“SHIT. WOW. THAT IS LIKE SO MUCH PEANUT BUTTER.” I half-whispered half-shouted at my new boss Melissa. She was in the process of showing me around her vegan bakery that I had been recently employed at as a counter girl slash barista and I in turn was in the process of going through some sort of bodily shock at the cornucopia of vegan ingredients in bulk. I knocked over a ladle when she showed me the foot tall tub of dairy-free-organic-sweetened-with-beet-sugar ice cream in the freezer.
Before my first day at the bakery, I had just received my first tattoo, was growing out a hot pink fro, and had been a vegan for about 2 years. This desire to experience veganism was prompted by my exploration of Buddhism in which I had learned the importance and need to reduce harm to all beings. I was, as one might say – “coming into my own” – “my own” being a universe in which I was going to spend 40 hours a week getting to talk to some hot vegans while also eating hot vegan food. So dope, so so very dope I nodded at myself in the mirror after Melissa had shown me around. I tied my apron in the same way a Victorian queen must have placed her crown upon her head or like Beyonce doing anything. This would be the reign of me. (Not in the bakery just like in my life). I nodded at myself again.
Now I was legitimately employed. This was no part time babysitting gig or a twice a week work-study job. No, it was a job and I was here to work. But also to fall in love. The latter being a goal I visualized each time I walked in to work.
At this point I had been living in Brooklyn, NY for about three years and had yet to experience any truly romantic New York moments, AKA: a Boyfriend. Boyfriend with a capital B. I had grown up in a small Virginian suburb tucked away between the Blue Ridge Mountains and Washington D.C. and was – according to the 18-year-old me at the time of my departure – too different for anyone in that town. And so of course I would find said Boyfriend as many a quirky girl had before me, not just in New York City, nay, but in Brooklyn, New York. He would be tall, he would wear a beanie, he would draw silly but very well crafted illustrations to accompany my poetry, and perhaps he could be vegan. My Vegan Luv. And what better place to find him than at a vegan bakery?
There was no shortage of potential suitors. You see, when one entered the bakery one really had no knowledge that the cakes and cookies were vegan. The sandwiches that were advertised of course listed the vegan ingredients, but to the naked omnivore eye this bakery appeared as your average coffee shop. This was a win-win for me. Not only did it attract young men that had clearly sought out a cruelty-free spot to chill, but also young men that didn’t know what they had stepped into and could in turn perhaps be converted by yours truly.
I recall uncomfortably that moment when I was forced to ask the non-knowers what kind of milk they wanted. (Although it was a vegan bakery my boss would keep a small jug of whole milk for those customers that came in only for the coffee.) “Soy milk or Cow milk?” There is no cute way to say Cow Milk. Only those that have had to utter (hah) the question “Cow Milk?” in the middle of a flirtatious interaction will know how much of a buzz kill it is.
That summer, as I worked full time at the bakery, there were multiple regulars that came in daily. I was attracted to about 80% of them. The other 20% were married. That is not to say that married people cannot be attractive, but for the sake of finding Boyfriend, married wasn’t really a quality I was looking for.
I learned their orders, remembered their dog’s names, and had gentle hand touches when I gave them their locally brewed coffee. Oy the feelings I felt. I found myself getting extremely attached to Hairdresser Boy With Neck Tattoo and Hawaiian Man That Liked Vegan Biscuits and Gravy – even German Man With Newborn had my heart on a string. I knew them and we had special connections right?
So why then, were none of them asking me on dates? Why was I not the one they were buying a GF (that’s Gluten Free not to be confused with GIRLFRIEND which multiple other customers had mistaken it for) lemon lavender cupcake?
I became more and more frustrated. Since I had put so much pressure on trying to find The One, I was finding it difficult to enjoy basic interactions with others unless I saw some sort of Boyfriend Potential in them. I also had to accept that perhaps some of these guys were just being nice or flirtatious with me because I was giving them coffee.
In the frenzy of my expectations and my desire to meet my own expectations I had let go of simply being in the present moment – a huge focus and goal of Buddhism. If I wanted to enjoy my time in the bakery I had to accept that the attention that I would receive did not have to be romantic or sexual or even actually friendly at times for it to be a connection. I had to let go of what I thought was supposed to happen.
Months later, after I stopped working at the bakery to focus on my senior thesis, I did in fact meet a young gentleman. We met via my third story window one morning when I, full of anger at being woken up at 7 A.M. by construction on the new bar next to my apartment, rushed to the window to get sassy with whoever it was.
I threw the window open and hung halfway out. I opened my mouth, but stopped immediately. The noise was being made by a very attractive young man with glorious dreadlocks. I was smitten. I mustered up my courage.
Something really flirty like:
ME: WHAT ARE YOU MAKING?
HIM: A DOOR.
Contrary to what you might think, the conversation did get better as I came back to the window throughout the day to see how the door was coming along and of course to talk to him.
HIM: YOU USED TO WORK AT THAT BAKERY DIDN’T YOU? I USED TO COME IN THERE ALL THE TIME.
It all came back to me. He was Boy With Dreadlocks That Ordered Soy Milk While His Bros Ordered Cow Milk. I had never spoken to him when he came into the bakery and now here we were actually having a conversation NOT IN THE BAKERY.
We went on a date that night.
More personal essays in Voices: How I Finally Learned to Love
Also on love: 5 Tips to Meet and Attract People
Photo: Nancy L. Stockdale via Flickr