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Dating and Relationships With Ulcerative Colitis

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WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

One of the upsides of college: all that new freedom! One of the downsides of college for people with UC: all that freedom! With it come the pressures of dating and the social scene. 

It’s true that dating and getting into relationships can be more complicated when you have an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Most handbooks on dating don't cover talking about ulcerative colitis and its accompanying symptoms, like frequent gas and diarrhea. 

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Whenever Serena Ehrlich goes someplace new, she scouts out the location of the bathroom. That's because Ehrlich, 38, a Los Angeles-based salesperson for a commercial wire service, has ulcerative colitis. She developed the disease 12 years ago and has been in remission for the past three. Still, the old habit lingers. "Everyone who has ulcerative colitis will tell you that when you walk into a bookstore, a shop, or a restaurant, that's the one thing you want to know first. It's our rule of thumb." This...

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But there are strategies for getting past the awkwardness to have a good time. Here are some ways to make dating and socializing go smoother.

Ulcerative Colitis and Dating: When to Bring It Up

"UC is not an easy disease to talk about, especially as a young woman," says Sandra Kim, MD, pediatric gastroenterologist and assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "People find it easier to talk about things like asthma, where you wheeze, or a food allergy, where you might break out. But a lot of the symptoms associated with UC -- not so easy." 

There's no hard and fast rule about when to talk about an IBD, says Frank Sileo, PhD, a psychologist in Ridgewood, N.J., who counsels young adults with ulcerative colitis. 

"All relationships develop over time, and trust has to be there first," Sileo says. "When revealing something so personal, there has to be some level of trust in the relationship. There's no barometer or timeframe of when you have that in a relationship. So you really have to trust your gut -- no pun intended -- that this person is someone you'd really like to share this aspect of your life with."

Broaching the Topic of UC: Just Do It

Megan Nardini, 19, a student at Ohlone College in Fremont, Calif., was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis when she was 12 and had six surgeries in one year. She says UC can definitely be a "strange” topic to bring up. 

"It's always weird," she says. "When do you tell somebody you just met, 'Oh, by the way, I don't have a colon and I poop a lot?' A lot of people feel really uncomfortable talking about that kind of thing. That's why Crohn's and colitis aren't that well known -- because nobody wants to talk about poop." 

But Nardini usually doesn’t wait too long to talk about her UC. "Once I start getting comfortable with somebody, it's hard for me not to mention it," she says. "Because it's a big part of who I am -- it's a big part of my life. Usually after a few weeks or months, I'll be like, 'Oh, by the way, guess who doesn't have a colon? It's me.'" 

It's always kind of a shocker to people, she says, but it's never been so uncomfortable that it's ruined a friendship or romantic relationship. 

Kim encourages young women to be straightforward about it, like you would any other part of yourself. "People are not going to be uncomfortable talking about it as long as you're matter-of-fact,” she says. 

Talking about your UC can also make you relax about it. "I try to teach my patients to get to a comfort level of sharing their UC with others because when we do that, it takes away the shame and embarrassment,” says Sileo, who has Crohn’s disease. ”People will see we're OK with it, that we can talk about it."

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