Mr. (or Miss) Right, Meet Mouthwash...

There are few things left in this world that seem to unite humanity on some universal level…but I’d say the quest for Mr. (or Miss) Right is one of them. I'd say around age 5, we girls tend to dream of a handsome prince who will sweep us off our feet and make us feel like the Disney princess we long to be. For me, it was Belle. No question. (Correct me if I’m wrong but I’m pretty certain boys just think about cartoon characters and video game people for the majority of their childhood days. I think that's where the trouble begins.) As we get a little older, our criteria for Mr. Right continues to evolve: he morphs from a dashing prince into a gangly teenager who will take us to prom (and maybe even a movie?); in college it’s someone who will take us to dinner (OFF CAMPUS!) and maybe even brave a trip home to meet our family. The picture in our head continues to morph as we do…at least hopefully it does. If you’re still stuck in the Disney prince mode, time to move on. Reality is better than those one-dimensional characters anyway :-)

Our Stanford D Wing freshman year really did create a "Dream Guy" list...
...Clearly we were aiming high: single and breathing are #1 and #2.

I’ve been fortunate to witness many successful relationships in my 27 years of life. Both sets of my grandparents will celebrate 60 years of marriage in a few weeks. One set will be lucky enough to celebrate it together with their children and grandchildren in attendance. The other set will celebrate the way they spend each and every Sunday: my grandfather will sit at my grandmother’s grave with his bagged lunch, a weekly tradition he has kept without fail for nearly a decade now since the day she left his side. And then there are my parents. I may have only had 14 years to witness their relationship but in that brief amount of time, they taught me more about the graces of married life, the gravity of wedding vows (particularly the sickness and health part), the beauty of laughter, and above all, what it means to love someone unconditionally, than I think many children get to witness in a lifetime. I’ve been fortunate enough to stand beside friends as they have exchanged their vows. I’ve fielded excited phone calls with the shrieks that can only mean one thing: engagement. I’ve sat and analyzed (and I’ll be honest: overanalyzed) phone calls, dates, relationships, etc. with many a friend and roommate. I’ve swooned over precious stories, squealed about long-awaited phone calls or conversations, laughed about priceless moments, painstakingly crafted text message/email responses, and offered tissues and a crying shoulder (over cartons of ice cream of course) when a relationship doesn’t go quite the way someone had hoped. And that’s all just as an outsider. Granted, I’ve seen my fair share of some of the above on my own as well.

The reality is: wherever you are, I’m here to make you feel better. You think it’s truly impossible to find Mr. (or Miss) Right? You’re over this whole elaborate dating game? Well, I hear you. But try adding a food allergy into the mix. Yep, dating is about to get a lot more interesting. I’d even venture to say entertaining. For those of you who don’t have to live it at least. Read, enjoy…and maybe, just maybe, you’ll feel a tiny bit better about your respective place in the dating game. Whether you’re the allergy sufferer, you’re in pursuit of an allergy sufferer (kudos to you…way to be proactive), or you’re just ready to be entertained, here is my story and my advice. I am by no means an expert on food allergies or relationships…but if I can help just one soul out there avoid an unnecessary awkward moment, I’ll feel my journey is not in vain  :-)

It was shortly after my gluten-free diagnosis and I was back at the doctor’s office for my “Life as a Celiac” session. I was handed packets of lists, recipes, safe foods, unsafe foods…most of the things I’ve shared (or will be sharing) in this blog. Many of them were things I had already learned in my extensive internet, library, and bookstore searches. Then came a conversation I never saw coming:

Dr. One more thing: do you have a boyfriend?
Me (with a quizzical look I’m sure): No.
Dr. : Are you planning to have one anytime soon?
Me (thoroughly confused): Well, if my recent track record is any indication, I’d say no.
Dr. (with a laugh) OK, I’m still going to tell you this just in case. Remember how I said your intestines will be extra sensitive for a few months until they heal?
(I nod)
Dr.: Well, that means if you’re out to dinner with someone and he eats bread or drinks beer and then walks you to your door…you see where I’m going with this don’t you?
(I nod again…bright red I’m sure)
Dr.: So the good news is you’re only super sensitive until December. Then you’re just sensitive. So you’ll only have to worry if it’s RIGHT after he eats bread. Until December, you have to worry all the time. (Encouraging smile)
Me: Well, then this is going to be the summer/fall of self-improvement. No boys until Christmas.
And I meant it. Wholeheartedly.

Well as luck and life tend to work,  when I returned for a follow-up appointment just a few weeks later, one of the first questions the doctor posed was “So how’s that whole ‘no boys until Christmas’ thing going for you?” All he got in response was a red face and a silent smile. At which point he headed for his closet with the words, “Yeah I kind of figured that would be the case” and handed me this.

That's right. He handed me Scope. Mini-Scopes actually.

Yep, you think the whole walk-him/her-to-the-door, do-I-give-him/her-a-hug, how-many-dates-until-I-can-I-give-him/her-a-kiss game is complicated for you? I bet it’s looking pretty good right now. You fellow allergy-sufferers, I know. It’s horrible. Go ahead, have a mental freak-out. Swear you’re running to the nearest monastery or nunnery. Head immediately to the SPCA and then PetSmart to outfit what is sure to be the first of many cats in your future. I was right there with you. But perhaps there is a different way to look at it. The situation is still an awkward one, I can’t magically change that. Those of you without food allergies, take a moment to count your blessings. And then keep reading…because you never know if one day you’ll end up on the receiving end of this conversation. And take it from me, you just might be Mr. or Miss Right if you already know some of this information. You have no idea how much it means to us.

Now this advice comes from my own tried and true experiences. Again, I’m by no means an expert…but they’re things I figured out as I stumbled through…along with some solicited brotherly advice from the boys I was lucky enough to spend 1-2 years living with as part of my ACE community in DC. Their heartfelt responses to my freak-out “How do I handle this at dinner tonight??” emails made me realize that although I grew up with only a younger brother, I’m now lucky enough to have 4 “older” brothers. (Thank you, ACE.)

So here are my thoughts. Feel free to tweak as you see fit:

     1)   Be honest. Right Away: Chances are the offer of a first date will somehow involve food. Only you know what you’re comfortable with. If there are select places where you have eaten and feel safe, go to one of those. Even if it’s Chipotle. (Who doesn’t love Chipotle??) If you’d rather food not be involved, suggest a safe alternative: coffee, ice cream, etc. Be up front….but not super detailed. Just explain that you have a food allergy so there are certain places you feel most comfortable. Don’t spill out the whole dramatic story and endless list of allergies. Most likely you’ll frighten the person away before he or she even gets to see how fantastic you really are.

      2)   YOU decide if it’s a big deal. Really. Particularly if you’re newly diagnosed, your allergy probably seems like the biggest deal in the world. It’s consuming your every thought, dream, waking moment, etc. So of course because it’s the center of your world, it must be the center of everyone else’s too. WRONG. Trust me, I made that mistake. I finally had a friend who was honest enough to say, “Katie, I know this whole thing is taking over your life but you need to stop talking about it all the time. There’s so much more to you and no one can see that if all you do is talk about your food issues.” And he was right. Your allergies are just a tiny fraction of who you are. They don’t define you. Be open and honest but then move on. If the entire date consists of talking about the inner workings of your intestines or your immune system, chances are there won’t be a 2nd one.

      3)   Eliminate the Awkwardness: Many people are familiar with my “there’s no such thing as awkwardness” theory. Yes, I believe awkwardness exists in the world, but I also believe most of it could be eliminated if people just talked openly instead of hiding things. I’m not saying it’s easy, and I’m not saying I always follow my own advice, but still I stand by it. What you should NOT do is put off talking about the Scope/toothbrushing situation too long because then it does become supremely awkward. If you wait until the moment arrives and have to stop and explain as said person has finally worked up the nerve to give you a kiss, well you can just imagine that scene. If it seems like something which could become a possibility in the near future, bring it up. Yes it might be awkward but trust me, it’s better than the alternative. Not to mention, it’s kind of a subtle way of saying “Look, I’m thinking about it and it’s OK with me”. That can come in handy sometimes. Just be confident…and accept that once in awhile it will end awkwardly. But if it does, then it wasn’t meant to be.

      4)   It’s Kind of a Blessing in Disguise. Think about it. Life is going to throw a lot of curveballs and awkward moments your way. Things that are far more challenging and inconvenient than having to carry some mouthwash around. Whoever you have by your side is going to have to handle those moments with you. This is a great barometer from the get-go to judge how this person is likely to handle those bigger things in life. If he or she can’t accept this and do what it takes to keep you safe, then it’s not the right person for you. That being said, remember to put yourself in their shoes. Imagine you’re back in time before you had food allergies and picture someone saying all of this to you. Would you automatically have the perfect responses and know lingo like “cross-contamination”, “shared equipment”, and “dedicated facility”? Of course not. You’ve had weeks, months, or years to process your reality. Don’t expect the person in front of you to master it in a minute. Give them some time. And send them the link to this post :-)

     5)   Remember the Perks You Provide: Aside from your charming personality, dazzling smile, or whatever else attracted this person to you in the first place, just think of all the things you have to offer because of your food allergy.

a.     He/She will never (and I mean NEVER) be without snacks. Long road trips, short jaunts, you always have an allergen-free snack somewhere on your person. And you’re really good at sharing.
b.     Think of all the foods you can introduce that he/she most likely would never have stumbled across otherwise. Quinoa pasta, vegan cheese, coconut milk ice cream…the possibilities are endless!
c.      You’re a semi-expert at labwork, doctor’s visits, hospitals etc. In other words, you will be an excellent caretaker whenever he/she gets sick.
d.     You can handle an Epi-Pen like the best of them. You never know when that will come in handy.
e.     If you end up marrying this person and your children develop any kind of food allergy, you won’t bat an eye. You’ve got it under control already.
f.      He/She should know that there is little you can’t handle. If you’ve embraced your allergy and can face life each day with a smile, it’s pretty clear you're tougher than your bubbly exterior suggests.
g.     You’re awesome. No allergy or illness can overshadow that.

Now I know by this point some of you are probably a little frustrated and thinking “Oh great, another 20-something who thinks life is incomplete without a relationship”. Don’t worry, you couldn’t be more wrong. I'm just as frustrated by that overwhelming mentality as you are. Though I certainly want to share some advice about the quest for Mr. or Miss Right, I am a firm believer that you can only be as happy in a relationship as you are with yourself when you’re on your own. To paraphrase a favorite Pinterest quote of mine, I think the best thing you can do is love your life and make it your own. Keep doing that until you find someone who has their own life that they love. If you find that you both love each other and you can keep loving your lives together, that’s great. If not, just keep loving your life.

My favorite TV show of all time is probably Gilmore Girls. And arguably my favorite episode is entitled “I Am Kayak, Hear Me Roar”. In fact, it became a bit of a mantra among my friends at Villlanova during our senior year after we saw the episode. In order for it to make sense, do yourself a favor and watch  .
Now I must admit, I don’t canoe or kayak all that often so though I appreciate the analogy, I’ve adapted it over the years to something I use more often: a car. I am quite capable of driving a car, and have been doing so quite well now (if I do say so myself) for over a decade. The invention of GPS coupled with my trusty AAA membership has rendered me entirely self-sufficient behind the wheel and there is little that can stop me (unless I’m on 76 outside Philly in which case no one is going anywhere!) Give me a destination and I’m on my way. Or sometimes I don’t even need a destination…I just go. Now would it be nice to have a co-pilot in the passenger seat? Sure. IF it’s the right co-pilot.  Would I settle for just any partner settling into the passenger seat for good? I think not. Do I know exactly what that person looks like? Of course not, or I probably would have found him already. 

Like everyone, I have some ideas:
 I think he’ll be intelligent so we can engage in hours of scintillating conversation. (What good is a road trip companion if you can't talk??) I think he’ll have a sense of humor…partially because he’ll need one to handle me, partially because I love to laugh. He’ll offer advice on directions, traffic, and possible detours...but will trust me to make my own decisions that I think are best. He’ll offer to take over at the wheel when I’m looking a bit tired, frustrated, or just hopelessly lost...but will understand if I refuse his offer because I need to carry on by myself for a little longer. He won’t complain when I see signs and spontaneously decide I just have to stop in the Blueberry Capital of the World, the Carousel Capital of the World, and the Home of the World’s Largest Coffee Pot (he’ll even smile at seeing my intense level of excitement over each one)…but he’ll also have the foresight and nerve to put his foot down and rein in my crazy when I try to stop at the Hubcap Capital of the World or the Home of America’s First Wavepool. He’ll stay calm in traffic and understand my need to arrive 10 minutes early to pretty much every destination. He’ll accept that no matter how far behind schedule we might be, if it’s a Sunday morning we’ll be “”-ing our way to a church. He’ll notice when I’m struggling to unscrew the cap on my water bottle with my one free hand and without making it a big deal, he'll come to my aid. He’ll understand that sometimes we need to stop talking and sit in silence for awhile. (I do my best deep thinking when I’m driving after all) He’ll be willing to handle radio duty and appreciate my desire to switch back and forth between every genre under the sun. And most of all, he better be willing to belt it out once in awhile. Every good road trip inevitably calls for a sing-along (or several) somewhere along the way. If he can’t handle that, I have a feeling we’re bound for failure. 

Of course, I hope he also has a list of things he is expecting I might be for him. I’m a firm believer in 2-way streets. One-ways are just dangerous. Literally and metaphorically. I drove around DC long enough to learn that lesson well.

Will I ever find this wonderful, seemingly too-good-to-be-true co-pilot with whom to share my journey down this windy road trip we call life? I don’t know. Sure, I will be the first to admit that I certainly hope I do. But I also know that if I don’t, I’ll still take that same wonderful road trip and I’ll love it just as much. I have plenty of friends and family members who will accompany me in the passenger seat for different phases of the journey, rather than having the same person fill that chair. And don’t forget about those saints in street clothes I mentioned a few posts ago. The world is full of nearly 7 billion people, many of whom will cross your path just when you need them most. Or vice versa when they need you. (I also seriously considered religious life for a period of time…in which case I envisioned one of those “Jesus is my co-pilot” stickers in my future. Not actually on my car, but in my get the idea)

Wherever you are on your own search for a co-pilot, just remember you are a completely self-sufficient driver. You always have been and you always will be.  So if you’re going to choose a lifetime passenger, make sure he or she really is YOUR Mr. or Miss Right. If the one you’ve been questioning isn’t it, don’t be afraid to be honest. I dread heartbreak as much as the next person…but I’d say a few weeks (or even months) of heartache is far better than locking yourself in the car with the wrong person for the rest of the road trip. Keep testing out co-pilots. Remember they have to be great on long trips, short trips, detours, traffic, and everything in between. Keep searching until you find Mr. or Miss “Right for You” (which by the way means they also have to choose you back). I’ll let you know if I ever find that person for me. Until then, I’ll be driving solo down the open road, loving my life, and keeping an eye out for potential passengers…and occasionally belting out my own solo ballad of course :-)

In the meantime, if you know any great potential duet partners/co-pilots, feel free to send them my way. Just do me a favor and warn them about the Scope :-)

Two of my best friends captured in one photo: Katrine and mouthwash :-)

*UPDATE*: Yep, I knew it was only a matter of time before this was bound to happen. Look what launched since this post:
I guess if you really don't want to have to explain the mouthwash thing it's helpful. But I say why limit yourself?? Though if you're looking for an outing to a gluten-free establishment, maybe it's worth a try?? You'll have to let me know what you think if you try it :-)


Jacana28 said…
I just had to comment on this one. As you know, I have a tree-nut allergy (thankfully not as serious as yours) and I remember warning Augie in our dating days that if he ate nuts and wanted to kiss me that he had to brush his teeth and use mouth wash. Because he really cared about me, this was not an issue for him and he did it willingly. Augie is as protective of my allergy as I am and for us it is simply a way of life to have a tree nut-free household. I assure you that when you meet "Mr. Right" that he will accept your allergy as part of you and do whatever he needs to do to accommodate you! ~Julia
Gabby Lynch said…
I'm keeping my eye out for your Mr. Right!!! I will tell him about the mouthwash too.