Dating with Food Allergies

Who remembers the mid 2000s Nickelodeon sitcom Unfabulous starring Emma Roberts? And she bakes peanut butter cookies before going on a first date and gives the boy a severe allergic reaction after they kiss? Well I do – And I have been scarred forever!

All Things Allergies was founded to serve the young adult population of the food allergy community – A cohort I felt was very underrepresented. New research efforts and interventions are mostly catered towards children, and food allergy parents have built a strong networking support system online. Yet teenagers and young people, like myself, enter the adult with an invincibility complex and without an instruction manual, leaving us at high risk of reactions alongside our new found freedom.

These are vulnerable years for the food allergy community. We are eating at restaurants without our parents, heading off to college, moving into our first apartments, buying our own groceries, cooking our own dinners, and making food related decisions under the influence of alcohol. Plus – We are dating! As all of these drastic changes unfold, the only people we can count on to advocate for us is ourselves.

As a young adult dating with food allergies, but I quickly discovered that someone without food allergies never has to give a second thought to…

  • Letting their date pick/surprise them with a restaurant reservation
  • Sharing drinks
  • Kissing + other physical contact without asking what their date has eaten that day
  • Visiting a partner’s home without knowing if their allergen was recently consumed there
  • Letting their date cook dinner for them

Any of these situations can put a food allergy sufferer in a dangerous position. We are all too familiar with how seemingly clueless people without dietary restrictions are about those who do. And the tricky part about dating – there is more physical contact with your significant other than you would ever normally allow with anybody else.

And we are not just talking about kissing – In an article published by Jenifer Goodwin for Allergic Living, a teen in Canada died of a severe allergic reaction during oral sex. The consenting partner had consumed peanuts before preforming an intimate sexual act on the allergic teen. According to Goodwin, “The teens never kissed. Dr. Samira Jeimy and her colleagues conclude in their report that the most likely route of allergen exposure was through the mucus membrane on the tip of the penis.” This conversation may be uncomfortable, but it could be the difference between life and death.

In fact, in that same article from Allergic Living, a survey found that between 5-12% of patients with food allergies have reported having “kissing-related” allergic reactions. To prevent such cross-contamination, Dr. Scott Sicherer, the director of the Jaffe Food Allergy Institute in New York, found that eating an allergen-free meal + waiting four or more hours can reduce allergens in the saliva to undetectable levels. Teeth brushing, mouth rinsing, and chewing gum have also been found to reduce allergen levels in the saliva, to a lesser extent.

I have been dating my boyfriend long-distance for a number of years, so stopping his intake of my allergens before seeing each other is much easier to schedule. Thankfully, I have found someone so accommodating that he has mostly eliminated my allergens from his diet all together. From time to time he enjoys a warm pecan pie or fresh salmon dinner when I’m not around (much to my joking protest), but he has never once made me feel like an inconvenience. Before visiting him for the weekend, he even makes an effort to sanitize his entire apartment for me – I’m talking doorknobs and all. Of course this is the same boy who recently introduced me to cooking, so not only are my dietary restrictions not an issue, but they have become a shared activity to work around. He is not afraid to send a meal back when I am too shy to bother the waiter, stand up and walk us out of a restaurant that isn’t safe, or remind me how much better I deserve from a friend that is not willing to put in that same effort. Even though I am perfectly capable of doing these things on my own, its wonderful to know that I’ve got somebody else in my corner.

But not everyone shares this positive experience. I’ve heard horror stories of first dates going horribly wrong and of boyfriends giving their girlfriend an allergic reaction because they failed to clean up after themselves. With all of these potential threats out there in the dating world, we have to protect ourselves.

Having a candid discussion about your allergies and fostering a relationship that values communication is key to keeping yourself safe. Stand up for yourself early, and set the standard for how your allergies should be handled. Start by simply saying “Hey, do you mind not ordering anything with ____. I’m super allergic and ending the night in the emergency room wouldn’t make for a great first date.” Not only will you be able to enjoy yourself more, but you’ll get a good sense of how caring and compassionate this person would be in a relationship. Besides, why would you want to be with someone who is not going to value your safety and comfortability? If he’s not going to protect you, he’s not the one!

For teens, be confident. Ask you significant other what they ate before you kiss them. Never let them get away with saying they don’t remember. Don’t feel pressured to go to dinner at a restaurant that makes you uncomfortable. And always advocate for yourself when someone isn’t putting your safety first. Like boy, bye.

For young adults, be smart. Make sure you’re not sharing drinks with someone at the bar, because I hear people love to pregame their nights out with a PB&J. Remember that it is not selfish to prioritize yourself. Don’t trust a kitchen shared by a bunch of roommates. And lastly, never settle for skipping dessert! Even a store-bought pint of ice cream will do the trick, and it never fails to show he cares.

For parents, be prepared. As scary as it sounds, one day your kid is going to grow up and be interested in dating! Don’t ignore this part of the allergy conversation. It is just as important as learning to administer epinephrine or reading ingredient labels. Raise your food allergy sufferer to be independent and capable of keeping themselves safe in the dating world.

Too often this topic is glossed over. When discussing food allergies, the conversation never misses touching on restaurant recommendations or new treatment protocols. But managing food allergies in an intimate relationship is a real concern. Hey, maybe you’ll be lucky enough to find someone out there with the same allergies as you. But if not, I’m here to answer any of your questions.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: