When it came to dating as a young adult, I had a habit of running away or hiding. Literally. I’m not exaggerating or hyperbolizing when I say that I was known to sprint off when faced with the prospect of kissing a guy I liked. This was because I was too nervous to tell him about my allergies, or since I was going to great lengths to hide the fact that I was different.
I’ve been an allergy girl my whole life, since the age of three months, when I was diagnosed with eczema. I would go on to develop food allergies to peanuts, nuts, dairy, soy protein, peas, egg, chicken, and pear. My body and, I suppose, my immune system, has undergone some change in my 28 years as my current list of allergies includes peanuts, nuts, dairy, soy protein, and most legumes.
Despite personal insecurities about my food allergies, I was interested in dating once I reached my mid-teen years. My parents and I had “the talk,” but I don’t recall having a “talk” specifically in regards to my allergy situation. Rather, my parents prepared me for experiences such as ordering and eating in restaurants and not sharing snacks at the movies, and by encouraging me to be independent.
It was up to me to figure out how to communicate my food allergies to the person I was dating. This was a rocky, jagged, molten hot lava-ridden path if there ever was one.
The Sushi Panic
“I can’t kiss you because I have a disease” doesn’t exactly set a romantic mood. For me, the hardest part was that first communication about my allergies; what they are, how I choose restaurants, what that means for kissing, etc. There’s nothing like a good medically tinged conversation to start off a first date.
Back in high school, my dating life was not off to a suave start. There was the time I panicked about how to get rid of some non-allergy-safe sushi that my then boyfriend had ordered, and ended up shoving it in my purse while he was in the restroom. You’d think that after such an experience, I’d have ironed out a better way to explain my allergies and their importance. Ha!
Fast forward four years. I was in my third year at the University of Toronto, and had just started seeing this amazing guy. We were on our third date, at Starbucks, and I had been dodging the food allergy talk. I ordered a black coffee while Brandon had one with dairy. After hours of chatting, he offered to walk me to my next class.
I knew the dreaded moment was coming; the moment where I’d have to either assume he was going to kiss me and pre-emptively stop it, or wait for him to lean in for it and try to back out. Either way, things were about to get weird.
Dodging the Kiss
We arrived at my class, surrounded by easily a hundred other students milling about the commons area. We stood around bashfully for a moment (I was as tremendously embarrassed as one is when you know a horror show is about to unfold). And then, he leaned in to kiss me. I quickly ducked down and dodged his mouth. While dipping under his outstretched arm, I shouted “allergies!” and sprinted off to class without looking back.
Now, years later, we are married, and I like to bring this story up at dinner parties for a good chuckle. My smooth moves are a guaranteed crowd-pleaser. I wish I could say I have become less awkward in the near decade that Brandon and I have been together, but that’s only partly true.
After the classroom incident, we began to date and became a lot closer. It forced me to open up about my food allergies and why I was so shy to talk to him about them. Brandon told me that my food allergies didn’t phase him at all, and that I should just own them and roll with it because this is part of who I am. He was so right.
Once I knocked down the emotional barrier, I learned that there are people who want to be in it together. They will support you for who you are and encourage you to grow; there’s no need to hide any part of yourself.
Amanda Orlando is the Toronto-based author of two food allergy-themed cookbooks, the latest of which is Everyone’s Welcome. Also visit her blog, Everyday Allergen-Free, where she writes about the realities of living with allergies and shares many of her recipes.