I was just featured in a story (“Single, Sexy, and Gluten-Free”) that made the front page of DNAinfo.com for a spell (second to the breaking news about the prostitution ring) on a topic so seemingly miniscule that I can’t even believe it merited a whole story: Gluten-Free Dating. I was like, is that even a thing? Turns out, it is.
Simply put: There are lots of single people out there. And, incidentally, lots of them have pinpointed gluten as the culprit of their digestive and other woes. But just because you opt out of some choices on the menu doesn’t mean you can’t go out to dinner with a dude, right? Of course not.
But the reason this is a thing, if it even is, speaks to a larger trend and its ensuing questions–what role do the (massively growing number of) food sensitivities play in our lives–not just in the kitchen, but out on dates? What do they say–and not say–about us?
What’s the problem?
Some of the women DNAinfo reporter Serena Solomon interviewed (and some I’ve spoken with) say yes, they are concerned that if they’re on a date with a gentleman (or lady) and they break out the roster of “foods I can’t eat” at a restaurant, the eyes will roll. But remember how people used to roll their eyes at vegetarians 15 years ago? Now, it’s just a fact: Some people don’t eat meat. And nowadays some people don’t eat bread, pasta, beer, or any of its yeasty cousins.
Truth be told, I have not found that this has put any kind of dent in my social life, and hasn’t so much as raised an eyebrow from any of the gents with whom I’ve shared a meal. (In fact, one even went out of his way to seek out gluten-free restaurants, which I assured him was not necessary, since I’m a voracious carnivore and can find a dish on practically any menu. But the sentiment was sweet.)
G-FREE ADVICE (which I use myself)
Look at the menu beforehand. Ok, this is obvious. But since you can, why not? It takes the anxiety out of wondering if there’s anything you’ll be able to eat. My friend Sloane Miller, author of Allergic Girl, recommends to her clients that they call ahead if they’d feel more at ease, and ask about their gluten-free options, or, if your allergies are serious, talk to the chef.
Don’t make it a thing. You’ve made a simple choice to skip gluten–just as you may choose prime rib over halibut. You don’t have to spend the first 10 minutes of every meal defending your choices or apologizing for your intolerances (in fact, I’ve long believed my digestive tract should apologize to me).
Leave your bowels out of it. Your date may just be curious, as I said, and ask you why you’ve opted out of wheat. You don’t need to discuss bloating, diarrhea, or any other unmentionables. If you’re Celiac, well, you have a pretty sound medical reason. For the rest of us undiagnosed masses, you don’t need a doctor’s note to prove your point! You just say, simply, that you feel better when you’re not eating it. The end.
Make it a discussion, not a monologue (don’t preach). If your date DOES have questions about that choice, which he may, don’t freak out or clam up because you think he thinks you’re weird (unless, of course, you’re in 7th grade, in which case yeah you should freak out about this and everything else). And, it goes without saying: Don’t preach. Just because YOU have had a fabulous experience going off meat or gluten or soy or dairy doesn’t mean the other person cares to be converted. While dietary restrictions alone shouldn’t have to be a dealbreaker, you getting religion about a specific diet and annoying everyone with it can be.
Remember: Diets aren’t high-maintenance; people are. Please. I’m sure you know a few high-maintenance people who can eat anything at all and are still insufferable. And yet, many women do fear that they’ll come across as primadonnas because they won’t eat everything on a menu. Let me remind you that primadonnas make their choices OTHER people’s problems; you are simply taking responsibility for your own.
Why hide it? Many people are actually quite interested in other’s dietary choices and how they work for them, and may in fact be considering making a change in their own lives as well. This is why I don’t get the chicks who hide or lie about their food sensitivities. Why? Part of what makes a date fun is when people share things about themselves, and understanding someone’s preferences is part of it. I was asked about my g-free choice by a date recently, who then went on to offer some insight into his own choices: He had gone vegetarian two years ago, and lost 30 lbs as a result. I loved that he shared that–you can make a dietary choice a chance to get to know someone better, not hold him at bay.
Gluten is not a necessary ingredient to a great date. Trust me on this. Just because you can’t have a roll or a piece of chocolate cake doesn’t mean it won’t be fun. Don’t get hung up on the idea that you won’t be able to enjoy a date because of any of your dietary restrictions. The food and restaurant are the context, the circumstance, but they alone do not determine the quality of a night out or a connection. I’ve enjoyed plenty of great food with plenty of lousy people, and I’m sure you have to.
So bring on the g-free love, people. It shouldn’t matter one bit what you order–or what you pass on. And in the end, if your date has a very hard time with the fact that you can’t break down the protein found in wheat, then that in itself is a red flag–and I’d say the thing you should really pass on is him.
(Tune in to FM News New York (101.9) where my good friend and former radio producer Jennifer Sendrow did a series of short bits on the topic. Card that she is.)