Climate change, environment, vegetarian. These are buzzwords Ruby keeps an eye out for when searching for potential matches on dating apps. In more than 10 years of looking for love online, the 35-year old from California has found such terms to be a gauge of someone's concern for the climate and global heating.
"To me, that signals that they're aware, they're interested and they're also taking concrete steps to address these issues," she said.
Ruby is not the only one with this priority. Dating services like OkCupid, Bumble and Tinder have noticed more and more of their users mentioning climate issues on their profiles — and have integrated features to help them connect with each other.
Environment badges, passions and questionnaires
On Bumble, a global platform that only allows women to make the first contact, users can add badges to their bios as as a way of aligning with different causes. In Germany and the UK, "environmentalism" was the most popular among them in 2021.
People swiping 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 says that "climate protection" was one of the most mentioned phrases on German Gen Z members' bios last year. Meanwhile veganism and vegetarianism were heavily featured on young Brazilians' profiles.
Another leading dating platform, OkCupid, targets daters in more than 100 countries using questionnaires to measure compatibility. The company says that when asked "which cause is most important to you?", most users gave the environment as their top answer this year, ahead even of world peace. Earlier this month, OKCupid said it had registered a 368% increase in references to climate change or the environment on members’ profiles compared to five years ago.
In keeping with that 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 visible marker at the top of a profile immediately identifies the user as someone concerned with the climate. The feature also includes a function that allows users to exclusively swipe through potential matches who are so-called advocates.
When it was introduced last year nearly 400,000 people used the badge. 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."
Climate advocacy or virtue signaling?
Ruby is one of the hundreds of thousands who has added the badge and regards it as a useful way to find like-minded people on OkCupid. But she stresses that nothing substitutes the deeper conversations that come after the initial profile scan. As a vegan, she might have a different idea of what it means to put climate action into practice than other daters using the feature.
"Sometimes it almost seems like just another clout seeking label," she said. "In this progressive space on the left, there is a lot of competition to be as good as possible."
That is exactly why Max, a 23-year old from Berlin, Germany, refuses to use the badge, even though climate consciousness is important to him in a romantic match.
"It’s nothing more than virtue signaling," he said. "Both for people on the app and for the app itself. It’s just another reason to pat themselves on the back without really doing anything."
In response to such criticism, OkCupid told DW it had donated $20,000 (€19,000) this year and $25,000 in 2021 to the non-profit Earth Day Initiative as part of its climate change advocacy feature. Match Group Inc., which owns OkCupid and Tinder, made $852 million in operating income last year.
Cal, a 25-year old from the northern English city of Leeds, understands others' reservations. Though he grapples 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 stance at the top of their profile.
"For me and quite a lot of other people, that's a pretty big deal breaker," he said. "I personally want to date people that share the same opinions as me about climate change which we need to do something about urgently."
Climate stance as a litmus test
Even without the badge, Cal says he tends to gravitate towards apps where he can filter people out based on climate questions as it avoids uncomfortable surprises in the future. And because it is an indicator of other issues on which he and his match might not see eye to eye.
That is also the experience of 33-year-old Nora. Though she is now no longer on OkCupid, when she lived in the rural US state of Montana, she used to filter 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 that climate change is real, that to me is like a cascade indicator of things that they also won't care about or value," she said.
Back in California, Ruby can relate. She wants to avoid interactions that detract from the main objective of dating apps: forming connections.
"If I have to convince someone why they should care about the environment, why they should take steps to address their personal contributions to harm reduction, that's time that I'm not spending bonding with them," she said. "While that is important work, it’s also emotional work."
Edited by: Tamsin Walker