Dating can be difficult under the best circumstances. For the approximately 1 million people in the United States dealing with Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis, it can seem extra daunting.
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) can be painful, unpleasant, and inconvenient at times (having to know the location of every bathroom is tedious at best). But it doesn't mean you should forgo dating altogether.
Following are 10 tips to help navigate the choppy waters of dating and aid in integrating a partner into your life.
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Bring your A-game
If your symptoms are erratic because you are having a flare-up, dating might be the last thing on your mind.
It's OK to wait until you feel you can put energy into the experience.
"When you go on a date, you want to bring your A-game, feel confident, and be able to engage with the person," says Liz Bryan, a 29-year-old with Crohn's living in Washington, D.C. "When you are having a flare, you are not focused on the other person. It may be worth getting it under control before putting yourself out there."
Keep it short and sweet when you first start dating. It's a good idea to choose something not terribly active and where bathrooms are availablea movie instead of apple picking, for instance.
Bryan selects restaurants carefully. "No steakhouses or Asian foods," she says. "I also found I couldn't go out for drinks anymore; alcohol was the Bad News Bears for me."
She leaves time between work and a date so she can go home and "take care of my business." That way she's comfortable when she goes out and can stay out a bit longer.
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Frank Sileo, a psychologist in Ridgewood, N.J., who has Crohn's disease, says preparation helps avoid problems. He recommends taking a "Crohn's kit" with toilet paper, seat covers, spray or wipes, and a change of clothes.
If you are going somewhere new, call ahead and make sure there are restrooms. (A website and app called Sit or Squat may help you find a toilet in your area.)
There is no rule about the best time to tell someone you have IBD. "Crohn's is difficult to talk about," Sileo says. "It's not like saying, 'I'm asthmatic and need an inhaler.' It's not dinner conversation."
Some people tell early, before they get too involved. Others wait a bit longer, until they are more comfortable with the person.
Sileo recommends skipping the graphic details, at least early on. Just tell them you have a gastrointestinal disease that causes stomach pain and distress. And having a sense of humor about it helps, he says.
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Don't take it personally
"If someone judges you and stops dating you because of it, that's not someone you want to be with," Bryan says. Telling people about it can ease tension and allow a partner to ask questions about the condition.
"If anything, getting it out there helps," she says. "The more open I am with it and the way it makes me feel, the more understanding people around me are. I may feel horrible sometimes, but I still want to have an active life."
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Educate your partner
Many people have never heard of IBD and will need some basic facts.
Sileo recommends telling them it's not fatal or contagious, but it limits you in certain respects. With probiotic products such as Activia and Align, people understand and are relatively comfortable with the idea of stomach distress, he says.
"When a person is listening to you tell them about it and they hear you have a sense of comfort with it, saying, 'This is what it is, how I manage it, and how I live my life,' it sends a message to the them about how to react and they will follow your cues."
Don't expect people to be understanding or supportive right away, says Andrew Tubesing, an author and support-group leader from St. Paul, Minn., who has a type of inflammatory bowel disease called indeterminate colitis.
When Tubesing was diagnosed, he and his wife were shocked and spent a lot of time adjusting and educating themselves about IBD. "When you do decide to tell a partner, they are going to go through that same process."
People need time to adjust. "Give them space and time to go work through the process," he says.
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Know your body
Bryan knows her body; she knows what foods to avoid and what can happen if she doesn't abstain.
And she avoids eating before a date because she doesn't want to take chances. If she has been dating someone for a short period of timeeven someone she really likesshe won't stay overnight.
"Mornings are not good at all for me and it can be so embarrassing to get caught in that situation," she says. "You have to know what situations you are willing to put yourself in and what is unacceptable."
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Refrain from intimacy
People with IBD may need to take a step back from intimacy once in a while. "There's an incontrovertible truth that it is difficult to feel sexy when you have diarrhea," Tubesing says.
And certain medications, such as prednisone, don't help. The drug can cause weight to balloon or lower testosteronewhich can be a mood killer.
Tubesing suggests finding other ways to show someone you care if you have a flare-up. "The key is to figure out what that is and do what you can to keep that flame goingeven if it may just be a pilot light," he says.
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Know when to let go
Everyone hates rejection and ending relationships. But particularly when you have a condition like IBD, you need to make sure you're dating the right person.
"Make sure they have empathy because they may have to be a caretaker for you, understanding of you when you are late to events because you are on the toilet, or have to cancel because you feel sick," Sileo says.
"They have to be OK with it and supportive in the waves that come with it," Bryan says. "You have to find someone who can take the journey with you."
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