Just that word can send your stomach and heart on an emotional rollercoaster. Dating can be such a stressful experience, with making sure you’re looking good, trying to be the best version of yourself and of course nervously worrying if the person will like you. Now let’s throw having a metabolic condition in and you can’t eat 99% of the menu on your lunch date!
My name is Katherine Ramsay and I am a 27-year-old adult living with PKU. I am going to share some of my experiences in the dating world with you. Every female with PKU will have the “no unplanned pregnancy chat” from your consultants. This talk put the fear of day into me. It worried me what future partners might think, once they know about my metabolic disorder. PKU is a confusing condition and can sometimes be complicated to explain to potential partners.
One of my first ever dates was at a café and all day I was panicking about what I would be able to eat. I was reassuring myself in my head that chips would be perfect, a normal thing for a teenager to have at lunch.
Along came the moment I was dreading: the menus came out! I confidently chose my chips and then my date said to the waiter “I don’t want anything to eat just a water”. He proceeded to tell me that he was an athlete in training for an upcoming sporting event. On reflection a food date was not the best idea for a first date as it was not appropriate for either of us. I learnt that I had been worrying all day for nothing.
Dating at University
Whilst at university I met a guy who was studying medicine, he knew about PKU and enjoyed asking me questions about it and wanted to learn more. One time he surprised me with a dinner, made with only PKU friendly ingredients. I was so lucky to find someone who was so understanding and made me feel so “normal”. In the end it didn’t work out, but it made space for….
My amazing boyfriend!
To be honest, it didn’t start perfectly… it was one of the most uncomfortable first dates I had ever been on when he asked me to go for milkshakes. I arrived at the ice cream bar, thinking I can’t have any milkshakes; the protein will be too high! I felt bad as he was wanting to do a two for one deal and I really liked him. So, I conformed to the social pressure and I got a milkshake. To my own dismay the milkshake disagreed with me, and I later discovered I have IBS (Karma!)
So, after the milkshake disaster, I decided to come clean and tell him about my PKU. In my head I worked this up so much. I was so nervous about telling him. That night we were having a meal. I said, “I know you have probably noticed I eat a lot of vegetarian food “. First thing he said was: “Yes I have noticed, but I didn’t think anything of it”. I then explained to him about my PKU and I was so shocked he didn’t seem to mind! I find it difficult to explain my PKU, putting it into words can be difficult depending who you are with. If I say I have ‘Phenylketonuria’, most people are alarmed by such a complex medical term. PKU is so rare, naturally people ask hundreds of questions and are curious about it. He was so accepting and over time we have learnt more about PKU together. His own words after was “I was paying attention to you, not your food“.
My boyfriend and I can now look back on these memories and laugh about how much I tried to pretend that I didn’t have PKU. But I do! And it’s serious.
I had some mixed experiences with dating and PKU but what I have learned is to always be yourself and to not try to hide your PKU because if the date works out well, he might be your partner for life.
Here are a few of my main tips for dating with PKU:
- Plan ahead – look at menus before going or bring some snacks that you can both enjoy if it’s an all-day date
- Dates don’t always have to involve food! Try other dating activities, such as:
- Mini Golf
- Go for a walk
- Ice Skating
- Concert/Live Music
- Kayaking/paddle boarding/canoeing/wall climbing
- Amusement park
- Go for a coffee or for drinks at a bar
- Cook a low protein meal together
- Most importantly, don’t hide your PKU because it’s part of what makes you unique.