You could have the best doctor in the world who’s able to zero in on the exact type of IBS you have and make you feel reassured about treatment. You could also have a super strong registered dietitian, whose brain is like a vast encyclopedia of foods that will and won’t trigger your IBS symptoms. But even if you and your gut are working with a fantastic team of gastro experts, they’re probably not advising you on this one crucial aspect of your life: How to date with IBS.
I’ve got a secret for you: Once you reach a certain age—hell, once you hit your teens—pretty much everyone is navigating some sort of health issue and has worried about the best way to disclose it to a romantic partner. So if you meet someone who gets all weird about your IBS, joke’s on them. (Mwahaha.) I know, I know, sure, you can understand that ~intellectually~, but it doesn’t completely take the stress away of going on a date with someone you really like, you know?
So before we get into the ra-ra-you’ve-got-this stuff, let’s all commiserate for a sec. “I have had to cancel many dates at the last minute because of illness, and it’s really annoying in the early stages of dating someone,” says Mandi, who lives in New York and prefers to only use her first name for privacy. “I’ve also had a few things fizzle out because of GI issues.” She adds that, among other things, staying on top of her symptoms with a low FODMAP diet, plenty of rest, as well as a great GI specialist helps her out tremendously.
And just a reminder that sometimes our mind is literally working against us. “Our brains appear wired to concentrate on the negative when it comes to how we think about ourselves, so I always tell my clients not to feel ashamed about dating if they have IBS,” says Tiffany Hooman, 34, a relationship expert based in Texas. “It’s nothing to feel embarrassed about.”
So beep, beep, buckle up, betches! Because we spoke to a bunch of young women with IBS—plus a few experts—to learn how they’ve navigated the dating scene on their own terms and gotten into healthy, supportive relationships. A lot of their advice applies to anyone who’s looking for love, so feel free to dispense these words of wisdom to your friends who don’t have gut issues, too!
Picking a Date Spot When You Have IBS
“Given that most early dates are food-centric, I’ve always done planning and preparation early on. It’s ideal to be crystal-clear on any food triggers in advance, then plan accordingly. This means keeping detailed food-symptom journals to rule out food intolerances or other types of adverse food reactions.” —Jenna Volpe, 34, registered dietitian
“I try to limit early dates to activities that don’t involve meals. Drinks is usually a good plan (coffee, not so much), but I’ve also done things like mini-golf, going to a botanic garden or art fair and an afternoon symphony concert (if you go to a 2 p.m. show that ends at 4, it removes the possibility of tacking on lunch or dinner).” —Mandi
“Nowadays, when I go out on date nights with my husband, I have a spoonful of probiotic-rich sauerkraut before going out, so my gut has extra support to better digest the delicious food I’m about to eat! Taking a peppermint capsule or sipping on a cup of peppermint tea before going out to eat can also help to reduce gas, bloating, and discomfort, especially when eating richer foods. (The downside of peppermint tea is it can sometimes trigger symptoms of heartburn and reflux, so listen to your body!)” —Jenna
“Back when I used to date, I’d always make sure to go to my ‘safe places,’ where I knew I could eat certain foods and not have a problem. Or, I’d suggest getting coffee. I know that coffee sounds like a surefire way to a flare-up, but it’s surprisingly a safe food for me. So a great, easy date was a trip to a local coffee shop or Starbucks. It wasn’t too formal, not a lot of pressure, and I could order the same drink I always ordered without any issues. Going to my tried-and-true places was also a way to minimize the anxiety that lends to flare-ups.” —Tiffany
“If you’re going to the movies or outdoors, checking ahead to see how many bathrooms they have on site is helpful. You might also prepare a few outfits ahead of time to ensure you feel the most ‘at home’ in your body while on your date. If you’re driving, keep a change of clothes in your car in case you feel very uncomfortable, or plans change unexpectedly. I like to keep a bag in my car with a few safe clothing items.” —Kristen Casey, PsyD, founder and owner of Evolve Psychological Services
Telling a New Partner You Have IBS
“Once I’ve been dating someone for a while, I am more transparent with them about my GI issues. This conversation absolutely sucks, but in all cases, the men I’ve had relationships with have been really supportive. In fact, one of my former boyfriends actually went so far as to learn about my diet, and he would cook low-FODMAP meals for me. He once made me garlic/onion-free salsa and guacamole for the Super Bowl and it was the sweetest thing—probably the only sweet thing about him, but I digress.” —Mandi
“When I met the man who is now my husband, I actually gave him a heads-up before we even went out on our first dinner date that ‘I have some dietary restrictions that I need to honor, in order to remain in remission from past health issues.’ While I didn’t tell him on the first date that it was IBS, I eventually shared that with him at a certain point in the relationship when it felt safe and comfortable to talk about. Long story short, the more you practice, and the more you remind yourself that a kind, patient, caring, and supportive partner will not judge or shame you for having IBS, the easier it gets.” —Jenna
“It depends on your comfort level. Some people don’t want to be vulnerable on a first date, which is totally understandable! I usually suggest waiting for at least the second date so you can gauge if you enjoy this person’s company and disclosing your IBS diagnosis doesn’t sway you one way or another. Remember that transparency and vulnerability are different things. Transparency means you’re honest and just state the facts about your experience. Vulnerability is when we share deep details that we feel are close to our heart; things that, if shared with another person, may make us upset.” —Kristen
“When the topic of foods came up on early dates, sometimes I’d just weigh in with a “Yeah, I can’t eat that” or “My stomach can’t handle that.” Their response usually carried the same weight as someone saying they’re lactose intolerant.” —Tiffany
“I’ve personally had a challenging time revealing my IBS to new partners. While I’ve been married for a few years now, I previously used to hide this part of my health journey for months until it came up. As I grew more comfortable with partners, I would tell them about my ‘tummy troubles’ when my IBS was flaring. I typically was met with both sympathy and the feeling that the partner didn’t care and/or think it was gross, which was my big fear.” —Emily R., 28
Being in a Relationship When You Have IBS
“Unconditional love means loving and supporting someone regardless of their gut health status or dietary needs. I eventually came to realize that if a man couldn’t handle a woman with IBS and food sensitivities, he wasn’t worth my time. It’s usually pretty clear early on whether or not a partner will be supportive and understanding. A supportive partner will consider your needs and preferences when it comes to choosing a restaurant or a place to eat. They’ll check in with you, asking what you want or need. They will be flexible and easygoing. They won’t make you feel ashamed or embarrassed. They will be reasonably mature when you confide in them about your health.” —Jenna
“I think the easiest way to tell if someone is going to be supportive and understanding of your IBS is if those qualities are in their nature regardless of circumstance. I found these qualities in my husband, and that’s what made me comfortable enough to feel like I didn’t have to hide my stomach issues. It’s even easier if the person you’re dating also has a sensitive stomach or food allergies. Birds of a feather flock together, you know?” —Lauren Schneider, 29
“I think my husband is the only person who I actually told I have IBS, but partially because he was with me through the doctor appointments and diagnoses. I had always assumed I had IBS, but wasn’t actually diagnosed until I was in a committed relationship with my now husband. He took me to my endoscopy-colonoscopy appointment and was very understanding. He knew how much of a toll it was taking on my life—when you live together that sort of thing is hard to hide. I told him about it fairly early on in our relationship, though. I think that’s because I felt a level of comfort with him that I hadn’t on so many other dates.” —Tiffany
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