I've been a vegetarian pretty much all of my life. Even as a kid, I cried if anyone tried to make me eat meat. By the time I was 12, my family gave up and I was allowed to drop meat from my menu -- though I still ate chicken occasionally, turkey on Thanksgiving Day, and fish. By the time I was 21, I dropped the turkey and chicken entirely. Now, I still eat fish once in a while but rarely (mostly sushi). That doesn't mean, however, that I've exclusively dated vegetarians. In fact, I've dated some meat lovers. Here are five ways I've made it work.
Don't try to convert -- at least not obviously. I wouldn't like being lectured about how I should eat meat for the iron and protein, so I don't lecture anyone about how they should become a vegetarian. In fact, when people ask me why I'm a vegetarian, I usually give the joke answer, "To annoy people." When I'm on dates, guys are usually polite enough to ask if I mind if they order meat. I always say no, even if I'm thinking of kissing him later.
Interestingly, my serious partners have become vegetarians -- with no prompting on my part. However, I expect the same from the meat eater. I don't want to hear that I look like I could use a little meat on my bones, or asked how can I resist a juicy burger. (Easily.) Nor do I want to be told that human beings were meant to eat meat (I could refute that). The non-lecturing has to go both ways.
Mutual respect. I expect meat eaters to respect my desire not only to not eat meat, but not prepare it. If a man I'm in a relationship with wants meatloaf for dinner, that's great. But I'm not making it. (I wouldn't know how anyway.) And if he's cooking dinner, I expect it to be something I can eat -- which means a non-meat meal. Nor am I cleaning up dishes full of greasy lardy meat. Cook your meat, eat your meat, clean your meat. I'll make salad, veggies, and dessert, and you are free to share.
Introduce the wonderful world of non-meat. I'm not going to play Meet Your Meat (a horrific video about where exactly your meat comes from) for anyone, but I will introduce a guy to meat alternatives if they're so inclined to try them. Most meat eaters are unaware that the meat alternatives these days taste great. There's meatless burgers, meatless chicken paddies, wings, and nuggets, and meatless sausage links that seem so much like meat they even have little gristly bits of something (tofu?) in them. In fact, once the guys I've dated have gotten a taste of meatless alternatives, they usually start buying them for themselves and make a transition away from meat. There's also amazing vegetarian restaurants these days. So many more alternatives than there used to be.
Family. It's helpful if, as a vegetarian, your partner takes it upon himself to explain to his family that you don't eat meat if you will be visiting with them. I don't think that the vegetarian who might be meeting the family for the first time should have to explain this upon arrival and possibly leave the family in the lurch for what they'd prepared for a meal. And the meat-eating partner should make sure that the family takes it seriously and understands what "vegetarian" really means. For some families, vegetarian is such a novel concept that they'll actually serve you chicken, apparently thinking this is a vegetable. Likewise, if your entire family is vegetarian but your honey just can't go a weekend without some bacon with his eggs, then alert your family. If they don't want to buy or cook bacon, bring some with you.
Children. Couples should discuss if the children will be brought up vegetarian or meat eaters before the kids are born. Both might have strong views on how it should be done. Once the child has arrived and is screeching for food, it's a little late to start the debate. Buy children's nutrition books and consult pediatricians so both parties can feel comfortable -- some compromise might be in order too.
Are you a vegetarian or a meat eater? How do you make it work in your relationship?
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