How to Survive a First Date With Ulcerative Colitis
First dates: Whether they end up igniting sparks or being a dud, they almost always start with a case of the jitters. And when you have ulcerative colitis (UC), a form of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), it can make first dates even more nerve-wracking. But you’ve swiped right and met someone you’re interested in, so now what?! Don’t worry: We’ve got you covered with all the tips to make your first date as stress-free as possible, even with UC.
Keep It Comfortable
Don’t get clever: Plan your activity within your comfort zone. Afterall, the focus should be on each other, not some outsized adventure. “A date is supposed to be a relaxing chance for you to spend time with someone,” says Jason Schairer, M.D., a gastroenterologist specializing in IBD at Henry Ford Health System in Detroit. Choose something easy that you're comfortable doing, adds Mandy Patterson, a UC patient and advocate: "Walk around the park or go to a movie—so long as you skip the popcorn!”
Know Where the Bathrooms Are
Those first-date butterflies? They might make the urge to run to the bathroom more likely. “The first thing that a lot of people with UC worry about is where the bathrooms are,” says Sara N. Horst, M.D., a gastroenterologist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville. “Wherever you decide to meet your date, make sure you think about bathroom access.” Choose a place you’ve been before so you know where to go if needed.
Scan the Menu
Many first dates have a common denominator: Food and drink. “If you’re going out to dinner, pull up the menu online so you know what to get,” suggests Patterson. “If you’re grabbing coffee, find out if there’s a decaf or dairy-free option. Doing your research beforehand can make you feel more confident.” While it may be tempting, a first date is not the best time to get adventurous with a new type of food or drink when you have UC, Dr. Horst adds.
Pack a Spare
One of the best ways to ease anxiety is to proactively prepare if symptoms flare up. That means taking your regular meds as prescribed, and considering extra precautionary measures, too. “There’s a lot of peace of mind to bringing a spare set of clothes or if your doctor says it’s OK, with using antidiarrheal agents so you don’t have urgency if you’re particularly far away from a restroom,” Dr. Schairer says.
To Talk (or Not) About UC
It’s normal to worry about whether to bring up your UC. “Talking about the disease on a first date is a personal choice, and it depends on if you feel comfortable with the person,” Dr. Horst says. You might be OK saying that you could need to run to the restroom because of a health condition, or you may prefer to share nothing at all. “Don’t feel pressured to bring up your UC on a first date if you aren’t comfortable with it,” says Patterson. “There’s no need at this point if it isn’t your style.”
Listen to Your Body
You’ve set the date, time, and location, and you’re excited to meet your date—but then UC rears its head the day of your plans. Listen to your body, and know that it’s 100% OK to cancel, Patterson says. “I have canceled quite a few first dates—some right at the last minute,” she says. “Don’t feel like you’re obligated to go if you aren’t feeling your best.” Say you’re under the weather and ask for a raincheck. If the person you’re planning to meet can’t understand, they’re not worth your time anyway.
Enjoy the Moment
It’s hard to tune out the anxious voice in your head when you’re on a first date, but the best thing you can do—after taking your meds and finding a comfortable location—is to be present and let the rest fall away. “If you’re excited about the person, try to lose yourself in the date,” Patterson says. Though it’s easier said than done, “try not to get super preoccupied about the whole ‘what if’ cycle. Enjoy the time with the person and see if they’re second-date material.”
Keep It Light
Say you’re on a date and nature calls. And calls. Running to the bathroom can feel embarrassing—what to say to your date? “Some people might just say, ‘Hey, I have a medical condition,’ and they don’t really go into it much,” says Dr. Horst. “Just sort of keep it light if you’re getting to know someone.” How comfortable you feel with your date can guide the openness of your response. “The other person’s reaction is a pretty telling story of whether they’re the right person to keep dating,” she adds.
Take Care of Your Mental Health
Depression is more common in people with UC, says Dr. Schairer, and that can add to dating stress. If you’re feeling this way, talk to your doctor. “Get a referral to someone you can talk to or maybe get medications from,” he says. “It can help you live the life you deserve to live.” Even without depression, UC can make you more stressed. “Getting better control of the disease and addressing your mental health can go a long way in making you feel better,” he says.
Know You Deserve Love
When you’re in the thick of managing a chronic illness like UC, things like romance and intimacy may feel out of reach at times. But you deserve happiness and a fulfilling life, Dr. Schairer says. Work with your doctor to make sure your UC is well-managed. “Overall, dating with UC can be just like dating without UC,” says Patterson. “It’s about finding the right person.” So, deep breaths. You got this!