Sex is a topic that needs to be talked about whether you are dating, in a relationship or married. If this issue is not talked about in the food allergy community and beyond, people can put others (or themselves) at serious risk of fatal reactions or needless suffering.
My dating experience spans about sixteen years. I've had long-term relationships and short-term relationships, all of whom had to know about my deadly food allergies within the first few dates or telephone conversations. Unfortunately, in the earlier years, there were times I simply forgot to tell them and I consider myself extremely lucky.
Just in the beginning of last year, I spoke on the phone to a really sweet guy I had met on a dating website. About an hour and a half into interesting conversation with tons in common, he made it clear to me after I told him about my food allergies that he could never give up being a vegan.
I swear I never heard crickets chirp so loudly on a phone as I did that night. He emailed me that he enjoyed our conversation but I never replied. What could I say? If I ever met him in person and we went on a date, he could cause me to suffer for weeks or even kill me...did he not understand that?
I had two relationship experiences with vegetarians; one lasted almost three years, the other six months. Over the course of the three year one, I learned 'mysterious' reactions that included itching and 'waves' of hives were from soy-based veggie burgers they had eaten within a 48 hour period. That person completely avoided veggie burgers and soy protein for several days prior to seeing me to be on the safe side; soon it was cut out of their diet completely. This is the way its supposed to be; when someone loves you, they don't ever want to see you suffer.
Suffering should never be mandatory because of your food allergy.
The six-monther vegetarian and I went to Salem, Massachusetts to experience the gorgeous autumn weather, the many haunted tours and October attractions. On the way there I wore a dressy coat my grandma handed me last minute to wear (even though she didn't want me to go, she also knew I was very stubborn); it had real fur around the collar which she knew would keep me warm. I had no idea of the manipulative and spiteful action this would provoke in my notoriously loving boyfriend; he didn't say a word about it and although I knew he was vegetarian, I had no idea he was so against wearing fur. I was about to find out.
Deciding who has "marriage potential" is much easier with food allergies.
That evening at dinner, he decided to order a tofu platter from the Asian restaurant we went to. I quickly blurted out, "Ummm, baby, you know about..." to which he cut me off mid-sentence and retorted, "I'm hungry, this is going to be my meal tonight." He knew very well about my food allergies and my anxiety sitting there next to him eating something that could kill me was through the roof. I stared at those three big ivory slabs of sauteed tofu with some type of soy-based sauce all over it while him and the other couple exchanged friendly banter. "Would you guys like to try some?" he asked, smiling excitedly. They politely declined and I could sense they were uncomfortable.
My mind raced a mile a minute and I worried about the steam wafting up from the tofu and my possibly inhaling the protein which would trigger a severe allergic reaction. My stifled emotions quickly brewed to the surface; my chest tightened and my face got hot but this time not from an allergic reaction. I excused myself and went to the door, peering out into the brisk, otherwise perfect night wondering why he didn't love me anymore. What did I do wrong? Tears started to stream uncontrollably down my face as I thought of all the good-hearted single men, sitting at home whom I'd never met. Was he out there? Would someone ever love me enough to not want to hurt me? Then my mind went to my beautiful family, wishing I was back home where I belonged. It was in that moment that I began to truly hate him.
Needless to say, this set the tone for the entire trip; we barely spoke to each other and did not kiss. For me, this was the beginning of the end. He had ordered and eaten the tofu on purpose to punish me with no intimacy because I'd worn a coat with a fur collar. This was the same person who asked for a list in our first month of officially dating of all soy derivatives and legumes to watch out for in ingredients, just so he could kiss me. This is also the same person who kept secretly eating soy protein items until my body was covered in hives and open, bleeding itchy cuts and scabs but changed his diet once he saw me suffering.
Which brings me to my next topic which I couldn't help but notice for about half of the relationships I've been in. I know this is not the case for everyone, but this is what I've seen in my own personal experiences.
People will not stop eating food you are allergic to until they:
- Feel guilty from watching you suffer and scratch for hours and hours, ie: you are covered with patchy red rashes all over that make you look similar to a burn victim.
- Are in love with you or care about you deeply and don't want to see you hurt.
Over the years, I made it a point to never be intimate with anyone unless they were head over heels in love with me. It was not enough if I was in love with them, the feeling had to be more than mutual for me to risk entrusting my life in their hands.
My most popular question to date was, "What if I brush my teeth really well?" The truth is, for someone with a history of anaphylaxis, brushing the teeth and rinsing the mouth out can only get rid of some food residue. Once the food is eaten, the proteins are already absorbed into the bloodstream and will be present in saliva and any bodily fluids no matter how much the person brushes their teeth.
I scoured message boards to see if there were any older 'peanut allergy kids' from my generation or older and found women whose husbands and boyfriends couldn't eat peanuts within three days of sexual contact. Since allergic reactions are so temperamental and there have never been any medical studies done on how long a food protein lasts in saliva, sweat, blood, semen or other bodily fluids before converting, there is no way of knowing how many days peanut proteins or soy proteins continue circulating through the system.
When I'm in a relationship, the person must adhere to my "one week rule," meaning they have to completely remove any peanut, soy or tree nut proteins one week before they see me. If they accidentally eat a peanut or something soy-based, I ask them from the beginning to be up-front and honest with me; unfortunately this wasn't always the case and I suffered the consequences.
Another recent ex used to play the, "You have no idea what I do for you" card whenever we would fight. When I asked what this meant, he would manipulate the convo to focus back on me, but the truth of why he said that was dangerous and I knew it.
Pay attention to your reactions; they could be telling you something more than he ever could.
The truth was this: He had a lot of hostility towards me because he had to give up so many of his favorite foods, like General Tso's Chicken, Snickers bars and peanut candies as well as peanut butter and alot of soups and processed foods due to soy protein.
He even had to quit smoking because my being around smoke or engaging in makeout sessions after him chain-smoking caused me to break out in itchy hives and rashes, but that's another story. Are any of my allergens in the 4,000 chemicals that make up cigarettes? Highly likely.
We dated for two, very volatile years and although he was very careful with what he ate (once again, after seeing me have some very bad reactions to possible culprits he ate) the relationship kept becoming more and more psychologically abusive and manipulative; the longer we stayed together, the more we hated each other.
On the other hand, we cooked alot together and didn't go out to eat much, because eating at restaurants always involved risk. We grocery shopped together and made up new recipes, although I still had some mysterious reactions sometimes after eating. I thought, "He doesn't eat any of the things I'm allergic to. He must care about me and love me." I was wrong. True love does not make you feel like you did something wrong because you can't go to their favorite restaurant. True love does not become bitter towards you because you are not making enough money. True love genuinely sees you as beautiful at any weight, with or without makeup and with or without a reaction going on. True love does not ever make you feel bad for being who you are.
It took me sixteen years to recognize what true love is. It's what I have now (see update below); a man who appeared without warning and when I was not searching, who respects me and puts my health first, even above his own happiness. Someone who understood what he had to do without needing proof of a reaction. He asks me alot of questions because he cares and wants to understand. I know he's never eaten foods I'm allergic to within a few days of seeing me because I have never had a 'mysterious' reaction from being with him.
The many layers of psychological ramifications from food allergies coexisting within our relationships are deep. Trust, loyalty, love, selflessness and respect all come into question and are proven or disproven rather quickly. It is up to us to find our voice and communicate our needs and it is never something to apologize for. If someone wants to be with you, they won't seek an apology or a medal for loving you the way you deserve to be loved--they just will.
UPDATE: Although he was a great guy, I am no longer with the sweet guy above. It took me a while to realize that although someone might be a great person, it doesn't mean they're great for you. I am currently engaged to the most amazing person I've ever dated; the wedding date is set for October 2014. I am grateful to have some amazing friends and people in my life who truly care for me and understand what I go through.