My Celiac Disease Ended Up Being the Greatest Relationship Test
What started as my worst nightmare ended up helping me find the right partner.
There are many ways to test the strength of a relationship: surviving a long road trip, attempting to put together an IKEA bookcase, or that pivotal meeting of the parents. For me, as it turns out, my inability to eat gluten served as the greatest test of all.
John Pinette—the hilarious stand-up comedian who passed away back in 2014—did a bit in one of his routines about gluten that I will never forget: "You know what has gluten in it? Everything! Every reason to wake up in the morning…Have you tried gluten-free food? It needs gluten. I don't know what gluten is, but apparently, it's delicious!"
That is exactly how I felt when I was first diagnosed with celiac disease—a serious genetic autoimmune disorder where the ingestion of gluten leads to damage in the small intestine—12 years ago.
Gluten, the bane of my existence, is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley, and oats. Suddenly, mouthwatering options such as bread, pasta, cake, muffins, and even creamy soups were off limits. (Related: Gluten-Free Meal Plans Perfect for People Who Have Celiac Disease)
I still remember walking through the grocery store for the first time after hearing the grim news and feeling like I was in a nightmare I wasn't ever going to wake up from. I longingly looked at Milano cookies, crispy Ritz crackers, and buttery Pillsbury crescent rolls. Even frozen pizza seemed more seductive than usual.
With my disease, though, cheating and consuming any of these foods isn't an option because ingesting gluten stops the villi in my intestines from functioning, making it impossible for my body to absorb the proper nutrients that it needs.
My ex-boyfriends never seemed to care about my plight, though, and this fact became more and more apparent to me as they pulled one bone-headed move after another. Before I continue, let me explain something: When you have celiac, cross-contamination is a huge threat. Even the smallest exposure to gluten, like tiny particles being transferred from the mouth of someone else, would cause me to vomit many times before I could keep a meal down. My boyfriends were all aware of this fact but never could quite seem to remember. Nice, right?
Sometimes even if they did commit it to memory, they simply didn't care. I remember attending a house party back when I was in college with my boyfriend at the time. My guy came up to me at one point and went to kiss me. I pulled back and asked, "Hey, did you drink any beer tonight?" (Fun fact: Beer has gluten in it!)
"No, of course not, baby! I wouldn't want to miss out on kissing you." I smiled and our lips locked.
The several days that followed were pretty terrible for me, sitting on the cold, hard tile floor of my bathroom next to the toilet. He admitted that he had lied about having a few beers because he wanted to kiss me and then said, "I was hoping maybe you wouldn't get sick this time. Well, I'm going to head out to the gym. Feel better soon!" (Related: Why You Should Probably Reconsider Your Gluten-Free Diet Unless You Really Need It)
My personal favorite, though, would have to be when one of my exes would be enjoying a delicious, glutenous treat (which happened frequently) and would turn to me and brag, "Wow, you are totally missing out. This is amazing!" I can't even describe the lack of support I felt in those moments.
Needless to say, none of these guys were able to go the distance. (Related: Becoming a Vegetarian for My Boyfriend Was the Worst Decision Ever)
For all of the ex-men in my life, my disease was irritating. An annoying burden that they couldn't handle. When I met the one, though, that wasn't the case.
It was clear from our very first date. He purposely picked a restaurant that had gluten-free options (usually this type of research was something I had to do myself), and then when the waiter was taking our order, he selected a gluten-free entree. I was shocked.
"Are you sure you want to order that?" I asked. "I don't want to make you sick. You're more important than a cheeseburger!" he said with a flirtatious smile. It was the epitome of a priceless moment.
When we moved in together he gave up gluten completely, because he cared more about my health than what he put in his stomach. My illness and I are a package deal, and instead of complaining about it, he adapted to the situation. Now, he shares my excitement about trying to gluten-free recipes, restaurants, and new celiac-friendly treats from the store. Each and every day he goes out of his way for my benefit and makes living with this disease more manageable and tolerable. (Related: Gluten-Free Meal Plans Perfect for People Who Have Celiac Disease)
Of course, it isn't always easy for him, especially when he catches a whiff of pizza, but his sacrifice has made it possible for our family to be healthy and happy.
In the end, my celiac diagnosis ended up being the ultimate relationship test—and we didn't even have to go to IKEA.