Sleeping With The Enemy: Vegan Dating
First off, thanks so much for your kind words about my article, “Veganism Is Not About Loving Animals”. It was a stream of consciousness piece that I wrote in one sitting, so I have been pleasantly surprised by all of the positive responses (and a few criticisms) it has received. Having a community is such a large part of being a happy vegan, which is why I think writing and responding to vegan writers is so important to our community.
You asked me how I handle dating a non-vegan, a question I’ve been musing over for the past few days. In one way, it’s something I think about all the time. In another, it’s a reality that exists but does not hinder, like a log fallen across a trail — noticeable, but easily stepped over. I sat down to respond to you quickly a few times, but every time I did, something stopped me. I realized that your question is not just a small detail of veganism. Your question about dating a meat-eater is a monumental experience as a vegan, and it deserves discussion, thought, and care as a subject. It’s not a simple answer. I’ll do my best to share my own experience, and I hope that you don’t mind me taking your question and turning it into a piece of its own.
I’ll be blunt: a lot of days, the fact that my boyfriend eats meat and dairy seems catastrophic to me. Those days are usually days that I spend watching the latest factory farm exposés, seeing graphic images of baby cows being torn from their mothers minutes after birth, or reading the latest studies on emissions from industrial animal agriculture. When you put yourself in front of harrowing images and facts that involve animal exploitation, environmental degradation, and torture of sentient beings, it’s hard to walk in your door that day and see your loved one eating a pepperoni pizza without a care in the world. As someone willing to come face to face with where our food comes from, to see the pain and suffering that is inherent in meat and dairy, it becomes hard not to look at your meat-eating significant other as the bad guy.
Some nights, I lie in bed trying to blink away the images I’ve seen that day, and I wonder. I wonder how someone so close to me can love me, and know me, and not be changed. I wonder how my boyfriend — as funny, generous, fun, and philosophical as he is — can somehow exist in the same group of people that I clash with in every waking moment of my life. I find myself, quite literally in bed with the enemy.
There have been eye-rolling moments as a vegan in our relationship. When we first started dating, he told me that any food without meat was just a snack. A couple of times, he told me that he was trying to eat less pig. I rejoiced at the news, and then found slices of ham in my fridge. Family dinners, vacations, or parties all require me to fend for myself, which isn’t a problem for me at all — it’s to be expected as someone living an ‘alternate lifestyle’ — but it definitely comes with some social awkwardness. I find myself wondering if people think my partner is strange for dating a vegan.
There was the time we went camping with a group of people and he told me he’d be going fishing. I spiraled into an unforgiving Q&A, questioning what good would come from taking the life of another being, and needing to know his motives for this sudden need to hook a fish out of the water. Did he have something to prove? I told him that if he needed to kill a fish to feel connected to his food, then he better not be bringing any other meat from the grocery store on our trip. To me, he had to go full survival mode. Meanwhile, I was going full hostile-vegan-mode. Somewhere in the conversation, he joked about how I won’t call myself a militant vegan (fair jab on his part), I started crying, and he told me I was probably right about it all, and that the world was just not ready to hear it. Whether he meant it, or just wanted to end my frustration, I don’t know. [He went fishing and didn’t get a bite, and I delighted in this.]
The Angry Vegan Days, as mentioned above, are when I feel concerned about sharing my life with a non-vegan. But those are not all days, and most days, I find nothing but support, kindness, and compassion in my relationship. Even when I don’t find those things, I later realize that it wasn’t due to a lack of support on his part, but a lack of seeing it on my side. The problems of our vegan/meat-eater dynamic are usually my own, and not because of incompatibility or any unwillingness from him. A lot of the time, I am even grateful to share my life so intimately with someone who contradicts my most sincere values.
Every day is an opportunity for mutual education. The other day, my boyfriend came home and told me he saw a sign for a free vegan cooking class and asked if I’d like to go. I would bet a vegan cooking class wasn’t on his radar a couple years ago. I remember one day when he came home from a class offended by someone’s, “I Eat Vegans” t-shirt. I love going to his parents’ house when his mom tries a new vegan recipe to share with me, whether the rest of his family eats it or not. His sister asks me about specifics like wool, honey, and my thoughts on raising my own chickens.
On one very Angry Vegan Day, I ranted to my boyfriend about how I should start burning down slaughterhouses (let it be known, FBI, that I never have!), and he calmly talked me through other processes that would be cathartic and more effective. My passion can be sudden and untamed, and he helps me to guide it.
It’s important to remember that being a meat-eater dating a vegan isn’t all smiles, either. Often my boyfriend receives the brunt of my hostility because it is built up hostility that I can’t share with anyone else. He listens to me gab about my best friends who don’t acknowledge that I even write about veganism. He also lets me sarcastically yell at him when he drinks chocolate milk. As martyr-like as it is to think that I’m living in a world where I carry the burden of our differences, in reality, he faces people that roll their eyes when he mentions that his girlfriend is a vegan blogger (though, I probably can’t call myself that with my level of inconsistency). People probably don’t always take me seriously, and I’m sure that can be annoying to witness and explain. Even deciding to write about our relationship now makes me realize that I’m opening him up to potential criticism from vegans that he did not ask to be opened up to. Now, in no way am I saying that these things are huge burdens to carry, but they are inconveniences that would be otherwise avoided in a relationship between two meat-eaters, and yet he chooses to deal with the inconveniences anyway.
Many vegans draw a hard line. They don’t associate with people who consume animal products, they won’t sit with their meat-eating family to share Thanksgiving dinner, they lose friends and end relationships all for the sake of pointing out the seriousness of their cause. I understand their relentless carrying-out of values, and, to me, it doesn’t make sense. To isolate oneself from people that aren’t on the same page is dangerous. It ends communication. It destroys a chance for understanding. To immerse yourself in someone’s life drastically different from your own is the only way to spread your knowledge and thought process. The popular “Unfriend me now if…” Facebook statuses are rampant; this allows people to live in their own bubble of belief, where no one outside of themselves is worth speaking to.
The vegan movement consists of a million different types of activism, and while I don’t often agree with the hard-line drawing, controversial, in-your-face types, I suppose that’s what feels right to them, and what feels the most progressive to them for the movement. Whether or not you choose to cut ties with those outside of veganism, vegans will still collide with carnism everyday. We work in non-vegan establishments, have non-vegan friends and family. We go to grocery stores that sell meat and dairy. We establish business connections and attend meetings with non-vegans. We even fall in love with them.
Carnism is everywhere, and as the vegan movement grows, we’ll continue to expand into these spaces. While the hard-line vegans choose to make a statement with their non-association, there is also a need for people to create long-term, intimate relationships with those that still don’t understand veganism. When we choose to live alongside people that still consume animal products, we become living reminders and representatives of a cruelty-free alternative. We fuel discussion by interaction, whereas the hard-line vegans fuel discussion through controversy. To each his own.
Would having a vegan partner be ideal? Perhaps. Would having a meat-eating partner transition to veganism be better? Hell yeah! But the truth is that if I were dating a vegan, that vegan would still be capable of being a complete asshole. Dating someone that perfectly aligns with your values still does not ensure happiness, and it certainly doesn’t ensure that you’re dating a good person. And you know what? No matter how much I prod, write, question, and vent frustration toward him, never has my partner bitched about me ‘pushing my beliefs’ on him. Never.
At the end of the day, many people live this reality, whether it be different religions, different cultures, or different political stances. I think the underlying message is that love and relationships are, in a way, other-worldly. The rules that we apply to our day to day lives don’t necessarily transcend into who we love. It’s always been that way, and it’s a good thing. The hard times are there, but I try to focus on the positives of diversity in my relationship, rather than let those Angry Vegan Days get in the way. Support is important in a relationship, and as long as a vegan’s partner is supportive, willing to listen, and doesn’t tear you down, the rest falls into place, and we continue to be vegan representatives in a still carnist world.