I met John exactly two weeks after I was diagnosed with celiac disease. At the time, I was just as apprehensive about the whole situation as he was, though we manifested it in different ways. Our first date—while wonderful—included several renditions of the following:
“Are you sure you don’t mind if I have some bread? I don’t have to…I can even ask the waitress to take it away if it’s bothering you.”
“No, it’s fine. I don’t mind. Just because I can’t eat it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t.”
And back and forth we went, both trying to make the other one comfortable and not exactly sure how to do that.
He told me later that of all my health problems, celiac disease was the only one that scared him initially—he loved eating out so much and wondered if we’d have enough in common. Naturally, the irony of that statement is that it turned out to be food that brought us together, and food that helped him bring me back to myself.
That night I ordered a salad. I didn’t want to be the “that girl,” the one who only eats salad, especially on a first date, but I was too nervous to try anything else on the menu. Grilled chicken over greens? Now that was a dish I knew was gluten-free.
We both have a lot more confidence now.
Going gluten-free was certainly life-altering, but I had so much other stuff on at that point in my life—I was in and out of the hospital several weeks a month with respiratory infections, and had also just gotten officially diagnosed with PCD and bronchiectasis, which were pretty serious and life-changing events on their own. I was adjusting to new medications, dealing with a lot of lung-related complications, and had only recently started having chest PT twice a day, a huge transition all on its own.
With so many substantial changes and serious illness all at once, eating salad for lunch and dinner and yogurt for breakfast was an easy way to stick to the GF diet without investing too much time and energy that I didn’t have. Plus, as a single girl living in an apartment the size of a large suitcase, less groceries and cookery meant more space to live.
And then we had our second date, and our third, and suddenly I was going to Italian and Malaysian and Mediterranean restaurants, and ordering a garden salad wasn’t cutting it anymore. John loves trying new things, and I wanted to enjoy dining as much as he did—and, obviously, I wanted him to enjoy dining with me. I started asking questions about meals and learning the best way to approach servers with my allergy concerns.
And something else happened—we began cooking meals together. John would print out GF recipes he’d found online and we’d go to the huge grocery store near his apartment. Left to my own devices, my shopping cart still consisted of lots of lettuce and some organic soup, but we branched out together: gluten-free flours for apple pies, cornmeal for polenta pizza, spices for homemade Indian food and fresh vegetables for stir-fry. I began to look forward to cooking the way I had when I was younger; John’s creativity was contagious.
Before I knew it, I was eating hot food again on a regular basis. I was also finally starting to feel better—my energy was improved from the GF diet, and my lung infections were less severe and my time in the hospital decreased as a result of my new treatments. Soon, I noticed another change, something I hadn’t seen during all those long months of being in the hospital and being preoccupied with all the adjustments I had to make: I was happy.
We’ve been married a year and a half now, and we’ve done even more adjusting. John no longer eats exclusively gluten-free meals in our home—he no longer worries he should, and I no longer worry that he’s worrying. Some nights, he has ravioli and I make brown rice pasta; other nights we have naturally gluten-free risotto or roasted chicken or tuna steaks.
For this Valentine’s Day, John made our plans a few weeks ago. He selected a restaurant we’d always wanted to try that had a special pre-set menu for the occasion. He shot me an e-mail:
“There are a bunch of options for you that are safe, I checked. The menu is attached. What do you think, do you want to go out to dinner?”
This Valentine’s Day I think just might try the grilled ostrich skewers…you’ve got to live a little, right?