Sarah and Steven remember seeing each other at an Operation Protective Edge protest at the end of 2014. They made eye contact – Sarah was leading the group and shouting slogans; Steven, who volunteered to be the photographer, snapped an iconic picture of her making a megaphone with her hands. Then, in early 2015, they both travelled to Brussels as part of a global protest against bombing in Gaza and the West Bank. They had mutual friends, and soon got talking when they ended up holding the same banner. It turned out that they had been involved in the same pro-Palestine groups for a while. After the protest, they continued speaking and hit it off. Two months later, they were married.
“I think it is a cute story because we were really not looking. We were just doing our thing,” says Sarah, 28, five years after the couple first met. “Destiny, or whatever you believe in, brought us there together and that's what makes it beautiful.”
Sarah and Stephen are an extremely successful example of “advodating” – a trend that sees people date those who advocate for the same social and political causes as them. “It is dating people who are proactively involved in a cause you support beyond just armchair activism,” explains Dr. Max Blumberg, a relationships psychologist and researcher at Goldsmiths, University of London.
In the past year, 41 percent of millennial women and 48 percent of Generation Z women said that they identify as activists, according to a recent study from OkCupid. Despite the fact that young people have been finding love through activism for years – including Kamala Harris’ parents, who met at a civil rights protest in the 1960s – matching with a partner via a political cause is predicted to be one of the biggest dating trends of 2021.
Advodating is Gen Z’s version of meeting at Woodstock, says Dr. Blumberg. “There was no way in the 60s that activists would have dated someone who wasn’t from the same group as they were because they were so committed to it, as Gen Z are now,” he says. “You get so sucked into a cause that it is difficult to communicate with people who aren’t part of it because activism affects everything you do in every part of your life.”
But what are the ethics of mixing political and social justice issues with dating? Earlier this year, a Refinery29 article published by an anonymous writer who went on a first date to a Black Lives Matter march was criticised for insensitivity. The website later took down the piece, saying that the story was “shared in poor taste”.
Nana, 27, from Chicago, says that she wouldn’t feel comfortable going on a date to a protest because her focus would be on the cause. “I wouldn't be able to get to know the person because there is just so much going on at a protest,” she says.
At the Black Lives Matter protests earlier this year, ignited again after the death of George Floyd at the hands of US police, tensions were high. You didn’t know how the police were going to react, says Nana. “God forbid, but imagine if on your first date you watch your partner getting shot with rubber bullets,” she adds. “I just feel like it's something to do after you've known each other for a while at least.”
Polly, 23, who is a member of Extinction Rebellion, agrees that protests should be something you do after getting to know someone fairly well. “I just can't think of any way in which a guy asking you out to go to a protest is not in some way a bit of self-promotion,” she says. “I'd be wary if it came from someone on an online dating site, but I think if it's someone you're dating and it happens organically then it’s different. But stuff like that just feels to me like the next level up of the dog picture.”
For Polly, it all comes down to intention. “If you happen to both be at a protest and meet there, I don't see a problem with that,” she continues. “Bonding over a shared interest and activism is one thing where it is really important to have the same kind of values. But I think going to a protest for the sole purpose of trying to get a date is pretty shady.”
People’s opposition to advodating often stems from two issues, says Dr Blumberg: “They either think it is inappropriate due to the nature of the protest, or they think that if you're being that proactive, you shouldn’t really have time to be dating.”
But Elliott, 18, thinks that protests can be “very romantic” as they allow you to connect with people. “I like that sort of connection with a group of people who all think similarly and are all there to be themselves and be proud of themselves and demand change,” he says.
After meeting his boyfriend Devon at a protest against a homophobic preacher back in September, Elliott says that they had an almost “instant connection”. Meeting someone at a protest is also a safe way to assume that the person shares your views on most issues, he suggests, adding: “It’s unlikely that you are going to go on a date with them and they turn out to be a Trump supporter.”
Sarah echoes this view, and thinks that meeting at a protest allowed her and Steven to get to know each other better. “You get to know a lot of information about someone. Not all the information you need, obviously, but a lot,” she says. “Equality and human rights are at the core of our relationship because it was literally built on that foundation.”
Some may find it distasteful to mix protesting with pleasure but ultimately, the ethics of advodating differ for each individual. Sarah might describe the way that she and Steven met as beautiful, but she also has a warning for anyone hoping to find a match this way.
“Don’t go looking for a story like that – just have your own story when it comes your way,” she says.