It began with a text:
How about Giorgio’s, Friday 9pm?
Before I could reply to William OKC—the last name prescribed specifically to remind myself that I had just met this particular gentleman on OK Cupid—I first had to dash to my computer and look up the restaurant on Yelp. I’d walked by Giorgio’s plenty of times on my way home from friends’ apartments, but as it was Italian—and I had more than once witnessed a waiter in a crisp white shirt walking about the patio with an imposing block of Parmesan cheese in hand—I highly doubted the place was vegan-friendly. And the very last thing I wanted was for William OKC to think that I’m a “picky” eater, and thus a “picky” potential girlfriend. Picky meant high-maintenance. And that meant spinsterhood.
As a vegan, first dates are tricky. Every week a new study comes out saying that first impressions can make or break a job interview, and as Carrie Bradshaw taught us all, dates are just interviews with cocktails. While I had mentioned in one of my messages to William OKC that I was a vegan, it had been a purposely off-the-cuff remark, such as “I grew up in Pasadena” or “I love David Sedaris.” My veganism was just a part of who I was; I didn’t want my food habits to dictate my identity. Perhaps, I realized as I scrolled through Giorgio’s menu, my off-the-cuff remark had been a little too off-the-cuff and was now lying ignored on the floor: there was not a single thing I could eat at the restaurant.
As my mother liked to remind me in her best impression of The Wire, dating was all about how you played the game. It was, however, also about etiquette. I appreciated that William OKC was taking the initiative to find a restaurant and plan an actual date, since all our planning had been vague up to that point. With online dating, flirtation took precedence over specifics. And so I knew he was an avid fan of The Twilight Zone, and that he had once challenged his younger brother to a hotdog-eating contest and won, but didn’t know his full name or when – or where—we would meet.
I worried about telling William OKC that while Giorgio’s spaghetti and bison meatballs sounded delicious and the smoked salmon fettuccini alfredo looked positively decadent, I couldn’t actually eat anything there. With friends in similar situations I just nibbled on a heavily modified side salad. But that was when I was out with friends, people who knew me as me and wouldn’t judge when I pulled out a granola bar on our walk home. I didn’t want to be that “weird” girl from OKCupid who only ate a side salad. I wanted a real meal.
“Errrr,” I texted back, forcibly stopping myself from using any Emoji, “while Giorgio’s sounds great, there’s not a lot for vegans. What about Yuno Sushi?” Yuno had a sweet potato roll I dreamed about. Like an online dating boss I was engaging him and offering a solution while also gently reminding him that I was vegan. Nonetheless, I worried that my dating gambit was making me look difficult before we’d even met. And it’s not just me: My friends, smart women all, know that if your potential beloved isn’t accepting of your dietary restrictions, then it’s time to move on. Still, one girlfriend of mine simply lies and claims she’s lactose intolerant rather than deal with the ‘stigma’ of being a ‘picky’ eater. After all, lactose intolerance isn’t a choice, while veganism is. I can’t tell you the number of times my meat-eating friends have apologized whenever they order a burger or chicken wing at a restaurant with me. No one apologizes for eating ice cream in front of someone who is lactose intolerant. Their apologies, while well meaning, make me all the more uncomfortable. In the end, the apologies highlight the fact that I’m different, and possibly difficult—that I can’t always go along with the crowd.
“You’re vegan but you eat fish?” William OKC replied. (The boy had a lot to learn about sushi, and veganism in general.) Nonetheless, William OKC agreed to the new venue. When we met, he still had those darling dimples and sweet smile I had so admired on his online profile, but his humor seemed more cruel than witty. While I had giggled at many of his texted acerbic remarks, in person it became painfully obvious that those comments went hand-in-hand with one very negative individual. Puppy-dog brown eyes or not, William OKC was in spirit more of a bulldog. Hopefully he’s now dining at Giorgio’s with a girl, splitting that spaghetti and bison meatballs like the cute dogs in Lady and the Tramp.
Some months later, I found a boy who does not make me feel bad about the way I eat. We’re the Yin and Yang of the nutrition spectrum—Boyfriend, a Wisconsin boy, eats primarily red meat, cheese, white bread, cheese, and did I mention cheese? He hates the taste of tomatoes and most fruits. On one of our first dates, he ate a few bites of raw kale in order to avoid looking like a picky eater (I later learned he heavily dislikes kale). Though eating raw veggies may not be the first thing that you’d think of as romantic gesture, I understand and appreciate his sacrifice, and love him all the more for it. He’s a sweetheart, and we both influence each other in positive directions. Boyfriend can’t help but experience more fruits and vegetables when around me, and he has taught me so much about self-confidence, acceptance, and love. I don’t lecture him on his food choices, and he doesn’t lecture me on mine. We’re alike in the ways that matter. We love and support each other. And in the end, it’s these types of nurturing relationships, more than any food, that really feed us.
Photo: Courtney Carmondy