Dating as a teenager should be fun. But for a teenager with food allergies, dating can be tough, especially around food-centric holidays like Valentine’s Day.
While many teenagers take for granted many parts of dating—like where to eat, where to go or even kissing—those with food allergies have to think ahead. Parents should help teens develop a plan for talking to dates about their allergies. Teens should also be sure to bring their emergency medication with them. And if kissing will be involved, what their date eats is just as important, since allergens can sometimes be transmitted through saliva.
Fortunately, safe dating is possible. We asked some teens how they handle dating, Valentine’s Day and food allergies. We also talked to a few 20-somethings for been-there-done-that advice. Here’s what they had to say:
How do you cope with not being able to eat many of the candies associated with Valentine’s Day?
“It is definitely very frustrating not being able to eat the foods that many other people can eat without worry. Some of the very common sweets I can’t eat include M&Ms, Kit-Kats, Reese’s, Nestle Crunch and many more. And it’s not just Valentine’s Day when those foods appear, but it’s something I deal with all year long. From a positive standpoint, I think I’m actually staying healthier, especially on Valentine’s Day, because all of those sweets listed above are ‘junky’ and not particularly good for you. My mom will usually find things that I am safe with and can eat.” — Jason from Pennsylvania, age 13, allergic to all nuts and annatto.
“I think this is going to be a big year for me because it is the first where I can't eat whatever I want. My biggest loss is the “may contains” candies. I've never liked chocolates with nuts, but everything is made in a factory with nuts…Flowers or a cuddly stuffed animal are great gifts, especially stuffed animals, which last forever!” — Rose, 20, a college junior from Virginia, allergic to tree nuts.
How do you tell a date that you have food allergies?
“When meeting a new date, I usually just tell them when we first start talking, to get it out of the way and to put a point across that it is serious. Of course, I do not say it right away, but bring it up when I feel is right. I could tell them either in person or text. Over text feels less awkward, but also seems less serious.” — Terrance from Maryland, age 17, allergic to tree nuts, milk, sesame, soy and legumes.
“Usually as I was getting to know someone, I would mention it in passing, either by telling a story about an allergic reaction I had as a child or, for example, if they said that they ate at a Thai restaurant or liked marzipan or whatever it was, that I had never had that since I was allergic to nuts. Usually people were pretty curious about my experiences with allergies and so that would serve as a jumping-off point. A couple of times in college, I felt too embarrassed to mention it and then immediately before the guy kissed me, I would end up stopping him and saying ‘Wait! What have you eaten today?’ I wouldn’t recommend that method. But definitely in high school and as a teenager, if I was planning to go on a date with someone, it would almost always come up while trying to plan the date—Where should we go to eat? What should we do?” — Alie from Pennsylvania, 27, allergic to tree nuts.
“I will just tell that person that I have allergies. Or if I don’t tell them, then they will find out eventually if they see my epinephrine auto-injector or that I’m eating a different food from what’s being served, etc. In today’s world of technology, I would most likely text the person about it if the situation presents itself. Otherwise, I would tell them in person.” — Jason
Do you show close friends and serious companions how to use your auto-injector?
“The people around me are very cautious of my allergies, which is a good thing. Normally, I will hear my friends ask me, 'Hey, can you have this?' or if we are at lunch, 'I have peanut butter. Do you need me to move over?' Although protective questions, those questions become tiresome after a while, but I know that my friends are just looking out for my best interests. Anyone I interact with on a regular basis is aware of my allergies and that I carry an EpiPen®. I have even gone as far as demonstrating to them how to use it. Overall, everyone that I am around is aware of my allergies and has a comfortable understanding of them.” — Jason
“I did when I was in high school. If you’re spending all of your time with someone, they should probably know how to use the life-saving medication that you might need. I also used to show all of my friends how to use it just in case.”— Alie
Do you think food allergies have helped you figure out if someone would not be good to date?
“I’m not sure if people who don't believe in food allergies or don’t take them seriously are bad people to date in general, but I know they would be terrible people for me to date, so it’s always good to know they have that attitude. That’s another reason why I always used to mention it to people before we started dating.” — Alie
“I use [my allergies] to make sure that person is really trustworthy. If they understand allergies are serious and they would take precautions, then they are trustworthy.” — Terrance
“I definitely think that food allergies are a good way to see if someone is worth your time. If a guy really cares about you, he'll want to do everything in his power to keep you safe. He'll take you seriously, double check labels, make sure you can eat in a restaurant before taking you there and make sure that the people around you aren't eating foods that could cause a reaction. If he just blows it off or doesn't really seem to care, it's a good indication that he isn't the right one for you. To put it in perspective, I wouldn't date a guy if he wouldn't open the door for me when I was in a wheelchair, or if he grumbled about having to walk around to the ramp. If he's not willing to share your struggle, then he's not worth your time or your heart.” —Rose
What are some fun dates that don’t involve food?
“From my point of view, all dates will involve food. That’s just a given. To avoid foods out in public, the best thing to do would be either just hanging out with the person or going to a park. The movies and shopping, especially at malls, will involve you buying food or even just being around food. Whereas with the park or hanging out, you can just bring your own food with you.” — Jason
“Some fun dates include movies, skating, going on walks or even mini golfing. There are plenty of things to do besides eating.” — Terrance
“Fun non-food dates include: bowling, going to a garden or an arboretum, going to a movie (and not getting food), going ice skating. It can also be fun to stay in and bake or make something that you can eat.” — Alie
“Josh and I enjoy watching sunsets together. Bowling is a fun activity that involves exercise and doesn't involve food. Musicals or ballets are great ways to enjoy culture and art together (have to be careful about concessions, though!), and taking walks through arboretums. We've gone to planetariums and museums. Snow tubing is fun in the winter, and in the summer, the pool is a great!”— Rose
How can a teen with food allergies avoid a reaction on a date?
“My best advice is make sure you know and trust the person you are with. You want to have full confidence that the person you are with knows your allergies, knows what you can and can’t eat, and how to deal with a reaction should it appear. You don’t want to be on a date with someone that doesn’t have a full understanding of your allergies, otherwise you are putting yourself at risk.” — Jason
“The best advice would be to not be too embarrassed to say that you have food allergies. Most people will just want to do something that you can enjoy too, and you won’t be able to enjoy yourself if you’re worried about allergies. My next best piece of advice would be to not present it like it is a serious obstacle or problem. Most of the people you date will probably be able to figure out how to work it out.” — Alie
“The best advice I can give from one teen to another is trust your date and KNOW what you are eating. Never eat anything you don’t know for SURE is safe. Never assume.” — Terrance
Looking back, as a teenager with food allergies, would you do anything differently while dating?
“There were times when I think I was too cautious and times when I think I wasn’t cautious enough. …I think when I really wanted to impress someone, I threw caution to the wind a little too much and ended up eating things or kissing people that might have been riskier, but I got very lucky. As I have gotten older, I have definitely stopped caring about the people I date thinking less of me for having allergies, and started caring more about being safe and not having a bad reaction, and it hasn’t really negatively affected me at all as far as dating goes. When I was younger, I used to worry that I would never meet anyone that would be willing to give up nuts for me, but my boyfriend doesn’t care at all. He even researches nut-free restaurants and food companies and basically just wants to make my life easier and more comfortable. So my other advice would be: don't worry too much about it, because if someone loves you then they will love you more than whatever food you need them to avoid.” — Alie