Most grandmothers find great joy in cooking for their grandchildren. Food equals love. Since going gluten-free, I imagine that it’s incredibly frustrating for my grandmother. What’s OK for me to eat, and what’s off limits? Sometimes it’s hard enough to navigate for myself!
It was during a visit to my grandmother a couple of years ago that I first explained to her what it’s like to live gluten-free and how crucial it is to avoid cross-contamination. To stress the importance of being meticulous, I relayed a story about an experience with a former boyfriend.
After a long day of snowshoeing in the Columbia River Gorge, my then boyfriend and I stopped at the Kennedy School’s soaking pool to ease our tired muscles. Not thinking about it, I leaned over and kissed him. He had just taken a sip of beer. It was then that I learned that, yes, it is possible to become sick after kissing someone with traces of gluten on their lips. For three days after that kiss I lay on the couch in a fog. I was stranded with nausea, elevated blood sugars, diarrhea, and the inability to digest food. I chose to share this particular story with grandma because she is a kiss-her-granddaughters-on-the-lips kind of woman. She’ll now announce loudly after she’s had a sip of beer that her kisses are off limits.
I’ve now been gluten-free for seven years. I’m a never-been-married woman about to turn thirty-three. I’ve experienced a good handful of long-term and casual dating relationships pre and post giving up gluten. Navigating the wonders of dating with celiac disease and type 1 diabetes has been like everything else on this journey, an evolving process of learning how to be honest and genuine while practicing self-acceptance and compassion. I’ve struggled with fighting the stigma of being high maintenance. I eat at regular intervals. I sleep eight hours. And yes, I rarely drink alcohol.
A friend commented recently that I could no longer walk into a restaurant and ask the chef to make me whatever is good on the menu. The funny thing is that I never ordered that way pre gluten-free anyway. Yet now I do, at select restaurants, where the chef and wait staff have become friends and know my dietary parameters. Type 1 diabetes has taught me to become adept at being present and celiac disease has taught me to get really specific about my needs. I ask a lot of questions. I plan ahead. And yes, I even think before I kiss.
It was the day before GS and I were to meet for our second date, a picnic at the Portland airport where he would be on a layover before returning home to Eugene. The circumstances were fitting as we had reacquainted at the Boise airport a few weeks prior. There was just one problem. Luckily, he already knew about my diabetes and celiac disease. I had told him over the phone before we met for our first date. I didn’t want it to be awkward when I whipped out my insulin pump or blood glucose monitor on the hiking trail. So that wasn’t it.
I maintained control of the food situation on our first date by offering to bring the sandwiches. He volunteered veggies, drinks and dark chocolate. For our second date, since he would be traveling by plane and I would be coming to the airport after helping a friend at the farmer’s market, I proposed bringing a picnic filled with goodies from the farmer’s market. Again maintaining food control, problem solved, right? Well, wrong. What if GS ate a bagel or a muffin before boarding his flight from Boise? What would happen if we were inspired to greet each other at PDX with another kiss? Another, yes, because if you must know, we did share a kiss (or maybe two) on the hiking date. I swear to you, with the time spent sitting romantically behind waterfalls and a good dose of magic, it was impossible to stop a kiss from happening, even if it was only the first date. And now, the day before our second date, I could see the scene clearly: Me throwing my head back and dodging to the left of his lips as the words, “are those gluten-free kisses?” came fumbling out of my mouth. So much for spontaneous and affectionate greetings.
The way I saw it, there were two choices. I could wait and verify gluten or gluten-free kisses in the moment of head ducking and dodging. Or I could be brave and direct, communicating clearly with GS as to what is required to have access to my lips and not just my forehead. Thankfully I chose the latter. And I chose humor as a helpful communication asset. GS and I had spent a great deal of time talking about food, where it comes from and the importance and value of eating and cooking with whole foods. In an email discussing our airport picnic date, this is what I wrote: “I have a special request. Do you mind washing off your face and rinsing out your mouth after eating your regular double egg muffin combo whatchmacallit at BOI – big smile? It may seem like it’s not necessary, but it does make a difference to know that when I give you a kiss, I will have the peace of mind that it is gluten-free. Damn, sometimes asking directly and specifically for what you need is hard.”
I breathed a sigh of relief when GS responded promptly to my email with this humorously sarcastic comeback, “As for the request tomorrow, I’m sorry, but no can do. I like to savor that delicious greasy aroma all day, and washing it off prematurely would just be wasteful. Besides, Saturday is buy three get one free day.”
There are great and unexpected surprises in store when we’re able to be direct, specific and embrace our individual needs. Perhaps even a tender, happy and impassioned gluten-free kiss. Great Scott!
It was worth it.