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Dating and IBS

Dating and IBS
Written by: Nikki

The dating game can be a nightmare for most people, healthy or not, so imagine how difficult it must be to attempt to make yourself available to the dog-eat-dog world of dating while suffering from a medical condition such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
IBS is a functional disorder of the GI (gastrointestinal tract) characterized by alternating bowel habits such as diarrhea, constipation, or a combination of the two; abdominal pain; and discomfort. IBS is more than its physical symptoms—the psychological problems that come with it—such as the anxiety of experiencing an attack outside a comfort zone or traveling long (or short) distances—can send people running for their valium. And having to explain your condition to a significant other? Well, it’s something I have had to do countless times, but it is never easy—or particularly enjoyable—for either party.
Many of the questions that are posed to me in the Young Adults Issues forum on are about dating and relationships—and, as a twenty-something-year-old, I have experienced my fair share. Ideally, IBS is not something to discuss over a nice meal (if, indeed, you are able to enjoy a “nice meal” or go out at all). It is, however, most definitely nothing to be ashamed of. Somewhere between ten and twenty percent of adults suffer from IBS (and seventy percent of those are female—sorry girls). Explaining your IBS could end up lifting a weight off your shoulders—after all, nagging secrets that need to be shared or that you feel particularly upset about are often better shared, and you may find that it explains a lot about your possibly strange behavior. On the other hand, you could view it as “everybody has to go sometime,” and put it straight to the back of your mind. Everybody is different. You need to do what is best for you, and only you.
Let me explain more…
My first boyfriend was a lovely boy named Pete. I’d known Pete on and off for years, although we had never been particularly close. After meeting up with him again through a mutual friend, we were pretty much smitten. I saw him every night, without fail. And initially, this was fine. We always met on my grounds, never at his house—and we never went out for dinner, as I would make up excuses for why it wouldn’t be possible. My excuses were standard, ranging from “I’ve already eaten dinner,” to “I’m not really hungry,” despite my not having eaten anything all day in anticipation of our date. If we weren’t going out in the evening, I would make sure I only saw him for dates in between meal times. After a while, Pete realized he had never seen me eat. He began to wonder if I had an eating disorder that I was trying to hide. In a way, I suppose I did. I was late to meet him all the time, I would sometimes leave abruptly, and I wouldn’t drink alcohol.
Obviously, after a while things started to get a bit more serious. It is hard to hide gastrointestinal symptoms when you have someone staying in your house. What would I do if, you know, something happened when we were… I decided I had to tell him. I was concerned that he would think I didn’t want him to stay because I didn’t like him. I sent him a text message outlining to him what IBS was, and how it affects me, and how I would understand if he didn’t want to be with me anymore. He replied with a lovely text message telling my simply, “You silly moo, of course I still want to be with you, and I’ve looked up about IBS on the Internet. It explains a lot. Let me know if you want me to come round and rub your tummy.”
That was it—all that worry and stress for nothing. Pete was good to his word and remained caring and understanding for the rest of our relationship, even through all my idiosyncrasies about travelling, eating out, and moving away to college.
I am a firm believer in being open and honest about such things, as they only eat away at you from the inside, and these days I will tell anyone and anything about my IBS. It is no longer this enormous “thing” that I feel I have to hide. In a way it is a part of me and people will either accept it or they won’t (although I happen to think that if they won’t accept it they are not worth having around in the first place). At the end of the day, forgoing a night out at a restaurant or movie is not the end of the world—suggest staying in for a romantic evening in front of the television with a trashy film, some candles, and a few massage oils. This very well may be more enjoyable than a crowded night out with people you don’t know, anyway.
You very well may be thinking that you will never be confident enough to tell a significant other something so taboo about yourself, but you will: it just takes time. You never know—confiding something so intimate about yourself may even bring you just a little bit closer.
My Top Five Tips for Dating with IBS
  • Make sure you are comfortable: if you don’t feel you can tell someone—ask yourself why you feel that way.
  • Be honest. If you don’t feel like eating out, or eating in a particular restaurant, say so. Don’t be a martyr.
  • Confide in your partner. Don’t bottle up your emotions. If you are nervous or anxious about something, talk it through.
  • If they won’t accept your condition and make a few little allowances now and again—ditch ’em. They are not the right person for you.
  • Don’t be embarrassed about your bodily functions. Everyone has them.
If you have questions, hop over to the Young Adults Issues forum and ask away. If you are not comfortable with that, you can contact me at [email protected], or any of the other moderators on [email protected]
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