Religion and social status have always been deal breakers in relationships. But for those navigating today's dating pool, the currents may just have gotten rougher. No longer is it enough to share an interest in piña colada or getting caught in the rain—today's singles want to know whether potential partners are fit and how often they work out, among other personal details. And then there's the friction between vegans and vegetarians.
It might sound counterintuitive; after all, neither group eats meat. But for many vegans—who also eschew animal products like the dairy and eggs eaten by vegetarians—love may not be enough to conquer ideology. "I'm in a relationship with a murderer," bemoans Carl, one of many vegans who wrote in to the "Vegan Freak" podcast for romantic advice. Carl, who didn't give his last name, says his girlfriend is a regular vegetarian, and their differences are becoming a major source of tension. In the vegan world that's not an uncommon dilemma. Bob Torres, one of the show's hosts, says that dating and relationships are two of the most popular topics on the podcast, which deals with all things vegan.
Vegans are hardly the only partner-seekers with health concerns. Online dating site Match.com has noted a steady rise in interest in the topic among its 15 million members. In 2004 about 15 percent of its members said they exercised regularly. Among today's members, about 43 percent say they exercise three to four times each week. That's more people declaring their devotion to exercise than declaring their religion on the Web site. Food has also become a concern; just under half the site's members want their partner to have a healthy diet, compared to 12 percent three years ago. And these are issues that relationship counselor Ian Kerner, who works with the site, thinks can cause more serious conflict in relationships than political or philosophical differences. "I think people can get past a lot of intellectual debates, because that's what makes opposites attract," he says. But getting past a fitness fanatic/couch potato clash? "I can't tell you how many times I hear people breaking up over things like this," says Kerner. "It's a lot about sharing values, about how they spend their time. It's both scheduling conflicts and different value systems."
Vegans and vegetarians can get caught in worse dating dilemmas. For many vegetarians and almost all vegans, their distaste for meat runs much deeper than their taste buds; it's an outward expression of their ethical and moral beliefs about animal cruelty and responsible living. Take John Cunningham, who lives in Baltimore. "If I don't have to contribute to cruelty in society and this world, I would like to abstain from that," he says. He's been a vegan since 2001, and he married his long-term girlfriend (a vegetarian) this past summer. He understands the critical role veganism can play in dating and relationships. "If someone is going to make such a large change in the way they eat, the motivation behind that has to be serious," he says. "That can't be taken causally when entering into a relationship."
Not surprisingly, a number of niche dating sites have popped up to respond to veggie dating demands. Vegan Passions, Veggie Fishing and Planet Earth Singles are all sites that cater to environmentally conscious daters. Planet Earth Singles launched in April (fittingly, on Earth Day) and already boosts 23,000 eco-friendly members, many of whom are among the nation's 1.4 million vegans or 4.7 million vegetarians. "If somebody is for the environmental movement, they want to support it on all levels, even in their relationships," says Jill Crosby, the founder of Planet Earth Singles.
But it still ain't easy dating green. While these niche sites do boost memberships in the thousands, they're nowhere near the size of dating goliaths like Match.com or eHarmony, and no site has come along to unify vegans the way JDate has done for Jewish singles. "I know it sounds corny," says Paul Williams, a 35-year-old vegetarian in Atlantic City, N.J. "But basically I want to date someone with a good heart that can understand why I've chosen to be a vegetarian." Finding a woman to share tofu for two is even tougher when you're not near large urban centers that have an established vegetarian community and the restaurants and bookstores that often go with it. "It's very difficult," says Williams of finding a vegetarian mate. "I go to all the generic Web sites, like MySpace and Plenty of Fish, and I was a paid member of eHarmony for a bit. They rarely matched me up with any vegetarians."
Still, fairy-tale vegan romance can be found. Vegan Freak host Bob Torres shares his podcast duties with his wife and co-host, Jenna Torres. The couple met at Penn State and both now teach at St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y. They've been married for nine years and vegan for three. They're not the only ones; Bob and Jenna say they have seen successful relationships start among vegans who frequent the forums at their Vegan Freak Web site. "It's something we really bond over and do together," says Bob. Of course, even vegan couples may not be able to avoid the standard relationship squabbles over who's cooking and who's scrubbing dishes, but for the lucky ones, dinner is love at first bite.