One story I hear again and again on Instagram is how embarrassing and stressful dating can be when you have IBS. Both men and women have told me stories about how they are terrified to date, and end up isolating themselves because of their symptoms. Sound familiar?
This is a topic I know I needed to write about, but didn’t want to only give you my story. Instead, I will share a few stories, good and bad, about others’ experiences with dating and what they have learned. Starting with my own story, I can relate to all of the emotions and fears listed above.
When I was younger, I still didn’t understand IBS, so dating with it was kind of odd, but I lived at home with my parents so I always had a time and space boundary to keep my symptoms to myself. In college, that wasn’t always the case. I live with IBS-C, which is honestly a little easier to deal with in relationships, because you can hide it. When I dated in college, I was so embarrassed by my symptoms. I was ashamed of the bloat, and struggled with insecurity. I don’t have any overly embarrassing stories, but I can look back and see the connection of my IBS to how insecure and shut-off I was. Needless to say, no relationship from that time of my life actually lasted. Fast forward to post-college adulthood… I began managing my symptoms much better after college. I knew most of the things that would cause my symptoms and developed strong routines to keep things moving and prevent the constipation. The bloat and insecurity reared its head at times, but overall I had a plan. Problem was, I never felt comfortable talking about it and found myself laying on bathroom floors during dates praying for the gas to release. When I met Alex, now my husband, I slowly began opening up about these issues. I trusted him early on and we spent a lot of time together. When I was in pain from constipation and gas, I would explain how I felt and he respected my needs to go home, lay down, or give me space. When we got married, I had already shared so much with him and he respected me enough that the fear of a shared bathroom slipped away. I don’t like talking about my poop or passing gas in public, so it’s not something I openly joke about. I still get embarrassed, but when I do have gas or loud poops, Alex knows to give me space and not bring it up. It took time for me to trust him with this side of me, but as he continued to show his support for me, I began to trust him more and be less anxious about myself. Now, if we are in a public place or traveling and I am having problems, I can talk to him about it and he helps me find space and resources to deal with the symptoms. He also understands how certain foods affect my body and is fully supportive to avoid those foods at home with me.
Tip # 1 : If they don’t support you, drop them. It may take a while to test this out, since you may not be talking about poop on the first date. But, if you do start sharing small pieces of your struggle with IBS and they start to shame you, make fun of you, blow you off, or pressure you… drop them fast. Trust me, that’s not who you want to give your time and energy to, so it’s better to end things early on. When you do find someone who supports you, like I found in Alex, you’ll be grateful for all the ones you let go.
Tip # 2 : Work on your relationship with yourself before getting into a relationship with someone else. If you are insecure and feel disconnected from your body, you will have a hard time finding confidence in dating. Living with IBS is hard and symptoms can quickly lead you to being frustrated with and not trusting your own body. While it’s not fair that you have those symptoms, you are the only person who can decide how you treat yourself. Your body is still worthy of care and appreciation, even if it’s bloated or stuck on the toilet for hours. One way you can start repairing your relationship with yourself is to find what actually triggers your symptoms, and develop habits that help prevent them. This is the ultimate version of self-care. You can work with someone like me, or anyone you trust, to do this. Another thing you can do is start changing your self-talk. Journaling and positive affirmations are a step, but it may be helpful to work with a therapist to dig deep in this area.
Here’s a story from Lou (@loucaludiaa) : My boyfriend has always been supportive of my IBS. When we went to Bali for his birthday in November, I didn’t know I had IBS yet. I had the worst diarrhea of my life, which started on the plane ride over (19 hours, ew!). Whenever I go to the toilet, I fart a lot, as I always seem to be bloated. I was having to go to the toilet like 7 times a day and he could hear all of it! At one point, I even had him look at it to see if it was normal. We were only together 5 months at this point…and we’ve just hit 1 year and 1 month, so I guess he really does love me after seeing my projectile diarrhea.
Here’s another story from Melanie (@melllaaa) : I knew my boyfriend was a good one when he looked up low FODMAP so he wouldn’t cook things that would make me feel ill. I knew he was THE one when he said “you’re still the hottest girl in the world when you’re farty.”
And one more from Audis (@audivela) : I’ve been dating my girlfriend for 11 months now. About 2 months in, I let her know about my IBS, which was surprisingly received with concern and interest in making sure I can eat well. I was worried that my bathroom breaks or diet restrictions would cause a riff between us, mainly because I get nervous to even let family know when I’m going to the bathroom. But, she’s been great in letting me know that she’s aware I must be cautious with what I put in my gut, so she’s actively looking for things I can eat when we go out. Since then, she’s been a great supporter, and even her family has been understanding!
Tip # 3 : Teach them. IBS is pretty common, but it can still be confusing for those who don’t live with it. You can’t expect your partner to be supportive and understanding if you never take the time to teach them how. Now, I personally wouldn’t start with showing them your actual poop, but you can start with explaining what IBS is and how certain foods or activities lead to symptoms. You can teach them what foods make your symptoms worse, and how to make substitutions that are still enjoyable. If you take the time to teach them, you will find that you don’t have to spend so much time making excuses to run to the bathroom or explaining why you can’t have certain foods. You also give them a chance to actually support you. If they don’t? Refer back to tip # 1.
Tip # 4 : Everybody poops. While everyone may not have the same symptoms you do or feel controlled by their pooping schedule, everyone does still do it. It’s helpful to remember that, because if you feel ashamed about going to the bathroom or about that awkward moment when you pass gas loudly on the toilet and know the other person can hear it through the wall, know that they have probably done the same thing at some point too. If they are respectful, they’ll most likely never bring it up and call you out for it. Instead of shaming yourself and letting fear of those moments hold you back, embrace the truth that we all poop and it’s okay to do it, even if you’re together. If you’re fearful about an issue at their house, be proactive about inviting them to yours instead, until you’re able to trust them enough with those details. And if they are a jerk and make fun of you for pooping, they’re clearly not a great fit, so refer to tip # 1.
Here’s a story from Hannah : Dating, in general, seems to be focused around food and drink, particularly in the early stages. When I was first diagnosed, dating was terrifying and any options for a date were usually met with a no, even if I did want to go out with the person. I think over time, you start to own your disclaimers and feel empowered by speaking out for what you need. Eventually, I started being brutally honest to people and anyone could laugh at me replying to a “wanna go out for ice cream?” with “not unless I can eat it sitting on the toilet because I will be pissing out my a**” was the first sign of a keeper. We’ve all got our issues, and being embarrassed about something with someone you may spend a lot of time with wastes so much energy and doesn’t help anyone. Ultimately, I found that you decide how accepting you want a partner to be, and if it’s fully accepting, you have to be fully open yourself.
The other positive in this is you get to be more creative with how you plan your dates. “Wanna go out for coffee?,” “No, but we could go cuddle puppies at the SPCA or do a high ropes course!” It’s so much more fun this way because you don’t have to put yourself through as much anxiety. There’s always an alternative in dating and if anyone has an issue with it, they’re probably not right for you.
Tip # 5 : If you’re anxious about restaurants, suggest something else. Like Hannah mentioned, non-food dates can be more creative and may leave you both with a better story from your first few dates, versus the traditional food or drink date. If you do want to go out for food, suggest a place that you know has options for you. It’s okay to simply say “I have a sensitive stomach” or “I have some food intolerances, but this place is really accommodating.” Most people won’t think twice about that, and may even appreciate you being involved in the planning process.
Tip # 6 : It’s okay to say no and set boundaries. You don’t have to push through situations that you know will cause symptoms. This can mean saying no to dinner for the first date, saying no to drinks, waiting to spend time at their place (especially overnight), setting boundaries on which activities you can and can’t do, and speaking up if you’re feeling pressured and anxious in a situation. I know none of us want to feel like we are being “high-maintenance,” but I’m here to tell you that you have every right to set your boundaries. If they’re not respected, get out.
A story from Erica (@e.davisxo) : After my boyfriend of 5 years ended things, I was nervous to get back in the dating scene. In addition to IBS, I struggle with socialized anxiety disorder. The idea of being out in public on dates terrified me, besides that I now had to eat in front of these people! My first “first date” in almost 7 years was going smoothly… until I felt those stomach gurgles. I got so nervous and just tried to breathe through it. But my date could tell something was wrong. No sooner than he could say “are you okay?” I ran (yes, ran, in a crowded restaurant) to the bathroom and threw up my meal! I stayed in the bathroom an additional 15 minutes emptying my stomach contents on the toilet. When I finally got back to the table, he noticed I had a little bit of leftover vomit in my hair. Needless to say, there was no second date.
Now, I’m luckily in a stable relationship with a wonderful man who supports me through and through. There’s been many a time where I’ve had to cancel plans because of a flare up or be brutally honest about how I’m feeling, but he is nothing but supportive. My doctor recently asked me to try low FODMAP for 6 weeks to find out triggers and he is fully on board with however he can help. Though going out to eat still gives me anxiety (because there’s always a chance I will have to run again), he is supportive and does his best to keep me calm.
Tip # 7 : If you do get anxious about dates, learn how to calm nerves in the moment. Breathing practices can be a helpful tool if you deal with nerves or anxiety during a date. The more you practice deep breathing, the easier it becomes. It may also be helpful to practice meditation or journal through your worries before the date. If you’re a planner, like myself, write out what you are afraid of and list your plan if it does. For example, if you feel like you’re about to rush to the bathroom with nervous diarrhea, calmly reply “excuse me, there’s something in my teeth that’s bugging me. I’m going to go to the bathroom to get it out.” Yes, it’s not truth, but statements like that can be helpful in the first stages of dating if discussing your IBS is not comfortable for you.
Things may not always be perfect, so it’s important to also practice grace for yourself. Yes, you may have a terrible experience like Erica had, but eventually you will move on. If your anxiety and fear become crippling and you can’t seem to get ahold of it all, take the courageous leap of seeing a therapist.
Tip # 8 : Boost your confidence by wearing clothes you are comfortable in. If you’re worried about being bloated from nerves or the food during your date, don’t wear a really tight outfit that will make you uncomfortable. Instad, find outfits that you love, are still flattering even if you do have some bloat going on, and will be comfortable for the full date. No, confidence isn’t just about how you look. But, clothes (and even makeup) can help boost confidence that’s already there.