When I first discovered I was allergic to gluten and casein (which is similar to being allergic to lactose, except even geekier), the world was not the embracing bosom to food allergies it has now become. You couldn’t walk into 7-11 and see items screaming GLUTEN-FREE on their label. You couldn’t go to most restaurants and assume that they had encountered your allergy before and would prepare something safe. And you sure as hell couldn’t go on a date without pre-planning where your food would be coming from should things go into extra innings.
It wasn’t so long ago, but in the early 2000’s, I never left home without a banana, apple, or weird nut bar thing that tasted like sticks and looked like sticks and let’s be honest was probably mostly just sticks. When you’re out on a date however, coyly munching on the bruised pear that you smuggled into the bar in the bottom of your bag reads less “necessary health alternative” and more “I’m a hermit who makes my own clothes.” Once, on a second date, things took a surprisingly good swing, and we decided after drinks to see a midnight movie. Spontaneous and fun, right? I can be spontaneous and fun! Unfortunately my weirdo stomach cannot, and halfway through the movie I was forced to pull out a bag of soy chips and discreetly munch. Not ideal, but I hadn’t eaten in hours, and I wasn’t sure about the gluten-free status of the concessions. No biggee, I thought, until I learned a few weeks later that my date now referred to me only as “Chip Boy,” and her friends called her to find what crazy antics Chip Boy had pulled that day. Of course, once I found out, the crazy antic Chip Boy pulled was telling her he didn’t want to see her anymore, then going home and eating a whole lot more chips. This time, of the chocolate variety. Also peanut butter. And butterscotch, if you must know the shameful truth of it all.
Even now that gluten-intolerance is more mainstream, it’s still a tricky thing to date with. As are nut allergies, celiac disease, lactose intolerance, and the great granddaddy of them all: the soy allergy. You know what soy is in? Everything. Honestly, it would be easier to be allergic to skin. And even though tons of people have them, food allergies have somehow remained mysterious, shady, and more than a little bit strange. (Coincidentally, Mysterious, Shady & Strange happens to be my OkCupid screen name.) So as someone who’s dated with allergies for years, here are some tips.
1. Figure Out a Cute Way To Explain Your Symptoms. For some reason, people always want to know what happens if you ingest something you’re not supposed to. Which is strange, because, come on, it’s a food allergy — what do you think happens? Alec Baldwin leaps out of my stomach and starts doing his Charles Nelson Reilly impression? No. Either one chokes and dies or poops and wants to die. But people like pretending they don’t know that, so you’ll need to have a pleasant answer at the ready. Please note, “I ‘Number 2’ pretty much everywhere, all the time. Kinda like that scene from The Exorcist where she’s vomiting, except with feces” is not a pleasant answer. Few good romantic evenings involve the phrase “I ‘Number 2’ pretty much everywhere.” My go-to allergy explanation is usually “It’s like food poisoning, but it lasts for at least 48 hours.” Then they look you with 98% sympathy and 2% horror, which is a far better ratio than I’m usually accustomed to, so I’ll take it!
2. DO NOT Bring Your Own Food on a Date. See Boy, Chip.
3. Say “I Cook All the Time” not “I Make My Own Food Because I Don’t Trust Others Not to Make Me Sick.” The former makes you sound sophisticated and sexy. The latter makes you sound like the Unabomber.
4. When Referring to Your Cooking Ability, Focus on Quantity, Not Quality. I cook all the time, the problem is it tastes like crap because there isn’t any gluten in it. For example, I used to make my own bread. You’d have loved it… if your biggest problem with bread has always been its light, fluffy texture, and you wished it tasted more like sour cottage cheese. If you gave me three hours, a confusing bread machine, and countless really expensive ingredients, I could produce for you a yellow brick that smelled like shoes and was heavier than a 2 year-old. It wasn’t bread, it was breadish. But how did I describe my cooking to dates? “Yeah, I bake fresh bread all the time. It’s amazing! And it makes the house smell great.” Women like apartments that smell great. Or so I’ve been told.
5. Always Pick the Restaurant. Duh.
6. Ignore the Stupid Rules About Kissing. There’s an acronym for what you’re supposed to do before kissing someone who’s eaten something to which you’re allergic. It’s B-R-F-W. Ask them to BRUSH their teeth. Then RINSE. Then FLOSS. Then WAIT four hours. That’s right, WAIT FOUR HOURS. Before you kiss. Yes, I’m serious. Because nothing makes romance really sing like a four hour interlude. “Can we kiss yet?” “Not until Schindler’s List is over. And yes, it’s the Director’s Cut.” BRFW might as well stand for Be a Real Friggin’ Weirdo. In my opinion, if there’s one thing worth risking illness for, it’s the perfect goodnight kiss. No romantic evening involves floss. Unless you’re gonna die, take a risk and take the kiss.