Managing a First Date With Ulcerative Colitis

Let's face it: First dates can be tough. Add in the bloating, stomach pain, and sudden bouts of bleeding and diarrhea that come with ulcerative colitis (UC), and it's enough to make you want to forget the hottie next door and stay home. What makes things even harder: UC often first hits teens and adults between the ages of 15 and 30, right when many people are dating a lot. But just because you have UC doesn't mean you can't enjoy time with friends or give romance a chance. Try these tips from people who've been there.

Remember, "location, location, location."

Pick a place you know well, or scout out the bathroom situation ahead of time if you're going someplace new. Dinner and a movie is usually a safe bet, but avoid crowded bars where there may be long lines for the restrooms. An afternoon of hiking or biking? Skip it.

Choose meals carefully.

UC affects everyone differently, so it's important to know what foods, if any, trigger your symptoms. A few common culprits: caffeine, carbonated drinks, alcohol, and high fiber or fatty foods. Plan what to eat not only during the date but beforehand to help prevent a surprise early attack.

Make yourself comfortable.

Do what you can to ease the jitters, especially if stress or nerves seem to make your symptoms worse. Wear something you feel good in, and allow plenty of time to get ready.

Don't disclose more than you want to.

The lights are low, the music is playing softly. Do you tell your date you have UC? "That's a good way to scare 'em off," laughs Eric, 33, a UC sufferer from Washington, DC. Thirty-nine-year-old Matt agrees. "If you feel sick, just say you need to excuse yourself," he says from his office in Grand Rapids, Michigan. "You don't have to make apologies. If they don't understand, they're probably not a good match."

Roseanne, a 25-year-old PR consultant in New York City, has a different take. "It's definitely not the sexiest topic," she admits. "You don't have to give all the details, but it's fine to say you have a stomach thing or that you're not feeling well." She's found that once you open up a little, you learn that other people often have similar issues.

Be prepared for emergencies.

Tuck wipes, a spare pair of underwear, and any meds you may need in your purse or bag, just in case.

Find support.

Developing new relationships while you're coping with a chronic illness can be challenging, but you don't have to do it alone. Ask your doctor or check online for local support groups. The Crohn's & Colitis Foundation of America [ccfa.org] provides helpful information on sex and intimacy.

Decide to have a life.

Roseanne was already diagnosed when she first met her fiance a few years ago. Now they're planning their wedding, and UC is part of it. "It comes up all the time, from thinking about the limo ride to choosing a dress that will work if I need a bathroom fast," says Roseanne. Still, UC won't keep her from enjoying their big day. "It's just like anything else," she says. "You plan ahead, and you deal with it."