions about what I'm allergic to or how severe my allergies are. The message below is an example of a message I might send after the first one with details of my allergies, the severity of them, and steps my date needs to take beforehand to keep me safe.
2. Make Your Allergy a Frequent Topic of Conversation
A mistake that I have made in the past is only bringing up my allergies in the beginning phase of getting to know someone and not making it a continuous conversation throughout our relationship out of fear that I would come across as annoying. When you've lived with food allergies your entire life, it is easy to forget how most people without them do not realize all the ways they affect your life and all of the items your allergens are present in. It is important after the first date to continue the conversation about your allergies to help the other person to fully grasp the extent of your allergies and better understand how they can help keep you safe. It takes time to understand the severity of food allergies! It will be a learning process for the person you're dating and it is important to push past any discomfort or shame you may have in bringing the topic up to keep this an open conversation. I've really struggled with bringing my allergies up to people after the initial date because I feared that they would view me as overbearing, neurotic, or high-strung. I had to check myself and realize that I am not being any of those things when I talk about my allergies and how they impact my life--I am sharing a major part of my life and teaching someone how to keep me safe!
3. Don't Do Random Hookups (Without Communication & Trust)
Having anaphylactic food allergies means that randomly hooking up with someone without communicating your allergies to them will put your life at risk. Yes, it sucks a little bit that we can't make out with a stranger on the dance floor of a club, but we can still have fun experiences with others--it just takes a little bit of planning and communication. For instance, if you meet someone in a bar and are interested, I suggest communicating your allergy straightaway to avoid any awkward kiss attempts or them buying you a drink that you don't know the ingredients of. Even though it might feel awkward and out of place, I've had to get comfortable with telling people I don't know well about my allergies in order to keep myself safe. Something as simple as, "Hey, I want to keep talking with you but I want to let you know I have life-threatening food allergies to [insert allergens here], so I won't be able to kiss you if you've consumed anything containing [insert allergens here] in the last four hours," is effective at communicating your allergy directly and letting the other person know how severe it is. If the person is worth entertaining, they will respect your boundaries and will likely want to learn more about your allergy to keep you safe.
4. Maintain Your Boundaries & Know Your Worth
Lastly, I want to remind all of my peers in the food allergy community that anyone worth your time will take the time to not only learn about your allergy, but take steps to keep you safe and make you feel comfortable without complaints. In my own dating journey, I have had to cut people off who made me feel like a burden or an inconvenience for my allergies. For the most part, people have been understanding and eager to learn about my allergies, but I have encountered a couple people who have made fun of them or made me feel like I was being "picky" for having them. Those experiences have only made me have more firm boundaries and know my worth. Anyone who genuinely respects you will see that your allergies are not a choice, but a life-threatening chronic health condition that you have to manage every day to survive. If you struggle with communicating your allergies to others or feel embarrassed to bring them up like I do at times, writing down a script for yourself and then practicing in a mirror or to a friend is a great way to build your confidence. Your allergies are a superpower and you are worthy of love.