How Not To Be A Dick To Your Friend With A Digestive Disorder

I don't have a ton of control over what my body does, but you have 100% control over being a shitty, judgmental human being.
Publish date:
May 15, 2013
how not to be a dick, poop, digestive problems

Women definitely don't poop. I'm not sure where or when I learned this, but it was never a ruse I was able to even entertain because for as long as I can remember, it was immediately apparent to anyone who knew me that I did, indeed, poop. Frequently.

It took me far too long to realize exactly how much I was not alone in this. Up to 20% of adults in the US suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome, with women being two to three times more likely to suffer from it than men.

There were two traumatic events that I can pinpoint from my brief high school career that, in retrospect, seem comical, but at the time indicated to me a few essential truths about myself: that I was worthy only of mockery, that no one would ever love me, and that I had to get out of high school as soon as possible.

The first occurred on a trip that my robotics team took to Six Flags in Houston. We were waiting in line to get into the park and the combination of the anxiety of having to be around other people in a confined space, and whatever crappy diner food we ate, ensured that I would audibly prove to the team of mostly boys around me that there were definitely girls that farted.

Their response to this was a loud and raucous “EWWWWW!”

The second occasion was extremely similar: I was taking the SATs for the first time and the feeling of being trapped in a room with other people overwhelmed me, and that anxiety manifested in an hour straight of flatulence. I heard girls whispering, “Ew, that's so disgusting.” Now that I am more of an adult, I know that life has probably already repaid their evil deeds by making them fart in a situation where it has resulted in their discomfort or mockery.


1) Don't ew me unless you know me like that.

Unless you're my little sister and you have just watched me eat an entire container of red pepper hummus and then had to sit next to me on the couch, you are not entitled to express your audible disgust at my bodily functions. I don't have a ton of control over what my body does, but you have 100% control over being a shitty, judgmental human being.

You should also be aware that when you are reacting negatively to me, it makes my anxiety worse, and when my anxiety gets worse, my IBS gets worse. GOOD JOB, YOU'VE CREATED A FART WEAPON AIMED AT YOU. It's also just part of being a mature human being that you don't react to a fart by going “UGH IT STINKS” or asking who the culprit was if you're not in a house full of your fellow frat bros. I can't fault you a giggle, though. You're just as human as I am. And yes, I fart in front of my partners.

2) Let's have a fart party.

Or let's not. It would be weird for me to be personally invested in your intestinal goings-on, but it does a lot to alleviate my anxiety if, when I'm getting to know you, you don't give me the impression that you are one of the people committed to maintaining the illusion that you don't poop or fart. Just know that if there's anyone you can fart around without fear of judgment, it's me.

3) Understand that while it can be funny, it's a serious health issue.

Crohn's, Colitis, and IBS can all result in hospital trips, serious weight loss, extreme pain, and peripheral symptoms involved with not being able to properly digest food. There are psychological side effects and it can lead to severely disordered eating. In fact, up to 94% of IBS sufferers in one study were found to also suffer from psychiatric disorders. Most of the worst pain I've ever been in my life has been IBS-related. It is the primary cause for my quitting high school, so please don't underestimate the effect it has on my life.

In addition, don't make weird jokes about my bowel motility, especially if you're a male suitor. I shouldn't have to clarify this, but if we're on a date, please don't make the assumption that I am constantly shitting my pants and then use that as a basis for a joke. I probably have greater control over my bowels than most people because I immediately recognize the first signs of an urgent problem, but accidents do happen to people with IBS, Crohn's, and Colitis, for whom motility can be an extreme issue, and it's not hard to make the logical conclusion that if that happens to someone it's probably embarrassing and traumatic and not really your place to joke about it.

4) Conversely, please don't be uncomfortable with my honesty.

I know it's really weird to be just getting to know someone and have them tell you about their BATHROOM EMERGENCY issues, but in order to negotiate with my anxiety, I have to know that the people around me understand and accept what I am going through. I have been remarkably lucky in that pretty much every person I've dated has been nothing but supportive towards me, because it turns out farting and pooping are not actually dealbreakers.

My mom told me that my dad dealt with his IBS with a lifetime of lying and self-medicating, and that is a life I have no interest in leading. I know that the type of honesty I need to conduct my life with doesn't always need to involve shouting “I'm gassy! Get away from me!” and I'm working on not doing that.

And for future reference, everyone, when I say, “I feel unwell” it is probably shorthand for “I need to poop.” So no, there is nothing you can offer me, but thank you so much for your concern.

5) Please be understanding if I choose not to eat around you.

You never know what an important part of your social life eating is until you have to tell people you'd rather not engage in it. Sometimes it's just much easier for me to plan my day so that I eat when I know I don't have to be around people as a calculated risk assessment. Trust that I know what I'm doing because I am the one who has had to have a tiny camera up my butt and down my throat.

If I know that waiting till later to eat is the easiest way to avoid pain or embarrassment, I will schedule my meals so they fall after my shift at work or after we go to the movies or just sometime in the future when I can eat seemingly-innocuous foods like apples and lettuce without having to worry about the repercussions. Relatedly,

6) If it's within your power, let me have an escape route.

If we're at a restaurant, please don't shove me in the middle of a booth. If we're at a theater, please give me end seats. Feeling trapped creates a horrible repeating loop of anxiety-IBS symptoms-anxiety about IBS symptoms-worse IBS symptoms. When meeting a boyfriend's family for the first time, we went out to eat and then to visit Nottingham City of Caves. While touring the bowels of the city, the burrito I had eaten earlier started taking a tour of my bowels. I was suddenly trapped in a horrible analogy and had to make my way back and interrupt a tour group so that I could go and find a bathroom. I am excellent at making first impressions. If you'd like to make an excellent first impression on me, make sure we're always somewhere with easy access to a bathroom.

7) Know that your patience, acceptance, and kindness mean everything to me.

It can be really taxing to be a friend to someone who cancels plans, who has to interrupt conversations or derail an itinerary to find a bathroom, or to honestly just have to be around someone who keeps making bad smells. Every time you accommodate one of my dietary needs or let me choose a restaurant or let me make unconventional plans, you're being an excellent friend, so give yourself a cookie. Or many cookies. If you don't mind that they make me gassy, we can eat them together.