I lost friends when I went vegan
I remember losing one of my closest friends when she decided to have lunch with a different social circle in high school. They were too cool to respect the “no outside food or drinks” policy, laughed at others, and never returned to class on time. Most kids envied their no-fucks-given attitude, but I remember just being jealous of the way they stuck together. The clique dynamic that meant never spending the lunch hour alone fascinated me, but the part where they supported each other’s bad habits scared me.
Selfishly, I thought going vegan would give me the right kind of clique that high school didn’t. And I thought that losing non-vegan friends was mandatory for achieving that.
First, I figured that the people who shared the views I did were going to link arms and take on the world with me. I thought that as long as I had veganism in common with people, there would always be meet ups, events, and those long, drawn-out-over-drinks conversations that I crave. It wouldn’t matter if I was trendy, the same age, or any other frivolous detail of my personhood. I’m vegan, you’re vegan, we’re friends now.
On the other side of things, I expected to drift apart from non-vegans when I sat out on plans to meet for Korean barbecue. I braced myself for the people who wouldn’t share invites, and for not wanting to go when they did. Even the people who knew me longest would gift cash in fear of not getting “it” right when shopping. I get it – I had changed and change is hard for a lot of people, even when they love us. Some relationships ended over my need to express my feelings on veganism, and the ones that stuck around had to adapt. Not being able to let non-vegan actions casually go would shape a lot of my interactions, eventually for the better.
But veganism can be an easy starting point when you meet someone new. You might exchange how long you’ve been vegan for, or your reasoning behind it. That great new restaurant that just opened will come up, and you’ll write down the website where you got your vegan bag for them. It’s great, honestly, because you feel like they get it. But getting ‘it’ won’t always mean getting you. It’s not unlike shared experiences of religion, professions, or boy bands.
Vegans are still introverted and extroverted, selfish and considerate. As many as there are that are passionate and outgoing, there are those that are guarded and untrustworthy. We’re a mixed bag because veganism isn’t about people, how they dress, what they eat, or what they do in their spare time. It affects all those things, but still doesn’t dictate how people are. You can count on another vegan to never exploit animals, but that’s where your guaranteed similarities end.
I think that’s why so many vegans struggle to have vegan friends: it’s hard to make friends in general. Even as more people take to veganism, and the lifestyle associated with it finds mainstream, it doesn’t change us enough to make promises about our social lives or circles. It’s not the dramatized revealing of a butterfly bursting from it’s cocoon that the media often depicts it as. Yesterday you weren’t vegan, today you are. And unless an animal driven industry was your whole world, you’re the same.
You’ll find that you often end up talking more about veganism with the people in your life who don’t get it than the ones that do. But often, it’s the one’s confident enough to stick to their ethics despite what the clique around them does that makes waves. Your friends will insist you take them to try that new vegan burger, and they’ll proudly show off their vegan leather bags. You’re working on making your friends vegan, instead of making vegan friends. After all, you want what’s best for them.
Soon, making friends and keeping friends won’t just be about mastering awkward social situations you can and cannot bare. It’ll be about the connections you can’t fake and helping one and other improve. You’ll no sooner expect someone to glue themselves to your side because you’re vegan than you would expect someone to go running in other direction because of it. But you’ll gravitate towards vegans, and vegans will gravitate towards you.
You’ll always have a hard time making new friends who aren’t vegan, though. You won’t be able to get past what they participate in because it’s no longer an option for you. Being against exploitation and violence isn’t popular, and as long as that’s not the norm, it won’t be the sort of thing that wins you Facebook friends. But when you care about sparing the innocent lives of those unnecessarily used, you’ll see the people who care about you starting to pay attention too, or drop away. It may cause rifts, or periods of time when you feel like you’re on your own, but you know better.
Because when you go vegan, who you’re friends with will change for the better even if the number of people you hold dear never increases. You might meet people with the same perspectives of you and not form strong bonds because of it. Since veganism isn’t about you, how people decide to treat you for being vegan isn’t about you either. Just as you might thin out your friend’s list when someone supports Trump’s latest racist rant, you might unfriend someone for sharing their animal-heavy dinner. It’s all part of the process, and at the end of it, you’ll have surrounded yourself with the type of people who offer positive challenges to you. It won’t be the fickle high school kind of friendship that irks you on to be a certain way to fit in, it’ll exist alongside you.
Going vegan will cost you some friends and going vegan will help you create new ones, but it will always mean being a friend to animals.