April 30, 2007

Social Support, Dating, and Veganism

Posted in vegan at 6:45 pm by nevavegan

When Freeman Wicklund and I were leafleting UMD we had a little while when not many people were walking by, during which time we could just talk about veganism. We both sadly noted we’d known a lot of temporary vegans, people who’d tried it for a little while, sometimes even years, and then quit.

Freeman felt that perhaps the most common reason for giving up on veganism is the social dynamic. It’s easier to be vegan when you have vegan friends, a vegan significant other, vegan family even. It’s a lot harder to navigate when you’re a relatively inexperienced vegan trying to date non-vegans and hang out with your old non-vegan friends (who are likely giving you a really hard time about it).

I too have known a number of vegans who quit because they thought being vegan limited their dating options too much. Strange, but true.

I’ve also known vegans who have quit because they suddenly found religion (someone explain that one to me, please) and others who felt that their lives had just become too stressful and hectic, either due to work or kids.

I’d like to invite comments on how other vegans deal with the social dynamics of being vegan in a non-vegan world.

I, myself, I’m married to a vegan. I can imagine being married to a non-vegan and theorize that I’m strong enough in my beliefs to stick with veganism, but that’s not the same as many of you out there who are living that one and encountering all the pitfalls.

Ok, but on a deeper level we all know that it’s true that if someone begins a relationship with a desire to change something about you, it’s probably not going to work out in the long run. People change, but the control issues don’t. So the person who says “You’d be perfect except for the vegan thing” probably is not a good bet. The person who says “huh? I’ve never met a vegan before. Why is that important to you” might have some hope.

Of course I’ve heard stories of married couples where one suddenly converted to veganism mid-relationship and they had to work out how to handle the differences. In some cases the other partner followed suit, if sometimes reluctantly. In other cases people might have a vegan household, but one spouse is pretty sure the other isn’t vegan at work.

The hardest aspect of the mixed relationship has to be knowing that you care deeply about animals and the environment and somehow your spouse just isn’t there. Maybe he or she just doesn’t really care about animals, or maybe they do, but they just aren’t getting it on some level. I dated non-vegans and I remember the frustration of realizing someone I cared about was fine with slicing and dicing a sentient creature that wanted very much to stay alive. But like I said, I married a vegan. We have enough disagreements anyway, because we don’t share a brain, but I love that he loves animals just as much (maybe more) than I do and that he loves my vegan cooking. I love that on Saturday I ran home from walking the dogs and told him I’d found a turtle who was in trouble but I was unable to reach and he rushed out to help me save the turtle, even though he’d just put in a long day at work (yes, on the weekend too).

Anyway, I had a very close friend in college who was vegetarian and into animal rights and bought vegetarian shoes, and I had hopes he’d eventually jump on the vegan bandwagon. Instead right after college he quit being vegetarian and went on a McDonald’s bender. His explanation: being vegetarian was limiting his dating options too much. And this is a guy who sat on the ground with me, tears in his eyes, after we broke into the back of the circus to photograph the elephants.

I’d like to tell everyone to be strong. If you ask someone out and they don’t like your veganism, then they clearly are not a good match for you. But I know human nature isn’t always so strong. So what are some strategies that get people through? Is this going to turn into another entry about figuring out who we really are and finding our bliss?

Do we need to urge vegans to try harder to be nice, friendly, and supportive of new vegans? Should we support “adopt a vegan” programs? Hey, if there’s a new vegan in my area who wants to get together and cook and hang out, I’m here.

I want people to like and accept me as much as anyone does. In fact sometimes when I think about it, it’s downright stupid how much I want people to like me. I have to keep repeating this mantra “Out of every 10 people I meet 2 might like me, 2 might hate me, but most won’t even notice me at all.” Maybe it helps.

Maybe it also helped that though the vast majority of people I meet aren’t vegan, most aren’t really that weird about it. There are always the ones who want to start fights, or make the same stupid cracks I’ve been hearing constantly since I was 16, but for the most part, people just ask questions. They ask questions because it’s strange to them, and some actually do want to understand, and some are just looking for a quick explanation. Maybe we really fear that this vegan thing will totally change everything in our lives, and then years on, looking back maybe it didn’t change things all that much after all.

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7 Comments »

  1. stonielove said,

    i very much enjoyed your thoughts, neva vegan! i also know a few people who quit being veggie due to lack of social support, and i agree with you that some forms for social support would encourage people to stay veggie 🙂

  2. Neva Vegan said,

    But how do we work the idea of social support? I felt like I was a good friend to many of my lapsed vegan buddies, but I wasn’t enough, or there were other factors. I guess dating is a huge thing too.

  3. Douglas said,

    When I met my now girlfriend I was not even close to Veggie….

    She saw something in me and almost 2 years later I am a “hardcore” he he, Vegan.

    Now, I could not imagine ever dating someone else who was not Vegan. The thought of even kissing someone who has cheese on their breath revolts me. I have no living beings in my body and would choose to be with someone who thinks on that same level of consciousness.

    Again, a great read. Sad about the guy who helped you out with the circus and then ate MCDonalds. I wish they would just close forever!!!!

  4. Neva Vegan said,

    Thanks Douglas, that’s a great story and something important to consider. If someone does have the capacity for compassion, if they’re a good and caring person in other ways, we shouldn’t rule them out. Because they might become a really dedicated vegan later. I guess most of us didn’t start out vegan, so there always has to be that moment we realize what we should be doing and start making changes.

  5. Anonymous said,

    uggh i’ve met a great great great guy (he cooks me vegan meals!) but he himself, is not vegan. he totally respects me for my beliefs but i’m having a hard time respecting him/his. is there a way to see if he would consider changing his diet without me coming across as an uptight, selfish jerk?

  6. tyler said,

    I’m in the same boat with the dating a non-vegan while I am vegan. I mostly am vegan due to environmental and social issues, not animal-rights. the ways that people continue the cycle is what disgusts me and I dont know how to date someone who does this. I dont expect her to love animals and need to be veggie, but at least cut the dairy out for health reasons. what do you do about that? I do want her to change, its crappy of me, but its true. I dont think its that big of a thing to ask for either. is that wrong of me? i respect her way of eating and I hope I would be respected for it grossing me out but isnt there a win/win situation here somewhere?

  7. Neva Vegan said,

    Hi anonymous and Tyler.

    First for anonymous, it sounds like you’re dating someone really caring. Maybe a visit to a sanctuary for animals rescued from farms would help him understand your viewpoint? If a vegan speaker comes to your area that might be an idea too. I think it’s sometimes hard to hear things from the people we’re closest to, because we want them to love us unconditionally. So he might not want to be pressured by you. But there are also some really good films that cover these issues. Also change is different for different people. Some of us gave up animal products one at a time, others becamse vegan overnight, so he might be thinking about these issues more than you know.

    But you also might want to ask yourself how you’d feel about it if he never became vegan? Would that be a deal breaker for you? Because it’s a sad thing to stay in a relationship just waiting for the other person to change.

    For Tyler, certainly being vegan is a huge benefit to the environment, and it’s a valid reason, though for me caring about animals is important too. Many people get motivated to change after visiting animals in a sanctuary.

    As I suggested for anonymous, you might ask yourself how you’ll handle it if your girlfriend never ever gives up milk? Is that a deal breaker for you or is it something you might not be thrilled about but can deal with?

    You might also try to see things from her view–are there other things that motivate her? You mention health, but maybe other factors matter more to her and that’s why you don’t reach her when you talk about health.

    I don’t think being vegan is all that difficult, but as I said above, I think it’s a tricky thing to ask someone we’re close to to change. Because they will hear it as a criticism and feel rejected somewhat.

    It might help to show her some videos or see a speaker, or if she cares about the environment, take her to visit some intensive farms and see the environmental damage, the run off, and the smell first hand.


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