I am a gluten-free single. I have celiac disease, so I'll never eat gluten again. I do still want to date...but what does that have to do with gluten?
Judging from the response to the newly launched dating site Gluten Free Singles (hereafter GFS), the majority opinion is "nothing." Reactions from the non-gluten-free have ranged from bemused to dismissive to downright derisive.
But the premise isn't really all that crazy. Here’s why:
1) Eating gluten-free (really, truly, not-continuing-to-damage-your-body-through-lax-adherence gluten-free) is hard. Lots of packaged foods are off the table, and it's recommended not to eat out at all, anywhere, until your symptoms have resolved, which can take six months to two years. Even then, most places boasting "gluten-free" menu items aren't actually trustworthy. One bread crumb or a few drops of soy sauce cause harm, and most restaurant kitchens are too cramped and frenetic to prevent such contamination. Eating at someone else's house? Forget about it.
2) Dating someone who isn't gluten-free, if you're gluten-free, is really hard. Not only because the person might not fully get it or even believe you. And not only because our dating culture is so intertwined with food—think dinner dates, ice cream cones on the beach, romantic home-cooked meals in. It's also because you, as a gluten-free person, might not want to hold hands with someone who was just holding a sandwich, in case you forget and touch your own food afterwards. Or you may not want to tongue-kiss someone who drinks beer, because research suggests that food particles linger in saliva for hours in high enough quantities to trigger reactions. And, eventually, if you start thinking about moving in together, you won't want your squeeze to move a bunch of gluten into your kitchen. Cross-contamination city.
3) Convincing someone who doesn't need to eat gluten-free to eat gluten-free just so you can be together is really really hard. Because, let's face it, eating gluten-free kinda sucks.
Given all of this, when I was diagnosed in January, my usual priorities—from intellect to appearance to love of board games—shrank to nothing compared to the need for a significant other to be either gluten-free or super supportive. (Here's a flowchart demonstration.)
Since GFS didn't then exist, I set out to hack OkCupid into a gluten-free dating site of my own. Under “stats,” you can label your diet vegan or kosher, but not gluten-free (an unfortunate oversight), so I couldn’t search that way. Instead, I dropped my usual criteria ("single," “needs photo,” "minimum height," even "male"—because if I'm going to make this work, I'll need to be flexible) and searched by keyword. Show me, I asked, anyone who has mentioned "gluten" or "celiac" in their profile. ANYONE.
At that point, I learned why dating, even with gluten-free boys, is still hard:
1) The options, even in a metro area, are scant. After weeding out the profiles that claimed, “I love anything with gluten” or, perhaps worse, “I’m gluten-light,” I was left with...not many.
2) Not every gluten-free boy likes me. Of the handful I messaged, only half responded. Huh, I thought. Don't they know they need me?
3) I don't like every gluten-free boy. I learned this after meeting up with two of them. They were nice enough, but it turns out there's more to compatibility than gluten-free.
I decided to put the whole thing on ice and focus more on fixing my own intestines than on finding a matching set. I learned my way around the diet, hunted down new recipes, started a blog. As for dating? Let it be, I thought. It'll happen.
Six months later, I'm still single. You see? Gluten-free dating is hard.
Enter GFS. The solution, right? Well...maybe. It levels the playing field, sort of. Everyone is gluten-free, so you can concentrate on things such as, say, your sexual orientation. If the site manages to amass a large enough pool of daters, it could make dating more convenient.
At first glance, such convenience is appealing. But on further examination, it's less so. In the founders' words, this is a network in which "you never have to feel alone, awkward, or a burden because you are gluten-free." This implies that around "normal" people, you do feel this way—but that shouldn't be the case.
Of course, shared qualities and logistics play a role in every relationship. Some long distance relationships fizzle, and some couples whose lifestyles don't mesh call it quits. But, says the idealist in me, those aren't the relationships I want. I want a relationship in which we do compromise—even in big ways—and do it well, without breeding resentment.
My family and close friends, for example, have gone above and beyond in accommodating my gluten-free diet. My parents bought new cutting boards, bowls, and cooking utensils when I visited, because those things can harbor gluten. A friend brought gluten-free groceries to my "safe" kitchen and cooked for me there. My sister agreed not to eat gluten at home when we moved in together (and then found out she had celiac disease herself—but that's a different story).
I don't take their consideration for granted, but if these loved ones can do it, can't a lover do it, too?
To join GFS seems almost to answer that with "no"—to suggest that a guy wouldn't find me worth compromising for. I don't want to send that message to a potential date, and I don't want to date someone who feels that way about himself, either.
My dad has always said that true love is waking up to make coffee every day even if you don't drink it yourself. In an admittedly larger way, that’s what I want for myself. I wouldn't say no to a gluten-free boy (or hell, who knows, a girl), but only if we also fit in other ways. Should that match not appear, I'm sure I can find love with a non-gluten-free boy, one who will look out for me as loving people do—that daily cuppa, if you will.
I'm not saying there's nothing appealing in the idea of meeting someone who shares my lifestyle, and I don't think a website for gluten-free singles is worthless. I'm just saying that having celiac disease doesn't make me worthless, or worth something only to others who have it. I am not only a gluten-free single, you see; I am also an intelligent, attractive, talented, ambitious, (mostly) confident young woman well worth a compromise or two.
So...will I join GFS? I can't say for sure I won't (I'm curious). But if I do, I won’t give up on meeting folks offline, and I won't abandon OkCupid, either. After all, with all those 93% matches to choose from, I'm bound to find the one sometime.
Note: I originally posted this on Kinja in response to a Jezebel post about Gluten Free Singles, among other online coverage. Some of the information I gave may already be familiar to anyone living freedibly, but I hope my thoughts on dating gluten-free were still interesting to you!