Introducing your family to someone you’re dating is never simple. It’s natural to be nervous when you’re not sure if your family will hit it off with someone who’s made it far enough to warrant meeting the folks.
And while some families have a live and let live philosophy even when they don’t click with someone, other families (or just certain family members) are set in their ways of thinking. So if you’re from a family of avowed hunters or just really enjoys a meat-and-potatoes lifestyle, you may worry about introducing them to the vegan person you’re dating.
While you can’t control your family if they want to be intolerant or make jokes, there are some things you can do to pave a smoother path when the time comes to let your parents know that you’re dating a vegan.
While choosing not to consume animal products is a commitment often held by people who believe it strongly, veganism is just one part of a whole person. Being vegan isn’t a personality unto itself—though you may meet people who treat it that way, if you’re not vegan you’re unlikely to date an ultra hardcore vegan long enough to introduce them to your family—so you can find plenty of other details to share with your family.
Your vegan boyfriend or girlfriend may like the same basketball team as your parents, or they may find they have taste in books or movies in common. As in all aspects of life, starting from points of similarity rather than points of difference can give a brighter outlook to a potential relationship.
If possible, have your family meet your new vegan boyfriend or girlfriend in public for the first time. No, there’s no meat eater versus vegetarian brawl to worry about. Meeting someplace like a restaurant for the first time takes the pressure off of everyone involved to be a “good” host or guest.
While many vegans will bring their own food — and usually enough to share — this has the potential to send the wrong message if you’re from a household where Mom’s cooking is revered. Likewise, having your dad turn up his nose at tofu when your new love is cooking isn’t a recipe for a harmonious evening. Going to a restaurant allows everyone to order what they’d like without fear of offending. It also lets your family see that vegan food isn’t mysterious or strange.
If the vegan person you’re dating can’t tolerate meat being eaten around them, try to find a different activity for you all to take part in where food doesn’t take center stage. Just as your vegan partner isn’t excited about being surrounded by meat, your meat-eating family may not love the idea of going out of their comfort zone to a vegan restaurant, either.
If you give your family the impression that you think veganism isn’t a choice worthy of respect, you’re opening the door for your parents to dismiss your new partner’s lifestyle out of hand. You don’t need to swing the pendulum completely and turn into a hardcore animal rights activist if that’s not authentic.
But be wary of making jokes about veganism or somehow trying to apologize for your new love’s ethical decisions. It may feel like you’re avoiding tension by making comments to signal to your parents that you’re still a meat lover who doesn’t understand their partner’s choices, but by doing so you’re tacitly giving your family permission to dismiss your partner’s beliefs out of hand.
Keep Your Cool: Veganism is Normal
Regardless of how earth-shattering your family might find it to have a vegan in their midst, it really isn’t that uncommon — and it’s becoming more and more mainstream every day. Drama begets drama. If you, your partner, or your parents bring big emotional energy to the situation, things are likely to continue on that path.
Keeping your emotions on even keel not only sets the tone; it also disarms any arguments your parents might try to set in motion. It’s hard to argue with someone who doesn’t argue back. Your mantra should be “I respect your values and I respect theirs, too.” Let your family know that your relationship and emotions aren’t part of any kind of a competition and that no one can win or lose in this scenario.
Treat veganism as normal because it is normal. There may be a little less on the menu, but we no longer live in a world where a vegan has zero options at a restaurant on a given night. While veganism might not always be convenient, it is normal.
But if it doesn’t strike you as normal—and if you’re wondering how to break it to your parents, maybe it doesn’t—ask yourself if this is the right relationship for you. For a person who loves to learn and loves to get to know how people tick, dating a vegan can be great.
But if after dating a vegan for a time you still don’t understand why they live the way they do, pay attention to that. There’s no need to cast one system of beliefs as right or wrong (though the basis of veganism itself is a very clear drawn line of right and wrong).
If you’re dating someone, the time has come for them to meet your parents, and you’re still not comfortable with their eating philosophy, they may not be the person for you. If, however, you know you’ve met the perfect person for you and you just need some help translating, keep this in mind: your family wants you to be happy, even if they don’t understand why someone they see as different could make you happy.
You’re not obligated to explain why you do or don’t believe in veganism, or to sell your partner’s beliefs as valid. All you need to do is to be confident in your own beliefs and to respect your partner’s.