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Negotiating allergies in romantic relationships and marriage: Six tips for making it work

So, you’ve met someone special. When that happens for teens or adults alike, it can be one of the most wonderful feelings in the world. The butterflies in the stomach, the sense of possibility, the anticipation prior to that first kiss.

But for individuals with food allergies, that sense of joyful anticipation can be understandably mixed with concern about whether a new love interest has avoided eating your allergen(s) before seeing you. This comes across powerfully in one of our public service announcements, entitled First Kiss, which involves teens but applies to all ages. Other issues that often come to the forefront include deciding which restaurants are safe to frequent and managing social events with friends and family.

Although food allergies don’t need to become the primary focus of a relationship, it is important to identify your needs clearly and with care early on. This is true for teens who are beginning to date, and for adults navigating the road of romantic partnership, from dating through marriage.

We hope that the following tips will be of additional help as you forge ahead with confidence in your love life, whether you’ve been living with food allergies for years, or are newly diagnosed.

1. First and foremost, communicate with your partner!

Whether you’ve just met, or you’ve been newly diagnosed with food allergies and are in an established relationship, the number one way to stay safe is to be clear about what you need from your partner. Be sure to tell them what food(s) you’re allergic to, and outline what measures they can take to help keep you safe, from avoiding your allergens for at least several hours before kissing, to choosing safer restaurants, to helping avoid cross-contamination in the kitchen.

2. The kissing question

While this can be an awkward topic to discuss, particularly in a new relationship, it’s important to mention specific food allergies up front, before that first kiss. While anaphylaxis from kissing is rarely reported, traces of allergens can remain in the mouth and can trigger a reaction even hours after ingestion.

Although not as ideal as total avoidance, there are measures that can be taken to minimize this risk. For example, a research study on peanut allergen exposure through saliva found that waiting several hours and eating a peanut-free meal before kissing someone with peanut allergy, was more effective at helping to reduce peanut protein in the saliva than brushing teeth or chewing gum.

3. Dining out together

What poses a special challenge when dining out together, especially when you’re venturing out as a couple for the first time, is the selection of an allergy-friendly restaurant. Your partner will likely not know how to choose one. This is where you need to take the lead and be confident enough to suggest an appropriate venue. And if a restaurant is one you have never frequented, it’s best to speak to the manager in advance to ask questions about how they accommodate food allergy. On the day of the date itself, take the time to follow-up and call before leaving home to be sure that the restaurant is ready to accommodate. By the time you both arrive at the restaurant and you identify yourself as the caller, an allergy-aware establishment should be ready to help make your meal a safe and special one. Check out our other dining out tips.

4. Social events with friends and family

No matter what your age, social events often centre around food, and communicating with hosts in advance is vital. If you have food allergies, and you feel uncomfortable making direct contact with your romantic interest’s family or friends, be sure to have a heart-to-heart discussion with your date, so that they can inform their family and/or friends about what’s needed to keep you safe. Writing down brief action points for them to share with others in social situations may be helpful here, so that they don’t forget anything. If you’re the partner of an individual with food allergies—whether they’re longstanding or newly diagnosed—be sure to take their requests seriously, and to relay them carefully, as a sign of responsibility, love, and care. And if at any point, either of you are uncomfortable with the ability of your hosts to accommodate food allergies, you should both plan to bring something safe along for the person with allergies to have during the event.

5. The importance of your epinephrine auto-injector (e.g. EpiPen®)

The above tips are great ways you can work with your partner to minimize the risk of a reaction. However, it’s important to always have your epinephrine auto-injector available in case you do get exposed to your allergen and have a reaction. Ensure your partner knows where your auto-injectors are so they can easily access them.

Help educate your partner on the signs and symptoms of a reaction, and what to do in case of an emergency (including how to use an epinephrine auto-injector). Have them take our free Anaphylaxis in the Community online course at AllergyAware.ca, and in just 30 minutes, they will have a better understanding of anaphylaxis and how they can help support you better.

6. Focus on enjoying each other

This final tip has absolutely nothing to do with allergies. It’s all too easy and understandable to be so focused on warding off the danger of an allergic reaction that one or both partners lose sight of what brought you together in the first place—a connection, shared interests, love, attraction, and whatever else you both deem important. Food allergies are only one part of the equation; with precautions and consideration in place, they are manageable.

And remember, the right person is, by definition, someone who will work with their partner with food allergies to not only build a strong relationship, but to help keep them safe along the journey.

 

If you’re an adult seeking more information about navigating relationships with food allergies, please see our articles on this topic on our Adults With Allergies blog. And teens are invited to check out the helpful articles on our Why Risk It website. Also, be sure to watch this informative video on food allergies and dating for teens.

Medical content reviewed by:
Dr. Julia Upton, MD, FRCP(C) Clinical Immunology and Allergy
Dr. Maria Triassi Asper, MD, FRCP(C) Clinical Immunology and Allergy