Holiday Parties: Safety vs. Social Expectations

I have served as a mentor for college students for many years. One of the hard questions that that comes up often is “Would you rather be right or would you rather get what you want and need?” There are many general situations in life when our egos can get in the way of getting what we want and need. For instance, I may argue way too long with someone just to prove I am right instead of working towards a solution that gives me what I needed in the first place.

Food allergies can complicate these situations even further. We all have a need for others to understand where we are coming from, not just because it makes us feel better, but because it also ensures our safety.

The holidays bring up all sorts of issues that we may not have to deal very often at other times of the year. For instance, if your holiday work party is coming up, do you stay silent and hope there will be something you can eat, or do you speak up and make sure your needs are met? Do you bring your own food to Aunt Sally’s party, even though she does not understand food allergies and will be hurt that you won’t try her great-grandmother’s stuffing recipe?

You may even have other allergies or family members that have other food allergies. For instance, I have a serious poinsettia allergy (those bright red flowers you see everywhere during the holidays) which makes it impossible for me to spend any length of time at a grocery store or many restaurants. When I attend a party, I struggle with whether to talk first to the host about my food allergies or my poinsettia allergy.

There are some tough decisions to make. For those with food allergies, “being right” is not necessarily about ego. It is about being safe and staying well. At the same time, when what you want most is to make a good impression at that work party or spend some quality time with Aunt Sally, how do you find the balance between being right AND getting what you want?

First, it is important to think about what you want to say before you pick up the phone, but it is also important to respond very quickly. You want to try to respond within a day or so of receiving the invitation so that you and host have plenty of time to prepare. The more time you both have, the more likely you will be safe and also have a great time.

For me, one way I have dealt with host conversations has been to start with the fact that I am struggling with balancing what I want with what I need AND show that I have already spent some time thinking about the solution. 

I will usually say something like, “What I want most is to spend time with you without causing any complications for you. I have some serious food allergies, but I have some ideas on some solutions that could be fairly simple and allows me to spend time with you.” In this scenario, I have stated twice that I really want to spend time with this person (which is the most important to me) and also reiterated that this situation is feasible for both me and for the host. At this point I usually suggest bringing my own food, bringing a dish that everyone can eat, or eating beforehand.

When it comes to allowing the host to cook something for you, I would say that this is a very individual decision. I only have a couple of people in my life that I trust to cook something for me, and that is only when I have approved the ingredients beforehand. However, that does not mean that there are situations that could work for someone to cook for you.

All of these situations are things that an AllerCoach could help you with, such as deciding what to say to the host, what to bring to the party, or deciding if the hostess can provide food.

I have had success in working with hosts so far, but there are situations when your suggestions can be met with rude comments or even dismissal of your needs. In this case, your need to be right (and safe) may be more important than getting what you want, because you don’t want to end up with an allergic event as a result. This is a great opportunity to reiterate what you want (“I want to spend time with you!”), state again that you have a serious medical condition, remind them that there are solutions, and perhaps give them some time to think about your request. In most cases, a little time can be what is needed to turn the situation around.

Calling All Soyvivors: What situations have you dealt with over the holidays?

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