The last time I was kissed passionately, the man in question broke off to tell me that he was passionate about climate change. Then we got into a tussle about Joe Biden’s appalling voting record when it comes to black America. He exclaimed “fake news!” By that point I didn’t care. It was super hot. But possibly only because he was… (I’m confused).
“In politics, love is a stranger,” was the philosopher Hannah Arendt’s view —but right now it would seem politics is essential when it comes to loving strangers. Anecdotally, every single person I know who’s dating in London — plus hordes I do not — note that a subtle political filter has been applied to the profiles they’re flicking through. The stats are in: according to the latest figures handed to me by OKCupid, 91 per cent of its users believe it’s important to stay informed about politics, 81 per cent voted in the last election, and 73 per cent think politics has an impact on their everyday life. A grand total of 2.7 million people said they “could not date someone who has strong political opinions that are the opposite of theirs”.
While the coronavirus pandemic rages and protests spread across the globe, this politicisation of dating apps is infecting everything. Many a lovely looking lad/y will now include the direction “swipe left if you’re Right-wing” or respond to questions such as “what’s your ultimate turn-on?” with answers such as “the Labour Party”.
On Hinge, you’ll often find a person’s political persuasion listed beneath their full name, position at work, alma mater and religion. On Bumble, many flaunt pictures of themselves on BLM protests to peacock their potential as partners. Enthusiasm for feminism, Extinction Rebellion and ethical values are London’s top turn-ons, and there are not one but two apps catering specifically for vegans. On Grazer, one such app, men are known to eschew emojis in favour of posing with aubergines, and another brandished a handwritten sign on his profile with the call to action: “Eat p**** not animals.’’ Mr Right? Possibly. Mr Right-On. Definitely.
The most blatant indication of political credentials I’ve ever seen was the dude who had Nick Clegg’s arm draped over his shoulder. But if there’s one thing I’ll never try it’s Lib Dems. My friend Charlotte quit dating apps altogether after she found so many boys ‘‘treated my right-wing persuasion as if it was chlamydia”. On Hinge, she even found a man who listed “bloodletting the bourgeoisie” as his principal hobby.
Some signifiers are more covert, however. Cycling vests scream Corbyn voter. “If he’s wearing red trousers he’s using that as code for dyed in the wool Tory,” reveals another of my friends, who used to work in the dating app industry, adding: ‘‘They would get little interaction, which is weird because the app was quite mixed politically, but I think it was just the pointedness of it.’’
All this would seem to suggest that the millennial dating scene in London skews hard to the Left, but appearances may be deceptive. Politicised daters seem to fall into three camps: the earnest, the virtue signallers and the “woke-fishers”. The latter take their technique from catfishers — who use fake photos to trick people into romancing.
Wokefishing is a term used to describe when people pretend to be progressive to win a date when in reality they aren’t fussed, or — worse — are flat out lying. George Burgess, of The Intro, tells me that “those who say they are Right-wing are 2.5 times more likely to hide their political views on their profile than those who lean Left”. Certainly, lotharios can be cunning — I know of one chap who put his beloved Vote Leave poster up on the inside of his wardrobe door so he could push it shut and conceal his peccadillo when necessary. Laurence Fox is, perhaps, the anti-woke male’s pin-up of choice and illustrates why woke-fishers may resort to such nefarious behaviour: after his rant on Question Time last year the actor was dumped by his half-Kuwaiti girlfriend, Sara McKinnon.
But not everyone who’s anti-woke conceals the fact. Some are out and proud. TikTok star Meggie Foster sends me a screenshot of a silver fox she stumbled across on Hinge who answers the prompt “You should *not* go out with me” with “if you’re politically correct, woke, vegan or any other form of loon”. For anyone exhausted by their dates pretending to be something they are not, this just strikes me as refreshing. If only everyone was honest — what colossal amounts of time, hope and emotion would be saved. (Fox later admitted that he’d once dumped a girl because “we were walking down the road and she was talking about how good the Gillette advert was. I just looked at her and went, ‘Bye. Sorry.’”)
If the politicisation of dating apps has reached epidemic proportions, the contagion has been spreading stealthily since before Grindr was invented (in the dark ages of 2009). Still, 2016 seems to have marked an inflection point. That year, shock polls — first Brexit, then Trump — signalled how polarised and personal our politics had become. We no longer “agreed to disagree”. In America, anyone who wore a pink p**** hat to the women’s march must maintain constant vigilance against accidentally sleeping with someone who secretly owns a Maga cap.
Over here, the slogan “never kissed a Tory” became so popular you can buy it on T-shirts, badges, mugs and an embroidery kit. Here, Remain and Leave have been at it like the Montagues and Capulets. Lucky old Romeo and Juliet, born before free elections and too young to vote. According to eHarmony (which, like OKCupid, requires all its users to fill in a questionnaire), “Brexit was named as a key factor in 1.6m people ending their relationship”. Though party loyalties are dividing lines too. When co-founding his matchmaking platform Mai Tai, founder Shar Fuller built in a function whereby members can select three deal-breakers to dismiss potential partners sight unseen. “Someone who voted Tory” was chosen by a startling 60 per cent.
When I asked why, a representative and (anonymous) cacophony of voices explained: “Privileged men tend to annoy me”; “racial equality is important so I’d want to be with someone who considers themselves to be a social activist”, and “it’s nice being with someone who can hold an intelligent conversation”. Ouch.
But our fondness for dating progressives is regressive, according to Nichi Hodgson, author of The Curious History of Dating. “Up until the 19th century, people only dated in their social and political groups,” she explains. “WT Stead’s Marriage Ring dating agency believed only people of the same class and persuasions should be matched.”
Still, some daters are resisting the political revolution. “My great-aunt Mavis said never talk about sex, religion or politics at the dinner table,” says my mate Anna Maconochie, author of Only The Visible Can Vanish. “Getting to know someone on a first date should be fun and light-hearted. You can learn a lot about someone that doesn’t involve their political identity. Where’s the banter? The flirting? When did we all get so self-obsessed and intolerant?’
Not to mention, more and more of us think our dating culture needs the return of some humanity. Heterosexual women, especially, often feel as if men think we’re offering a smart prostitution service (like Uber for sex, but better because no one has to pay for the ride). As Kate, the 32-year-old Instagrammer behind the ThirtysomethingSingle account puts it, “When you’re sitting at home swiping you can feel really alone. I post many of the rude messages women receive to show there’s a wider issue of patriarchy at play. There is power and solidarity in being able to laugh at it at least.”
So if politicisation means dating app use starts to result in meaningful moments between people with actual feelings, personally I’m all for it. Are you a straight man looking for the love of his life who wants to try telling me I’m wrong when I parrot Zizek? Swipe right, baby …
Emily Hill is the author of Bad Romance, buy it here.
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