A woman stands up from a dinner table where she is sitting with three other people. She is speaking passionately and illuminated by a spotlight.

Dinner Date With IBS: A Drama In 5 Acts

Do you feel comfortable telling people you’ve just met about your IBS? I don’t. But recently, I found myself in a situation where I had to.

The 1st act: A dinner invitation

It all started when our new neighbors invited my fiancé and me over for dinner. While my mouth was enthusiastically accepting, a little voice in my head kept saying: “Dinner? YOU? We’ll see how well that goes!”

Anxiety moved into my head when I first got IBS and it never truly left. It’s often muted now since I adapted my lifestyle to suit the illness as best as possible. But it’s still there – an annoying little voice that keeps reminding me of my limitations due to IBS.

So, there I was, supposed to dine at our neighbors’ house in a couple of days. Somewhat excited to see people again (we’ve been a family of hermits ever since COVID started), but also kind of anxious about having to eat there.

Well, that “kind of” anxious feeling slowly transformed into “kind of” haunting me in my sleep and “kind of” making me panic more and more.

The 2nd act: What the French call “apéro”

The day of our dinner date came and I did everything right. I barely ate in preparation for it. The food I did consume was bland carbs, just to be sure. And I drank lots of ginger tea to help my digestion even more. I was good to go.

We got there, and there it was: what the French call “apéro.” An abundance of drinks and snacks you fill up on before the meal. The kind of tradition that drags on for hours before you finally move to the table. An IBS sufferer’s worst nightmare.

I thought I had played it safe. No alcohol, minimal amounts of snacking, just enough to be polite. But it turns out I didn’t. Somehow, I started feeling my insides knotting together in a way that could only indicate an upcoming flare.

The 3rd act: The flare-up

The good thing about having a baby is that it’s a perfectly valid excuse to run back to your house in the middle of the evening. In my case, my son’s bedtime coincided with the start of my flare, so that I was able to head home right away.

But then, there I was, my son peacefully sleeping and me still feeling terribly sick. What was I supposed to do?

I tried waiting it out, hoping to blame my absence on the baby being difficult to settle. But an hour came and went and I was still sick.

Go back and try to survive? Call it off altogether? I couldn’t do that; they had prepared a whole evening just for us!

The 4th act: The moment of truth

After an hour, my fiancé started calling me, asking if I needed help putting the baby to sleep. I couldn’t wait it out any longer.

Despite not feeling better at all, I decided to go back to our neighbors’ house and pretend like everything was alright. Praying that I would be able to go through with it.

But I wasn’t. It took one bite of food to make me feel like I was about to throw up. I don’t usually get nauseous during an IBS flare, but this time I did. So, I had to say something.

“I’m sorry, but I have a chronic digestive condition that decided to flare up tonight... right on time for our dinner invitation. I’d love to taste your food, but I, unfortunately, can’t right now.” As politely as possible, I then gladly accepted a doggy bag so I could eat our hosts’ food later.

The 5th act: Thoughts of regret

The evening turned out quite nice. Since I didn’t eat, I started feeling a bit better and was able to enjoy our conversations. But I’m still not 100-percent comfortable with the way it went.

I don’t want people I barely know to be aware of my condition. I prefer them to know other sides of me first. And I also still feel guilty for rejecting the dinner our hosts made, even though I would have died on the spot if I ate it then. Nonetheless, I suppose that telling the truth was my only option here, so I do believe that I did the right thing.

Now, is there a moral to this drama in 5 acts? Maybe not. But it reminded me just how unpredictable IBS really is. And that it’s better to be open about it rather than to invent some random excuse.

But please tell me, what would you have done in this situation?

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