Imagine you’re finishing up a date with someone who has food allergies, and you two are just about to say goodnight after a perfect summer evening together. You lean in for your first kiss — but wait. If you’re not thinking about what you recently ate, you should be. The last thing you want is to end the night in the hospital or later find out that you left your date with puffy, itchy lips (or tongue, too, if you really got after it).
Maybe you’re reading this because you’re prepping for a date with someone with food allergies. Or maybe you’re just curious. There are 15 million Americans with food allergies, and the number is growing every year. Odds are you’ll date someone with food allergies at least once in your lifetime. So take it from someone with severe food allergies and years of dating experience: Here are the 3 main things you need to know.
1. Never Surprise Them with Dinner Plans
Don’t make reservations at a restaurant or invite your date to your place for dinner without asking them first. Even if they already told you about their food allergies, you don’t always know the severity. They might have even downplayed it at an attempt to not scare you off right away (I know I’m definitely guilty of that).
Food doesn’t even need to be involved right off the bat. Dazzle your date with some out-of-the-box date ideas. Take an art class, go the zoo or a museum, get tickets for a local concert. Or, ask what they’d like to do. You can say something like, “I know you have food allergies; is there anywhere you’d prefer to go for dinner? Or would you rather do something else that doesn’t involve food?”
After a few dates, a great option is to invite your date over to your place to make dinner together. This lets your date show you how they make their meals, plus gives you a hands-on chance to understand what it takes to keep them safe. What ingredients can you not use? Do you have to clean all utensils and pans, first? What’s a substitute for milk? Turn on some music, break out the wine and let your date be your guide.
2. Listen to Learn, Not to Respond
Of course, on any date you should be off your phone and attentively listening. But when it comes to someone with food allergies, they’ll need your full focus. It could mean their life.
To get the ball rolling, ask an open-ended questions like, “Can you tell me about your food allergies and what I should know?” They’ll tell you what you need to know, without feeling like you’ve invaded their privacy or asked the wrong questions.
Also ask what to do in an emergency. This not only shows your date that you care and are interested in them, but also helps you prepare for the worst. How do you use their EpiPen and where do they keep it? What do you do in case they have a reaction when they’re with you? When you’re on a date, even if it doesn’t involve any food, you never know if some kid will come along and throw his ice cream everywhere, or if a woman on the train will spill her bag of mixed nuts on your date.
And, for the love of God, do not, I repeat, do NOT bring up your own, or anyone else’s, dietary preferences. Unless you also have food allergies, nothing about your diet can compare to what your date has to deal with on a daily basis. So fight the urge to add your two cents. While they may be polite about it, your date will most likely be turned off when you bring up a classmate you once knew who had food allergies. Or how one time you thought you were allergic to milk, but it just went bad and you got sick after drinking it. I mean what are we supposed to say to that? Are you trying to tell us that you can relate? Because you can’t. So don’t listen to respond. Listen to learn.
Bonus tip: Don’t make jokes. I’ll explain with a personal story.
I once went on a date with a guy to go out for drinks. When we got there, he ended up ordering food. He apologized and said he was starving, and I told him to go ahead. I didn’t want him to not eat just because I wasn’t eating, but I still couldn’t help but be turned off by it. Like he really couldn’t have eaten before? Anyway, he was looking at the menu, and, I shit you not, here’s what he said:
“So, do you have to be careful about not pissing off boyfriends or roommates? Like, it’d be so easy to poison and kill you, haha.”
My point is, even if you think you’re being funny and harmless and breaking the ice, jokes about dying from food allergies are just poor taste. Your date has barely gotten to know you and right off the bat you’re downplaying the reality that their food allergies could in fact kill them? Think it through.
3. Have “The Talk”
For people with food allergies, “the talk” needs to be tweaked a bit. You both know about the birds and the bees, but what you may not know is how long to wait until you can kiss your date after eating something their allergic to. Research shows that, for peanut allergies, you should wait 4.5 hours to kiss. Every person’s allergies are different, so just ask.
You’re probably thinking, Lauren, there’s no way I’m doing that; it’s too awkward. I feel you, but it’s a hell of a lot less awkward to ask first instead of later trying to explain to his or her parents at the hospital why they’re being treated because you blindfolded their son or daughter and used whip cream in the bedroom and, well, yeah.
It’s important to understand that someone with food allergies isn’t trying to make your life difficult. We put a lot of trust in you when you ask us out. And if we think you’re worth the effort of explaining our food allergies to you, that’s a huge step in the right direction.
People with food allergies have learned to be extremely independent, so as long as you let your date handle their allergies their way and offer your support, you crazy kids just might have a shot.