I went vegan at 17, about the same time I started dating. Since then, I can probably count on both hands the number of men interested in me who declared themselves vegan as though it were the next level up from flowers and candy.
Many vegans consider themselves what obnoxious news journalists label “vegansexual.” That is, we like to date other vegans. For some, it simply comes down to the fact that kissing someone who’s just slurped down a cup full of frozen cow lactation is just gross. But for others, dating nonvegans can be an intensely frustrating experience because veganism is such a strongly held political position. If someone doesn’t care enough about the suffering of others to stop eating and wearing them, we wonder if this is the kind of person we’d want to commit ourselves to.
Of course, very few of us were born vegans. We ourselves were once those politically apathetic milkshake-drinking folks. So, it doesn’t help to be close-minded. People can and do change. Another consideration is the inherent limitation of a small dating pool. At around 2% of the American population, there’s just not many of us to pick from. Speciesism is still very much a social norm. I’ve been a country girl for most of my life, and you don’t find many vegans outside major metropolitan areas. The closest thing to a big city I’ve ever inhabited is Fort Collins, Colorado, as a graduate student. What’s a girl to do?
While I am relegated to dating nonvegan men whether I want to or not, the other side of the coin is that these nonvegan men are probably dealing with a vegan for the first time and they simply don’t know how to act. For someone only loosely aware of what the vegan movement stands for, it might not seem like such an offense to jump on the vegan bandwagon to get the girl.
In some ways, I can appreciate the gesture. Many of these fellas just want to demonstrate that they’re willing to be the man they think I want them to be. They want to show some sort of interest in my interests. Certainly, they’re a step up from the occasional macho-man waste-of-my-time who felt the need to remind me every so often, “I eat meat, I’ll always eat meat, there’s nothing you can do to change that!” I also enjoy going to a restaurant and not feeling like an alien. The luxury of informing the wait staff that, “We’re both vegan!” does not go unappreciated. Neither does a home-cooked meal prepared by someone other than myself for a change.
But for the most part, the gesture backfires. It’s kind of like those movies where the male protagonist borrows a baby to impress his lady love. Parenthood is a serious commitment. Much like veganism, it isn’t something you do for the wrong reasons. Speaking honestly, becoming vegan is a relatively big life decision—you’re changing most of your eating and purchasing patterns and you’re going to be the sore thumb at family gatherings for a couple of years at least. You would think that most people might actually want to learn about the issues first and see why doing something that’s initially such a pain is worth doing.
This lack of sincerity makes a difference. Inevitably, when the relationship fails to materialize or fizzles after a few weeks or months, these men generally return to consuming Nonhuman Animal products. When it’s clear I’m not interested in them, suddenly being vegan is “too hard” or it drops from their radar completely. I can’t help but wonder if putting on a vegan front is a red flag that this person might be deceptive in other areas of the relationship as well.
It is worth noting, however, that two men that I’ve dated went vegan and actually stayed vegan. What was the difference? In getting to know me, they also became familiar with the issues and my passion for social justice. They saw veganism as a political action and went vegan for the right reasons. In fact, both were vegan for months before they finally admitted their transition to me. One of them told me outright: “I didn’t want you thinking I was doing this for you.” Six years after our relationship ended, he’s still vegan.
For me, veganism is an intensely serious commitment. I am vegan because I am a social activist fighting oppression. I am vegan because I believe Nonhuman Animals deserve equal consideration. I am vegan because the consumption of Nonhuman Animal products is also a human rights issue: it’s destroying our health and our planet. I’ve been advocating for Nonhuman Animal liberation for well over a decade now. Veganism is a struggle of life over death, of freedom over oppression, and of justice over exploitation and slavery. I don’t think it’s very cute when men throw out their frozen pizzas just for a shot with me.
But it keeps happening. So, I simply sigh, smile, and say, “Good for you!” After all, the activist in me holds out hope that maybe they’ll actually get interested in fighting oppression and stick with it. At the very least, their being vegan for the next few weeks or months will save a few lives. Yet, when it’s over, it’s no surprise to me when I run into them and they’ve got their hand in a bag of Doritos. I’ll just roll my eyes and be glad I made the right call in passing him over.