Due to the substantial importance placed on political identity, even seemingly benign signposts can take on a political bent. Some people I talked to for this story admitted they side-eye pictures featuring guns or someone decked out in hunting garb, interpreting them less as snapshots of a hobby and more as a proclamation of a potential match’s feelings about the Second Amendment. Others confessed they bristled at pictures featuring “pussy hats,” which have come to be synonymous with Women’s Marches, or phrases like #MeToo appearing in men’s bios, even if feminism and women’s rights were causes they considered important themselves.
One person I spoke to, Elly, 24, feels the need to put more explicit political statements in her profile to give people clarity on what matters to her. Her bio invites interested parties to “talk to me about prison abolition and Taco Bell,” a half-joke that says something about how left she is, because it rules out people who might not share what for her is a fundamental perspective.
Despite being a hyper-political person, Adam, 24, finds it off-putting when potential matches include phrases like “if you voted for Trump, swipe left,” because he says it reads like someone focusing their identity on being “anti” something rather than “pro” something else. “It may also be that I find being anti-Trump rather obvious,” he adds. “One may as well say, ‘If you love kicking puppies, swipe left.’”
What complicates this political tango, though, is sometimes the hyper-curated quips and photos intended to signal allyship turn out to be a kind of faux-woke facade. “I get pretty turned off by men who use the phrases ‘#MeToo’ or ‘I’m with her’ or ‘Elizabeth Warren’ in their profiles,” explains Candice, 22. “It’s so obvious you are saying that to pander to women.” While being played by someone who seems like a great fit, only to see true colors (and real issues) beam through later, isn’t endemic to online dating, the rise of identity politics has granted would-be manipulators additional means to signal all the “right” values: They’re progressive. They’re feminists. They get it. Unless they don’t.
Especially for women, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming individuals, scanning for signals that a potential date seems safe is hugely important. That’s what makes the faux-woke dance especially unsavory: When you’ve shouted about equality in your profile, it’s extra disorienting to realize behavior doesn’t match up in person.
“I’ve gone out with quite a few people who either claim to be leftists, or they claim to be neutral but say really screwed-up things,” says Elly. She mentions a date with a girl who claimed to be “neutrally liberal.” But after the first half of their meeting, which was lovely, Elly found her date “saying some pretty homophobic things about sexuality and identity.” Elly says she felt bad judging her date on it—because you never know why or how someone has internalized something—“but it was just weird because we were literally on a gay date,” she says. “And then she said something bizarre about how ICE wasn’t really that bad, and it was very clear to me suddenly: This is one of those people who states political opinions and claims identities that she hasn’t really done enough critical thinking on, and that’s not the type of person I want to date.” That’s why she’s more careful now, she says, to date people who have shared specific opinions on policies or issues, as opposed to those who just state they’re leftist or liberal, “because I’ve learned a lot of people don’t actually know what those things mean.”
“Politics [are] so emotionally driven nowadays that many of us have learned the art of strategic silence,” explains Wang, referring to what he calls “deceptive self-representation” in online dating. If a conversation turns to politics, it wouldn’t be hard for someone to bluff their way through a discussion by simply echoing their match’s opinions. Thanks to the nature of online dating, people can cherry-pick what they want you to know or downplay the full breadth of their opinions until they get to know you better. For example, Candice has a theory that men who claim to be “moderate” are usually Republican but too afraid to say it.