Monday, February 22, 2010

The Great Vegetarian Dating Game

If I become a vegetarian won't my love life be ruined?

Yeah...Maybe.

So, you're single and you've decided to become a vegetarian? Congratulations! Your field of potential mates has just been reduced by 90%.

Oh, the joys of being a single vegetarian! The good news for you single folks who decide to become vegetarian is that you'll be healthier because of it. Vegetarians are known for their good skin, trim bodies, etc. Not to mention their energy and stamina—assets that can make you legendary in the romance game. The other good news for single vegetarians is that you can date anyone you want: meat-eaters, semi-vegetarians, or vegetarians. Each of these groups has a lot to offer in the search for a potential mate. The bad news is that all three of these groups present some real challenges as well.

With that in mind it's time to play The Great Vegetarian Dating Game. Let's open that first door and see who we find.

Bachelor/Bachelorette No.1—The Meat-Eater

When you're a vegetarian the advantage to dating meat-eaters should be obvious: just like cockroaches and dandelions, you'll find them everywhere. The odds are good that the blonde at the bus stop or the macho hunk you've been eyeing at the water cooler doesn't share your vegetarian philosophy. But if you find them attractive you'd like to be able to go out on a date without having to grill them in advance about their eating preferences. Now, that's all well and good until the problems arise. And they will arise.

The Big Confession

The first obstacle you will have to overcome is explaining to your meat-eating date why you are a vegetarian. Since you'll probably be eating on your first date, the chances are good The Big Confession will come early. If you want to make it to date number two, you'd better handle it well. The best advice is to do it in a way that minimizes the differences between the two of you, and makes it seem very acceptable that both of you are the way you are. This is no time to use your conversion tactics. As we'll see below, that comes later.

(I, of course, always took the coward's way out when dating meat-eaters. I would invite the woman in question over for dinner. That way I could control the food, and I didn't even have to point out that it was vegetarian. This little trick was usually good to delay The Big Confession until our next time together. Given my luck with women, I often didn't have to worry about when that would be.)

The Barbed Wire Fence

Let's say you make it past The Big Confession and find that you and your meat-eating friend are getting along just great. In fact, you are really starting to like each other. Uh-oh. That means you are just about to hit the next obstacle—The Barbed Wire Fence. This is when you and the meat-eater start to throw little barbs at one another about your respective diets. At first it will all be good-natured, and you might even see it as a sign that you are feeling more comfortable with each other. You'll have this conversation over dinner:

"Hey meathead, want to try a bite of my buckwheat noodles in miso broth?"

"No thanks, tofu face. I prefer to eat food."

As time goes on, however, both of you will get more serious about your barbs, and The Barbed Wire Fence will become more annoying. It will come to a head the night your date takes you to dinner at his or her parents' house. Afterwards you'll have this little discussion:

"You didn't eat any of my mother's chicken."

"Come on, you know I don't eat that—I'm a vegetarian."

"Well, it would have been the polite thing to do, you know. She was nice enough to invite you to dinner."

"I'll die before I'm that polite."

The Meatball Sub

With every romantic relationship come instances of aesthetic disappointment. There is the time, for example, when you find out that some of her best assets only exist thanks to the miracle of space-age plastics, or the day when you discover that he's been wearing the same jockey shorts for two months. Since the meat-eating culture is inherently un-aesthetic to many vegetarians, there is even more potential here for friction between you and your meat-eating date. For example, you may have trouble snuggling up to his leather jacket or her fur coat, or maybe you'll be grossed out the first time you find your date has left the remains of a Big Mac in your refrigerator.

My meat-eating girlfriend and I were crazy about each other, and we'd been getting along well until that fateful day when she had to have The Meatball Sub for lunch. Yuck! After she finished she looked up and said, "Kiss me!"

I looked at her, the grease still dripping down her chin, and hesitated. "I think I'll take a rain check," I said. I handed her a napkin, and our relationship was never the same again.

Of course The Big Confession, The Barbed Wire Fence, and The Meatball Sub are all manifestations of the same problem: vegetarians and meat-eaters have a major philosophical difference between them. Physical attraction can be wonderful, and maybe they'll even have a number of common interests, but these things can wear thin when two people disagree about something as basic as food. Most folks eat three meals a day. When a vegetarian is with a meat-eater that creates three golden opportunities to fight.

We hear a lot about "mixed" marriages of vegetarians and meat-eaters, and I've known several such couples myself. They are all wonderful people. They have to be. For many less tolerant vegetarian souls, though, looking for Mr./Miss/Ms. Right from the ranks of meat-eaters can be frustrating at best. At worst, it can keep them looking for a long, long time. Sure, Bachelor/Bachelorette No.1 is great for the vegetarian who needs someone with a good smile to take to his or her high school reunion. For more serious relationships, though, there must be other choices.

Bachelor/Bachelorette No.2—The Semi-Vegetarian

Undaunted by our experience with inter-diet dating, we continue to play The Great Vegetarian Dating Game. This time we'll meet Bachelor/Bachelorette No.2—The semi-vegetarian. The prospective dates in this group are all those who have "just about given up red meat", or who feel they "really should be a vegetarian". In short, this is everyone sympathetic to the cause who hasn't yet changed his or her lifestyle to vegetarianism.

Theoretically, this group should provide an ideal hunting ground for the single vegetarian. There are plenty of people around who fall into the semi-vegetarian category, and because they are already sympathetic to vegetarianism the potential for fireworks (of the bad kind) may not be as great as with a confirmed meat-eater. Unfortunately, things are never as easy as they seem.

The Prickly Hedge

If The Barbed Wire Fence describes the obstacle between vegetarians and meat-eaters, then between vegetarians and semi-vegetarians it's more like The Prickly Hedge—not as high or as sharp, but potentially even more deadly to a long-term relationship. The reason is that the semi-vegetarian will be receptive to the vegetarian's lifestyle, but the committed vegetarian won't be able to return that receptivity. It will always be the vegetarian's inflexible diet, for example, that dictates mutual food choices. And the barbs, however subtle and unintended they may be, are likely to continue from vegetarian to semi-vegetarian. The semi-vegetarian who, for whatever reason, isn't ready to convert is likely to feel oppressed in this situation. Not the best thing on which to base a relationship.

The Phony Conversion

What about the semi-vegetarian who falls in love and decides to convert to vegetarianism? Well, that's great if he or she is really ready for the conversion—go straight to Bachelor/Bachelorette No.3. But if the conversion is prompted more out of guilt, or a desire to please the vegetarian, it isn't likely to last long. It may just lead to more feelings of oppression (and the overwhelming desire on the part of the semi-vegetarian to end the relationship so he or she can finally get a decent—i.e., "beastly"—meal again)!

The Big Tease

Let's not forget the feelings of the vegetarian in all this. If you are dating a semi-vegetarian you will likely be very excited by the possibility of converting him or her to a vegetarian lifestyle. If it doesn't work out, The Big Tease can be emotionally devastating. You might even be tempted to go back to Bachelor/Bachelorette No.1. At least with a confirmed meat-eater you knew where you stood from the beginning.

Bachelor/Bachelorette No.3—The Vegetarian

When he or she has been going out with meat-eaters and even semi-vegetarians, your average veggie might be amazed at how easy it is to date a fellow vegetarian:

"I just love Tom's Tasty Tofu Emporium."

"Really? Gee, that's my favorite restaurant too!"

Then again, sometimes it won't be so easy, and both parties will end up asking themselves: did I expect too much? Do vegetarians really do it better? Does the heart really lie just behind the stomach?

Under Every Stone

There is a problem most veggies will encounter right away in trying to date a fellow vegetarian—finding one. Let's face it, we don't meet that many real vegetarians in our day-to-day lives, and those we do meet may not exactly be the Greek gods or goddesses of our dreams. Vegetarian and related organizations can help a lot in the search. (Sometimes having a "cause" can do wonders for a person's social life!) But don't count on this. In most cases you can expect the hunt to be a lot of work, and don't expect success overnight. While there may indeed be a vegetarian Under Every Stone, it's turning those stones over that's the hard part.

The Three Points of Disagreement

If you are persistent and a little lucky you will eventually find a vegetarian you actually want to date (and even more important, who wants to date you). Now, since you won't have all the problems you encountered with meat-eaters and semi-vegetarians, you and Bachelor/Bachelorette No.3 have it made, right? Wrong.

Vegetarians are such a diverse group that you can't rule out the possibility of serious compatibility problems arising. Indeed, after years of painstaking research (note the emphasis on painstaking), I've isolated three potential areas of disagreement between vegetarian couples:

1. their reasons for being vegetarian

2. their diets

3. everything else.

An example might be beneficial. Suppose you've got an evening scheduled with your new vegetarian friend. Both of you are really looking forward to it. The problem is that your date is planning on eating a raw vegetable salad and being in bed (and asleep!) by 10. It seems that he or she has to get up early to train for the Boston Marathon. You, on the other hand, envisioned staying up late over coffee, smoking cigarettes and planning your next animal rights march. You've got problems already, and you don't even know yet if you both like Clint Eastwood films.

When it's all said and done a vegetarian will probably encounter many of the same problems whether he or she is dating another vegetarian, a semi-vegetarian, or a meat-eater. In The Great Vegetarian Dating Game what really counts, of course, are the individuals involved. With a little persistence and some measure of tolerance any vegetarian should be able to find Mr./Miss/Ms. Right, whether he or she is Bachelor/Bachelorette Nos. 1, 2, or 3. So just keep playing The Great Vegetarian Dating Game and happiness awaits you.

Well... maybe if you're real lucky.

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