The Hardest Part About Veganism Isn’t Cravings, It’s Dating

Like many twenty-something women my age, I’ve made the same mistakes while dating but have always refused to admit that I have a type. For the most part, my relationships have ended because I’ve looked for an excuse to bail. For years I couldn’t figure out why this was, though I usually convinced myself it was a loss of physical attraction (or blamed my actions on poor self-esteem).

After conducting copious amounts of research – and by this, I mean making a detailed pro/con list of my dating history – I have come to one conclusion: I can’t date men who aren’t vegan.

I mean, this isn’t a set-in-stone theory. It’s not like I’ll date somebody just because they’re vegan. I’ve dated vegan duds, too. But when it comes right down to it, if he isn’t vegan, I’m probably going to bail before our third attempt at drinks and pointless conversation at The Communist’s Daughter.

Is being vegan the most defining aspect of my being? God, I hope not. But I’ve realized, through trial and error, that being in a relationship with somebody with a different set of ethics is nearly impossible. And don’t get me wrong: I’m totally fine with the fact that most of my friends and family eat meat. I’d never want to make anyone feel uncomfortable or pressure to change their lifestyle.

I didn’t show much of an interest in dating until my last year of high school. Introduce my first male co-star: an indie-rock heartthrob who made me weak in the knees. We bought a hookah together (a metaphorical love child for a stoner couple), and as a result spent a lot of time huddled together, eating pepperoni pizza in a blanket fort we made in his parents’ basement. A year into the relationship I moved from the suburbs to the city and smartened up accordingly – I started running, stopped smoking weed and began eating less meat. Suddenly I had less in common with my indie-rock heartthrob and we went our separate ways.

Later that year, another (now) ex invited me to his birthday dinner at The Black Hoof, a west-end restaurant known for serving horsemeat. When I squirmed, he responded with, “You eat beef. What’s the difference?” This caught me off-guard. I began to research veganism, and stopped eating meat a week after I broke things off. Since then, dating omnivores has been, well, weird. I tried. They tried.

I will always resent one ex in particular who convinced me to go pescatarian instead of vegan when I wanted to, claiming that I’d be “too much of a hassle” otherwise. Another, after I wreaked havoc running down Queen Street looking for a meat-friendly dinner spot, spent the entire meal mocking me. He moaned dramatically after biting into his roast-beef sandwich and snickered, “I bet you wish yours was this good!” A few more men and similar interactions later, I finally asked myself why this kept happening.

I suspect that expressing self-control over my diet makes men feel inferior. My dietary restrictions put me in charge of making the decisions that a man would traditionally make on a first date to impress me, such as choosing the restaurant and what I order. It’s a role reversal that catches them off-guard, causing them to verbally defend themselves and man-up.

I blame the “Real Men Eat Meat” trope. It’s an outdated social concept that associates meat-eating with masculinity. And its flipside is the notion that not eating meat is weak and wimpy, and therefore feminine. Red meat is associated with aspects of traditional masculinity, such as protein, muscle-building and strength. Tofu is associated with the opposite. Introduce me, plant-based belly and all, to a carnivore, and suddenly he’s scrambling to hold onto his manhood.

We can’t just ignore the fact that women and animals were both dominantly viewed as commodities throughout history.

I respect others’ beliefs, but I hold true to my own. When it comes down to it, nothing is more off-putting to me than a lack of sensitivity. Prime example: I’m writing this on Thanksgiving weekend, and some guy I don’t know well but who likes my selfies a lot just sent me a photo of a turkey dinner accompanied by a wink emoji. Intentionally flaunting something that you know makes me uncomfortable isn’t exactly going to get you laid, dude.

It’s an ethical disagreement in a relationship that makes me nervous for what could logically come next. If we don’t agree on animal rights, is feminism going to be an issue? What about rape culture? Euthanasia?

So, vegan girls of Toronto, do I think you should date omnivores? Of course I do! Take him to Grasslands and he’ll never know the difference. As long as you have a mutual respect, understanding and you communicate well, you’re in the clear. I’m writing off my dating bio as personal bad luck – but just to be safe, I’m sticking to meat-free men for the foreseeable future.

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