Sometime between the first conversation and the first date, I see it: the flicker of fear in a guy’s eyes. My numerous and severe food allergies—to dairy, egg, beef, shrimp, some tree nuts, and so on—go from icebreaker trivia to logistical nightmare. How do I plan a date for this girl? What if she breaks into hives when I kiss her?
There are lots of us out there with medical issues, whether allergies or Celiac or cerebral palsy, that change the rhythm of our everyday lives. It doesn’t mean we aren’t smart, sensitive, romantic people who deserve to find love (and who usually have a sense of humor about the complications of dating us). So without further ado, dude, I’ll help you out. Here’s the secret—three of them, in fact—to being the guy of my dreams.
Secret #1: Plan. Then Plan for Plan B
You want to design a fun, activity-driven date. That’s great. But some “fun” dates aren’t that fun with allergies. Street festivals? Everywhere I turn waits strong cooking smells and vendors pressuring me to try the kabob, smoothie, or deep-fried Oreo. Sushi-rolling class? Only if you’re 100% certain we won’t make rolls with cucumber or shrimp. Wine tasting…with cheese pairings? You get the idea.
If you care about me, be flexible. An ambitious day of adventure after adventure may require a detour to the nearest grocery store if I haven’t found a safe meal on the way. I know that’s not romantic. But if you choose our 3:30 PM horse-riding lesson over averting my plummeting blood sugar (and the mood to match), perhaps it is not meant to be.
If all goes well and soon you’re bringing me to a family meal, give them a heads-up about my allergies. If it is a big holiday where details may get lost, introduce me to a family member I can go to with questions about ingredients and preparation. It’s best if this go-to isn’t the chief chef. I’d rather have a quick consult with Aunt Cecilia versus getting in your grandmama’s way as she trusses the chicken.
Secret #2: Wash Up (Quietly)
It’s true. If you’ve eaten something I am allergic to, kissing me—or touching my face—may give me hives. So get in the habit of washing up. I don’t mean swishing your last sip of water around in your mouth for a few seconds, as one ex of mine did. Use soap (the only way to break up the oils associated with peanuts, nuts, and dairy) and give a generous scrub to your hands and the whole area around your mouth, particularly if you have a moustache or beard.
And please, don’t make a production out of it. Don’t sigh, “Oh, I always forget.” Don’t ask, “Was that enough?” Don’t joke, “Okay, Mom, I’m clean.” Trust me: no one is less excited or more self-conscious about the necessity of this gesture than I am. Be matter-of-fact and subtle. Making me feel like I’m imposing is a total turn-off.
On the upside, women like it when you wash up regardless of whether they have allergies. Unless you’ve been sharing the exact same food, there’s nothing sexy about a kiss redolent with peanut butter or garlic bread. When your greasy fingers leave a smear on our silk tops or linen skirts, I have to be honest: our souls curdle an eensy bit.
Secret #3: Let Me Talk…and Talk…and Talk
Allergic reactions happen; for me, they happen a lot. Not because I’m reckless, but because I’m allergic to a massive variety of foods, and I refuse to let that keep me from eating out. Unfortunately, a clear conversation and an accommodating chef is not a foolproof plan. Many times the dairy-free sorbet that promised to be the culmination of a great meal was, instead, the bite that sent me toward the emergency room.
I’ve learned to say no to sorbet. Still, mistakes happen. When a reaction occurs on a date, here’s the strange thing: I’ll start talking. Incessantly. Starting with a sleuthing of the likely allergen, then revisiting what I could have handled differently, segueing into a play-by-play of how I’m feeling. This tends to puzzle the guy. “I know, I was there,” he’ll say. Or “Shhh, focus on feeling better.”
Understand that this steady, pragmatic chatter has a threefold purpose. I’m testing my voice’s pitch and clarity—an indicator of swelling in my throat and nose. I’m tracking my cogency, a reflection of oxygen and adrenaline levels. Am I losing focus? Babbling fast? And I am drowning out my guilt, the voice inside that just wants to say I’m so so sorry I ruined this evening.
So when I’m scared, let me talk. Better yet, listen. Because the secret is that I want to be with the guy who really hears me. And that’s true of every girl, allergic or not.
Sandra Beasley is the author of Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales from an Allergic Life. Learn more about Sandra at sandrabeasley.com.