Generation Z has been characterised as much by its activism as it has its anxiety over the past few years, particularly in relation to climate change. We’ve been told by scientists that we have just 22 years before mass-fatality causing natural disasters are the norm, and the crisis is centred in books, films, and modern media. Amid the current pandemic, worldwide climate justice is going virtual too. It’s no wonder that the climate emergency is an increasingly urgent worry on the minds of young people right now – a recent study by the American Psychological Association found one-fifth of wider society currently suffer with ‘eco-anxiety’, fearing environmental doom. It should be no surprise then, that young people are looking for a partner that shares their ideals, whether that’s marching side-by-side (post-lockdown, of course) for climate justice or seeing out the end of the world Melancholia-style.
Last month, OKCupid coined the term “thunberging” – its namesake is Greta Thunberg of course – where daters bond over a passion for the environment. The dating site reports that the phrase ‘climate change’ increased 240 per cent in its users’ profiles over the last two years. Other apps have also seen an emergence of said-Thunbergers, with Tinder revealing that Gen Z’s most mentioned topics of 2019 included ‘environment’, ‘climate change’, and ‘social justice’. The term itself sounds quite twee and trite – and who out there is hot for Flat Earther, or quietly ignoring a date’s avid interest in the works of Nigel Lawson? – but we spoke to some people who identify with the term, and purposefully seek out people to bond with over their love for the planet.
Linda, a team coordinator at Extinction Rebellion, and her partner James, who works in a similar role for Animal Rebellion – a group which focuses on animal agriculture’s role in the climate crisis. “You need to have a certain amount of shared understanding of what’s important in the world – environmentalism is central to how I want to live my life, my work, and what I spend my time doing,” Linda says.
“It plays a really big role in what you think your future is going to look like – I’m too afraid to have children because of the climate and ecological crisis. Mentally I’m preparing for societal collapse, so it’s just important to have somebody who gets that.”
The polygamous couple bonded over veganism and environmentalism when Animal Rebellion moved into the same office building as XR. The pair grew closer after both organising XR’s ‘Paint The Streets’ challenge – a national flyposting event – in November, and their relationship turned romantic during a post-rebellion retreat. “I guess we bonded over decision-making, which is quite nerdy, but we both enjoy it,” James says.
“For me, it’s really important that my partner shares a similar moral framework to me – the most important thing is that they care essentially about the planet and other people. Not necessarily just climate change, but wider social justice issues,” he adds.
“Mentally I’m preparing for societal collapse, so it’s just important to have somebody who gets that”
Rosie, a director of environmental affairs for a B&B in Maidenhead, mentions in her Hinge profile that she’s an environmentalist, but doesn’t get more specific than that. “I’d never say in my bio that I’m vegetarian because I don’t like the boxes that puts you in – I don’t exactly know who I want to meet.” She’s also a member of Extinction Rebellion, and has previously worked for an ape conservation in Colombia. In the long-term, her goal is to find a like-minded partner. “It’s important to be on the same ground morally – you understand each other on a better level, why someone does what they do. Both in the big things like their career but also their small choices, like whether to cycle somewhere rather than drive.”
She says that she’s had boyfriends in the past who weren’t initially as dedicated to the case. “I’ve been able to see throughout those relationships that (my exes) at least started developing and trying (to be environmentally friendly), which was a positive,” she says. “I feel like I could influence someone to be more eco-conscious.”
London-based Xelia, has a more definitive approach to her love life: “I don’t think I could even socialise with someone who disagrees with the science, let alone date someone.” The model and aspiring actress runs the Humans of Extinction Rebellion Instagram account. Although she understands not everyone can be as committed to the cause as she can, Xelia says she wants a partner who sees the world in the same way she does. “I think if you don’t care about it, then we just don’t have the same outlook on general life,” she says. “A lot of the time, I can get in a really low mood about it so if someone is not understanding, then it’s just completely incompatible for friendship, let alone a relationship.”
Although looking out for people who share your value system when dating seems logical – and easy, thanks to the constantly expanding market of dating apps – there’s a danger that people can become too prescriptive with their preferences, according to dating coach Hayley Quinn: “Sometimes we can get stuck in the detail of wanting someone to be completely aligned with us, but that can actually mean that we overlook other good options.”
Gen Z is a more politically active demographic, living out their 20s in a fractured political landscape. Socialist and left-wing political beliefs are closely held belifes, from feminist issues to climate justice. YouGov data last year revealed that 45 per cent of 18-24 year olds cite environmental issues as one of their most pressing concerns, while climate change was voted as one the top three issues by 27 per cent of the nation as a whole. “I think what you ideally should be looking out for is someone who respects your ideas, can have a healthy conversation with you about them and if you want to do any activism stuff, is really supportive of you doing that,” Quinn says.
“We’re planning on moving in together later this year and have talked about adjustments we would want to make to any home to have rainwater collection”
Medical student Izzy, and her girlfriend Buffy, have been together for three years since meeting at Cambridge University. Izzy became involved with XR last year and has since converted Buffy to the cause. “She saw me get really deeply involved with it and I think it would be quite hard to avoid caring about it when someone you spend so much time with is talking about it quite a lot,” Izzy says.
The couple got together after watching Blue Planet, and Izzy asked Buffy, a biology PhD student, to read XR’s book This Is Not A Drill: “a very persuasive read for someone who is a scientist”. Izzy adds: “We both really liked being outside, and we’ve both eaten vegetarian for most of our uni careers, so (that dynamic) was already there.”
The couple have since attended protests together, including the ‘October Rebellion’ – a fortnight-long demonstration of civil disobedience in London last year – and continue to adapt their everyday lives to combat climate change. “Now when we think about holidays, we talk about how it would be feasible to get the train and a boat to New Zealand rather than flying,” Izzy says. “We’re planning on moving in together later this year and have talked about adjustments we would want to make to any home to have rainwater collection and that kind of stuff.”
Thunberging could just be a dating fad, but activism and environmental anxiety are deeply intertwined with the youth psyche for now. And at least they’re not ‘jekylling’, ‘dogfishing’, or ‘fleabagging’. In the divisive times we live in, you can’t blame young people looking for like-minded lovers to fight the climate emergency alongside.