Dear Helena,
I asked this chick out to dinner the other night and she was like, “I’d love to! Just so you know, I can’t eat meat, wheat, dairy, or sugar, I’m allergic to alcohol, and I have an intolerance towards members of the nightshade family.” I’m not kidding. Anyway, I found a vegan restaurant and we had a nice dinner (and an even nicer good-night kiss). But I don’t know if I can see a future with a woman who can’t eat any of my favorite foods, or drink alcohol. Eating and drinking are a big part of my life, and I want to enjoy them with my SO. When can dietary differences destroy a relationship? Am I being shallow, and if so how can I work past this?
—Craving Beer and Pizza

Dear Craving Beer and Pizza,
If your sweetie’s diet is restricted, whether it’s because she is vegan, an allergy sufferer, or just a very picky eater, it can seriously affect your relationship, particularly when cooking and dining out are a big part of your life. Chowhounds have tackled the problem at least once. Brad Lauster, a user experience designer in San Francisco, says diet was a contributing factor in his breakups with two women, one a celiac and the other a vegan, because both insisted on remaining well within their restaurant comfort zones. “Trying new foods is one of my favorite things to do, and going to new restaurants is a big part of how I get access to things I’ve never tried before,” says Lauster.

Different people have different so-called deal breakers that might seem shallow to somebody else. (A musically elitist friend of mine used to say that if he saw the soundtrack to the movie The Big Chill in a girl’s CD collection, he’d never call her again.) Enjoying all kinds of food and drink may be your religion, just as surely as Catholicism is for a Catholic. That’s for you to decide.

But should you decide to focus on the facts that you “had a nice dinner” and “an even nicer good-night kiss,” and continue to date this woman, here are some things to keep in mind.

It’s best to avoid being self-righteous and inflexible in a relationship, even when the issue at stake is of deep importance to you. If you’re a vegan, for instance, there are better ways of responding to a dining suggestion than, “I refuse to go to that restaurant because I can’t stand the smell of the grill.” And if you’re the meat eater, trying to trick or cajole your date isn’t polite either. Anna West, a professor of mass communications in Virginia and a vegan who worked for PETA for nine years, says, “One guy invited me to have dinner with his parents and then said, ‘My mother will be really hurt if you don’t eat her chicken casserole.’ That was too much.”

Instead of focusing on everything you can’t eat, think about what you can. Dietary limitations can inspire you to learn about new foods. If the person is a celiac, for instance, you could try out new grains and nonwheat flours. I’m an ardent vegetarian (OK, ba-curious when drunk), and when I met my husband, he disliked many vegetables, including tomatoes, unless they were puréed. Instead of getting frustrated that we could never enjoy eggplant or wild mushrooms together, I was inspired to go in pursuit of the perfect salsa.

Once you accept people as they are, you may find that they change a little of their own accord. West does not lecture a date if he orders a burger. But several of her boyfriends have either reduced their consumption of animal products or cut them out altogether. One guy learned how to make an excellent vegan lasagna.

But although picky eaters and carnivores may expand their culinary horizons, don’t expect allergy sufferers to be flexible about their diets. Sloane Miller, a food allergy coach, is allergic to fish, and a microscopic particle can trigger a reaction. On a second date with one guy, she went with him to a party where he ate salmon salad. “We had a major make-out session, at the end of which my lips were tingling. I thought, ‘What a great kiss,’ until I looked in the mirror and saw a trail of hives everywhere his lips had touched.”

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