Dating with IBS. A combination that for many of us brings to mind embarrassing scenarios or awkward situations. It’s really not easy, there’s a lot to consider. But it is absolutely possible and do-able.
My own experiences
As a student, I’m constantly meeting lots of new people and I, just like many other people in their 20s, do tend to date around. This has brought up a whole host of things for me, because of my IBS and how it more often than not gets in the way. This post will consider some of the biggest and most common questions when it comes to the dating with IBS combo. I’ve tried to keep this relevant for people who are dating casually and those who are in longer term relationships. Use the headings as a guide to what is relevant for you.
How do you tell the person you’re dating you have IBS?
A few tips here. Try and make the other person aware of your IBS, when (and if) you feel comfortable enough to do so, as early and as honestly as possible. Honesty leads to understanding. The times I’ve been open to the other person’s questions about it, and answered honestly, it has gone down better than times when I’ve been a bit vague and unclear. The person you’re dating is a human (albeit questionable with some people I’ve gone out with), will definitely have experienced some kind of disgusting stomach flu episode in their lifetime and if they like you, will care and want to help.
How can I describe what I experience?
For me, my IBS has often come up accidentally. E.g. the person has found my blog or instagram account, in conversations about food I’ve mentioned I love pizza but can’t eat normal pizza, or made an offhand comment about a tummy ache. When questioned, I will say something like: ‘yep I have a stomach condition which means I have digestion problems, get easily bloated, particularly from stress and certain foods, and sometimes will have to take some time out to deal with stomach cramps, back aches and nausea. Imagine if you had a case of food poisoning or stomach flu, that’s what I get, just with specific triggers.’ Saying this has always gone down well, luckily I haven’t had an ‘Ewwww, gross’ reply yet. Because that’s just it. We are all human, every human has their issues!!!
Using the analogy of stomach flu helps you get past the toilet stuff: of course if you want to, do go into this, but I for one don’t like to tell the person about my toilet habits, including constipation and what can happen if I eat too much of the wrong stuff/get too stressed, until I’m feeling a bit more chill with them.
How do I stop IBS interfering with my dating life so much?
Although IBS is a part of us, it is NOT us, therefore it is NOT our dating life or our relationship. It is just an obstacle we need to overcome in this area. Telling the person will ease the anxiety of having IBS interfere, which in turn will ease your tummy and make it less likely to interfere. Worrying about it is only going to make your stomach worse!
Food is also a big area for us IBS-ers. Jade from @lifeewithjade said to me, don’t let food consume your relationship. Not all dates need to be food related. On the first couple of dates/meets, I stay away from big dinners at restaurants etc. If you, like me, don’t feel comfortable doing this ’til later on, suggest walks, coffee dates, small picnics (think pom bears, IBS friendly fruit, dairy free ice cream). If you are ok with food on first dates, then steer the decision yourself. Choose somewhere you’ve been before or know offers you-friendly options. Don’t be afraid to just talk to the waiter about your requirements, just because you’ve got another person who you want to impress sitting there. If they think you are being fussy or problematic, are they really someone you want to be dating anyway, with a chronic illness? Alternatively, cook a cute meal at home! One of my friends always tells me off when I don’t tell the other person about my trigger foods, because why should I be ashamed of them? Does the person want me to be in silent discomfort? No. So I make sure I do now!
Another thing: I am not at all scaling down the horrible effects of IBS, but don’t let it consume your relationship on the whole. Another great tip from Jade. It’s great if you’ve told them, educated them, and made them aware, but don’t let it take over. It’s likely that they don’t want to hear about food all the time, or every single time you have a tummy ache. It is not ALL of you. Don’t make it more of a part of you than it needs to be and already is! That’s not to say don’t tell them if they ask. Just be careful you don’t consume your relationship/dating life in IBS. There’s lots more than that to it.
But what about embarrassment?
IBS is a condition that is very easy to feel embarrassed by, regardless of by whom – family, friends, person you’re dating. Lots of people still don’t really know what it is. And tummy stuff is generally kind of taboo in society anyway. Perhaps you fear that your IBS symptoms may lead to rejection. So it’s understandable that you may feel embarrassed to discuss it. But hold up- IBS is a chronic illness, it’s not just having a bit of an upset tummy. It’s not your fault! Perhaps the problem itself comes from this taboo of talking about stuff like poo and gut health.
Remind yourself of these facts when you’re worrying about embarrassment. NO ONE is perfect and that includes the person you’re dating, who you’re probably thinking is going to judge you for it. You didn’t choose to have this, it is simply a part of you that comes in the fabulous gift wrapped package that is you. The person you are dating would be a dick to reject that fab package, on the basis of you having issues with your tummy. It really would be a shame if they judged you on that basis, and if they do, that shows more about them, than you.
And what about sex?
An area of dating that will inevitably bring up insecurity for IBS sufferers, whether in long-term or casual relationships. Make sure you feel as comfortable as possible, this is helped by the other person being aware of your IBS. Your partner is not going to focus on your bloat as much as you think they might. You will be the only one zooming in so much on it. Bloating doesn’t dictate your attractiveness. If you have got this far with the person, chances are a bit of bloating that they’re unlikely to notice anyway is not going to change their mind about you. Stand up to your IBS, it doesn’t control you, you have control over your body. And be in the moment, enjoy! IBS doesn’t need to be something you’re thinking about at all times, including during sex. Make peace with your tummy. Tell it you’re going to enjoy yourself, and it’s not going to stop you! If you start feeling uncomfortable, let the other person know. Communication is ALWAYS key!!!
In times of discomfort/flare-ups: this can affect your mood and probably how confident you’re feeling. So never feel afraid to mention this when you’re not feeling it. Once again, if you’ve got this far, it’s likely the person cares about you enough and respects your feelings. If you’re not feeling it, they’re probably not gonna feel it either. Don’t feel defeated. This is not your fault. There’ll be other opportunities. Maybe you can just cuddle up and watch Netflix instead, as a distraction from discomfort, just without the chill😉
A great breathing tummy mindfulness tip to ease nerves
Great breathing tip from Wendy @happymind_happytummy (when I was feeling panicky about flying in the middle of a flare up.) But you could use this for pre-date nerves or when you feel a bit overwhelmed. Take some deep breaths. Close your eyes. Focus on your tummy muscles. Focus on relaxing the lower tummy muscles. Breathe into your tummy and use your anxious energy as positive energy for your tummy. The more tense your tummy is, the more it’s going to ache and cause symptoms. You’d be surprised what a quick focus exercise can do. Try it!