Q&A With Allison Davin: Keeping Communications Open While Dating With Food Allergies
A senior at Catholic University of America, Allison Davin has generously shared her food allergy expertise since founding the Allergy Alli blog during her sophomore year in high school. In this Q&A session, she tackles communications and safety in dating, dining out, and kissing.
A senior at Catholic University of America, Allison Davin has generously shared her food allergy expertise since founding the Allergy Alli blog during her sophomore year in high school. Allison was diagnosed with multiple food allergies as an infant and is allergic to milk, eggs, beef, peanuts, lamb, sesame, carrots, strawberries and tree nuts. She’s participated in presentations and discussion panels on college and dating at the 2017 FARE Teen Summit, FARECon featuring Teen Summit in 2018, and the Contains: Courage® FARE Summit in 2019. Most recently, Allison and recent college graduate Anna Masciola gave a FARE webinar on managing food allergies while attending university.
In honor of our upcoming Valentine’s Day, what tips do you have for young people with food allergies to help them date safely?
What’s great about food allergies is that they’re a screening process for people who are worth your time. It’s really true. Being a teenager and having a crush on somebody is really embarrassing in the first place, and then having to tell them, “I can’t kiss you if you’ve eaten something with my allergens in the past few hours,” it kind of kills the mood. But I found that people who respond to that in a positive manner, if they’re respectful, and they care about you, and want to help you, they’re going to make the effort to keep you safe. And if they aren’t going to make the effort, and they don’t seem to care about the fact that you have food allergies, is that someone that you want in your life? Probably not.
I remember in high school, I was friends with this guy, and we both had feelings for each other, and I was sitting next to him, and he was eating Taco Bell and he finished. And 20 minutes later, he leaned over and kissed me, and I pulled back and said “I’m allergic to what you just ate.” And he said, “Oh.” He didn’t ask if I was OK, he didn’t say anything out of concern, just, “Oh.” And we moved on. So it was this mixed emotion. I was sitting there thinking, “Oh my gosh, this guy just kissed me! Oh my gosh, am I going to die from an allergic reaction? Oh wow, I’m so excited! Oh my gosh, am I going to get really sick in the next 20 minutes?” Fortunately for me, I did not get sick, but he didn’t follow up with me later that night, he didn’t text me to say, “Hey, are you OK? I know I shouldn’t have kissed you.” And it turned out, in the end, that guy was a jerk.
What are your recommendations about dating and self-advocacy?
If you don’t speak up for yourself, nobody else will, and nobody else will know there’s a problem. If you don’t tell your significant other that you’re not comfortable in a situation, whether they’re eating something around you, or trying to make a move and kiss you or whatever, you need to remove yourself from the situation if you think they aren’t going to respect you, or you need to educate them so that they know how to understand it. Which is also not easy, especially at the beginning of a relationship.
I was in a relationship with this guy, and on our first date, I think I told him over text the first time that I had food allergies and it could affect him. And his response to my telling him, “I have food allergies and you’re not going to be able to kiss me if you’ve eaten something I’m allergic to,” was, “I’m so glad you’re telling me.” Because in his eyes, I’m thinking about wanting to kiss him.
When we went on our first date, we go to this restaurant, and it’s my favorite restaurant because I’m an architecture major, and I like the aesthetics, I like the way it looks, and it doesn’t really matter to me what the food is. I can only get salads at restaurants, and because I can’t have carrots, I’ll have just lettuce with oil and vinegar. So he orders with me a bowl of just lettuce with just oil and vinegar. And I think, “That’s so cute!” So he wanted to make me really comfortable on the first date and not have anything I was allergic to, and even though I found out later that he really didn’t like salads, it was beneficial for him in the end.
There are really good guys out there who are willing to make the effort to help you. It’s not easy for them, either, and it’s adjusting to a lifestyle that they’ve maybe never experienced before. It was a conversation that I had a lot with him over the course of the 10 months that we were dating. “Is it weird if I’m eating anything in front of you?” He would feel bad at first eating anything that I was allergic to. And I would say, “No, I’m not trying to stop you from eating the mac and cheese that you want to eat.” And, on the flip side, I had to recognize that he wasn’t eating mac and cheese because he didn’t want to kiss me. He was eating mac and cheese because he wanted to eat mac and cheese. So it was both of us trying to figure out how not to feel guilty or upset about the situation. It was a touchy subject at first, but it gets easier. It’s something that you have to be willing to talk about throughout the relationship.
What is the length of time that you have to wait if someone has eaten your allergen? Can they speed it up if they brush their teeth?
What was super-confusing for me as a preteen, trying to figure out what was safe, was that every website said something different. Some people would say you had to wait for eight hours. Other people would say wait only two hours. So what’s the right length of time? At the Teen Summit, we had a doctor on the dating panel with us, and she suggested somewhere between 2 ½ to 3 hours, but it depends on your comfort level, because you know your food allergies best. There’s been a study that measured allergen in someone’s saliva after they’ve eaten, and that study recommended two to three hours, but that within that time you also brush your teeth and eat an allergen-free meal to cleanse your palate. But, again, it depends on your comfort level.
My first kiss was a stage kiss. I was in a play, and I had to kiss one of the other cast members. And I had to tell him, “By the way, I can’t kiss you if you eat something I’m allergic to. I know it’s just for the stage, but I’m going to start bringing you snacks before rehearsal.” So it was someone I wasn’t even involved with, and it was my first kiss, and I had to tell my mom, “I have to bring him a snack,” and she said, “Oh! I didn’t even think of that!” It’s something that not everybody thinks of, especially a parent who doesn’t want to think about their child dating at all.
Later, in college, my boyfriend used a timer on his phone. When it went off, he would say, “I have to brush my teeth before I can kiss you!” We always kept it lighthearted. I would tell him, “Always brush your teeth, or I could die!” It’s the understanding that, yes, it’s serious, but you don’t have to be doomsday about it all the time. As long as you feel safe, that’s what’s important. And it gets easier as you progress in a relationship.
I never had a reaction from kissing. I think once or twice somebody maybe hadn’t waited long enough and my lips felt a little bit tingly, so I said “You can’t kiss me right now because I don’t feel comfortable,” but I never had anything more that tingles. So that’s been fortunate for me. But again, I don’t want anyone to think, “Allison said two and a half hours so I’m going to wait two and a half hours,” and then get sick, because that’s no good. It really depends, person to person.