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L.A. Affairs: He was emotionally available. But also, vegan

Behind their backs, a woman holds a bouquet of meat and a man holds a bouquet of veggies.
(Queenbe Monyei / For The Times)

On my third date with Michael, I tried to push him away. “You know,” I said, keeping my tone casual, “I eat all kinds of animal parts.” I went into great detail about my love of all things meat, including crunching on the tips of fried pig ears, sucking the marrow out of perfectly pressure-cooked cow bones, and sipping on the juice of boiled crab fat, known as tomalley.

Michael looked like he was about to be sick. He excused himself to go to the restroom. I stared at the menu without really reading it.

Michael is a vegan. He gave up eating meat because of his love for animals. I love animals too, but I love eating meat more: rib-eye steak, Filipino lechon kawali (deep-fried pork belly), crispy, fatty bacon.

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I was born into a Filipino family of avid meat eaters. From my mom’s side, I inherited my fondness for pig’s trotters (feet). As for the relatives on my dad’s side, I doubt that they have ever encountered an all-you-can-eat buffet they didn’t want to try. Eating is our No. 1 family bonding activity.

It’s not just the feasting together that connects us. It’s the beforehand anticipation and chatter. Where will we eat together? What will we eat together?

Which is why, as I watched Michael head back to the table that night, the biggest question in my head wasn’t, “Are you a drug dealer or a child-sex-traffic ringleader?” (Believe it or not, I had been forced to ask another date that when he told me he’d done time in prison. “Not to worry,” he’d said, “it wasn’t for murder.” That was our first and final date.)

No, the biggest question I had for Michael was, “What can we eat together?”

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The truth was, I was drawn to Michael, but not in the usual surface ways I was initially pulled in by men. Already, I knew we had a lot in common. Both of us hated small talk, yet our conversations together lasted for hours. Michael was a movie trailer editor in Hollywood. I was an actor and writer trying to make it in Hollywood. We were both spiritual, not religious. He had a therapist and an acupuncturist. I had a therapist and more than one type of healer. In a city where there was always someone either clearing their chakras or sharing at a 12-step meeting, we both had been “working on ourselves” for years.

Unlike most of the men I’d dated in Los Angeles — where nearly everyone I knew was aspiring and waiting for their careers to take off before they would even consider settling down — I could sense that Michael was ready for a committed relationship. And, more important, he was emotionally available for one.

If only he weren’t vegan.

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Later that night, as Michael drove me home, I flung open the passenger door before he’d even stopped the car outside my apartment in the Fairfax District. “Thank you!” I waved awkwardly before fleeing. If only I’d sprinted away this fast instead of dating that still-recovering sex addict, or wasting my time being sad over the guy who warned me immediately after hooking up that I shouldn’t expect anything from him because he was a clinically diagnosed narcissist.

It wasn’t until I’d made it safely into my apartment and sat down in my living room that I was forced to face the uncomfortable feelings that had been bubbling through my body all night: abject terror.

This was not because Michael ate only plant-based foods, even though food compatibility was important to me. It was because getting involved with unavailable men had been my specialty for years. As much as I hated the heartbreak, there was an unhealthy familiarity to these inevitable endings that I clung to. It was one of the reasons I’d been doing deep healing work on myself.

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Michael wasn’t triggering any red flags. He was doing the opposite. Around him, I felt safe, relaxed and free to be fully me. What if we ended up in a loving, committed relationship? Now that was really frightening.

Except that maybe it wasn’t. Maybe I just had to be brave enough to break my relationship pattern and risk opening myself up for once to the possibility of healthy, lasting love.

I texted Michael. Sorry for bailing so fast. I got scared in a good way.

Later that week, Michael took me to a small-plate-style restaurant in DTLA where he dined on roasted cauliflower, fries and charred broccoli. I contentedly dined on those fried pig-ear tips that I love so much.

On our next date, we ate at Café Gratitude in Larchmont. The vegan food proved so delicious I forgot to miss the meat.

At Shojin, a restaurant in Culver City that specializes in plant-based sushi, Michael and I held hands as we dived into a fish-free roll.

Nine years later, I’m now eating way more vegetables than I used to, and Michael has become a plant-based foodie — whereas before he dined on defrost-in-the-oven Gardein, we now love finding places such as Crossroads Kitchen on Melrose and Plant Food + Wine in Venice to try. At my family gatherings, you can now find vegan dishes on the table.

I won’t say our marriage is tension-free when it comes to our eating preferences. I still sometimes wish Michael was a carnivore. There are so many meat-heavy cuisines and restaurants in Los Angeles that we could enjoy together. I confessed this desire once, and Michael replied, “Well, I for one would be ecstatic if you became a vegan!” (I tried. I lasted less than a month.)

But, in the end, none of that really matters — not when you have two people who love each other and are right for each other in the ways that matter the most.

The author is a Los Angeles-based writer working on a memoir. She is on Instagram at @diahannreyeslane.

L.A. Affairs chronicles the search for romantic love in all its glorious expressions in the L.A. area, and we want to hear your true story. We pay $300 for a published essay. Email LAAffairs@latimes.com. You can find submission guidelines here. You can find past columns here.


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