Not long ago, one of my friends and I sat in a cute, small bar on Manhattan's Lower East Side, exchanging stories and tips about dating in New York City. It was a true girls' night out, complete with concert tickets to see one of my favorite musicians, Kristin Hersh, performing with the Throwing Muses. My friend and I huddled in the amber glow of the dimly lit bar, confiding our tales insights with each other. In the midst of the talk she advised, "Don't tell them you're vegan." She was concerned that by revealing my animal-free lifestyle, I might scare prospective suitors off. I worried, as she did, that the word "vegan" could trigger fear in the heart of the average NYC male. But did I want to date the average NYC male? The answer was no. I didn't. And I told her that not only would I not hide my vegan lifestyle, but that I might only want to date a fellow vegan. Veganism is a huge and bright light in my life, and I was not going to sweep it under the carpet for fear of being single. I became vegan by "living my truth" (to borrow a phrase from author Colleen Patrick-Goudreau), was I really going to find love by living a lie?
It was a revelatory moment for me. I, like so many other women, had been working to twist and contort myself into the perfect mold of the desirable date. Finally, I was fed up. I don't know what struck this faith in my heart that being true to myself was the answer, but I realized that I needed to pay attention to my own feelings and comfort levels -- and not try so hard to fit a generic format that was rumored to be the ticket to love (and wasn't working for anyone I knew).
I didn't make it a rule to only date vegans, I only promised myself I'd respect my own feelings, beliefs and truths. I was not going to hide my vegan lifestyle, and I was going pay attention to whether or not I was comfortable dating those who consumed animal products. If I wasn't, I wouldn't. If love is about being true to one's heart, wouldn't that include being true to one's love for animals? The question for me changed from whether or not someone could love me when I didn't eat animals, to whether or not I could love someone who did.
The answer was complex, certainly not black and white. However, what I found was that as soon as I put down my foot about being open, out and unapologetic about my veganism in regards to my dating -- men started to respond in a very positive way. I didn't make a conscious decision to only date vegans or vegetarians, but I committed to respecting my own feelings when it came to the diet of the person I was with.
I was subscribed to one online dating site, with mixed feelings. I'm a big believer in serendipity when it comes to relationships and I'm not sure if that translates to the internet. I was very clear in my profile that I was vegan, but didn't indicate whether I would only date vegans and vegetarians. I heard from vegans, vegetarians and omnivores alike.
The first date I went on was with someone who was vegan for health but not ethical reasons. He was creative, tall, smart and funny. We talked over tea and agreed that we enjoyed it. When we made plans again, he cancelled due to a hefty hangover. As a non-drinker, I suggested he try seltzer next time. Although we ate similarly, there were some other connections missing.
The second date I went on was with a good-looking and talented omnivore. He seemed very interested in and fascinated by my vegan lifestyle, activism and general love of animals. It was not a love connection, however, due to lack of chemistry. I never even had to watch him eat something that might be offensive to me because we only met a couple of times. Later he expressed to me his belief that I probably would not have liked his apartment as he had a cow-skin rug in it. He was right, but by staying true to my heart I never had to see it in person.
One fellow I started interacting with on the dating site was also a devoted vegan. We had even both spent time at Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen, N.Y. He was attractive and nice and considerate. But there was something missing. Although the common love of animals was present, that little bit of romantic magic just wasn't there.
Date three almost didn't happen. My wariness of online dating led me to suspend my account. Right before I did, I heard from someone I had the spark of a serendipitous sense about. A vegetarian for many years longer than myself, there were no rational reasons why this third date might go better than the others -- only an instinctual feeling to follow through. He had too many good qualities to mention. Date number three turned into dates number four, five, six and more. We connected in many ways, a mutual love of animals being one of them.
I know someone who has been a vegan for many years and is happily in love with and married to someone who eats animal products. She is living her truth -- being true to her love of animals by living vegan, and being true to her feelings for the person she is with. Another vegan who stands in his or her truth might have a life that looks much different. Jasmin Singer, a longtime vegan who co-founded animal rights nonprofit Our Hen House with her committed domestic partner Mariann Sullivan, comments, "My veganism is the best part of me, and sharing my life with someone who gets that, and appreciates it, is a priority for me. My partner is also a vegan, but keep in mind that I entered into this relationship after years of dating (and frequently converting) non-vegans."
Maya Gottfried is the author of books, essays and articles for children and adults. She has previously written on her experience with cancer for crazysexylife.com. Her autobiographical essay "Untitled" appeared in the book "Half/Life: Jew-ish Tales from Interfaith Homes." Maya's most recent book for children, "Our Farm: By the Animals of Farm Sanctuary," is about the real-life residents of national farm animal protection organization Farm Sanctuary. Read her blog and buy her books on Red Room.
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