Swiping Right on Climate Love: Dating Apps and Environmental Advocacy | Environment | All topics from climate change to conservation | DW
Climate change, environment, vegetarian. These are buzzwords that Ruby watches for when looking for potential matches on dating apps. In more than 10 years of searching for love online, the 35-year-old Californian has found the terms to be an indicator of someone’s concern for the climate and global warming.
“To me, that indicates that they are aware, they are interested and also taking concrete steps to address these issues,” she said.
Ruby isn’t the only one with this priority. Dating services like OkCupid, Bumble and Tinder have noticed more and more of their users mentioning weather issues on their profiles – and have incorporated features to help them connect with each other.
Environment badges, passions and questionnaires
On Bumble, a global platform that only allows women to make first contact, users can add badges to their bios to align themselves with different causes. In Germany and the UK, “environmentalism” was the most popular of them in 2021.
People who swipe on Tinder, a household name even for those who don’t date online, can choose the environment or Fridays for Future from a list of passions. The company said that “climate protection” was one of the most mentioned phrases on the bios of German Gen Zers last year. During this time, veganism and vegetarianism were very present among young people Profiles of Brazilians.
Climate protection was one of the most mentioned topics among Gen Z Tinder users in Germany last year
Another leading dating platform, OkCupid, targets daters in over 100 countries using questionnaires to measure compatibility. The company said that to the question “which cause is most important to you?”, most users gave the environment as their first answer this year, even ahead of world peace. Earlier this month, OKCupid said it saw a 368% increase in references to climate change or the environment on member profiles compared to five years ago.
In line with this trend, the company has temporarily reinstated its climate change advocate badge, which was first rolled out in 2021 and is only available for April, Earth Month. The marker visible at the top of a profile immediately identifies the user as a climate-affected person. The feature also includes a feature that allows users to exclusively browse potential matches who are so-called defenders.
When it was introduced last year, nearly 400,000 people used it. This time around, more than half a million have added it to their profiles, an OKCupid spokesperson told DW. The company doesn’t disclose how many users it has overall, but says it caters to “millions and millions of daters around the world.”
More than half a million users have added the climate change advocate badge to their profiles, according to OkCupid
Plea for the climate or sign of virtue?
Ruby is one of hundreds of thousands who have added the badge and consider it a useful way to find like-minded people on OkCupid. But she stresses that there is no substitute for the deeper conversations that follow the initial profile analysis. As a vegan, she might have a different idea of what it means to practice climate action than other daters using the feature.
“Sometimes it almost feels like another label looking for influence,” she said. “In this progressive space on the left, there’s a lot of competition to be as good as you can be.”
This is exactly why Max, a 23-year-old Berliner, refuses to use the badge, even though climate awareness is important to him in a romance match.
“It’s nothing more than a signal of virtue,” he said. “Both for app users and for the app itself. It’s just another reason to congratulate yourself without actually doing anything.”
In response to such criticism, OkCupid told DW that it has donated $20,000 (€19,000) this year and $25,000 in 2021 to the nonprofit Earth Day initiative as part of its advocacy function on climate change. Match Group Inc., which owns OkCupid and Tinder, made $852 million in operating profit last year.
Cal, a 25-year-old from the city of Leeds in northern England, understands other people’s reservations. Although he struggles with the name of the climate change advocate badge – “it sounds like you love climate change” – he likes how it clearly identifies a user’s position at the top of his profile.
“For me and for a lot of other people, it’s a big deal,” he said. “I personally want to date like-minded people on climate change that we need to do something about urgently.”
The climate position as a litmus test
Even without the badge, Cal says he tends to turn to apps where he can screen people based on weather issues, as it avoids nasty surprises in the future. And because it’s an indicator of other issues he and his partner might disagree on.
This is also the experience of Nora, 33 years old. Although she’s no longer on OkCupid, when she lived in the rural US state of Montana, she used to screen potential matches based on their opinion on climate change. It became almost like a litmus test for ideological compatibility.
“If a person doesn’t believe climate change is real, that to me is like a cascading indicator of things that they also won’t care about or appreciate,” she said.
Back in California, Ruby can understand. She wants to avoid interactions that distract from the main purpose of dating apps: bonding.
“If I have to convince someone why they should care about the environment, why they should take action to meet their personal contributions to harm reduction, that’s time I’m not spending bonding with him,” she said. “While it’s important work, it’s also emotional work.”
Edited by: Tamsin Walker