Hoping to find love before the imminent collapse of humanity, 54-year-old New Yorker Jenny signed up for Awake Dating—a conspiracy theory dating site—after a string of bad dates. "I met one guy on Tinder," she tells me, "but ended up helping him realize he might be gay."
"I really do want to meet my soulmate and—you may think this is crazy—but I think I need to meditate on it," she adds. "I need to take this desire into a more spiritual realm. Then it might happen and hopefully we can live out the next ten years before the global extinction together."
Awake Dating caters exclusively for conspiracy theory-loving singletons, but don't call them that. Most prefer to describe themselves as "truthers" or the "awake" because of the negative connotation around tinfoil-hatted conspiracy theorists in popular culture.
Truthers hold a broad spectrum of beliefs. "Some are more into Ufology, some are into the 911/Sandy Hook/false flag events, some are into MKUltra [an alleged CIA mind control scheme] and chemtrails," Jenny explains. "Then there's the flat-earthers and the Illuminati stuff; and the whole Pizzagate thing."
Truthers, Jenny concedes, can be "kinda crazy." But she doesn't do crazies—at least not when it comes to romance. "You've got to be careful about that," she acknowledges.
Arguably, truthers need love more than most. It can be exhausting and alienating to constantly pit yourself against shadowy government organizations, and having someone alongside you in the struggle can be a source of strength.
"It's a lonely thing to be a truther," Jenny says.
Like all other dating sites, Awake Dating doesn't have a no-crazies filter. The criteria for joining? "You need to be awake," explains Aine Fidden from her home in Ireland. The 26-year-old cofounded the platform along with her 39-year-old husband, Jarrod Fidden. They met in China in 2012, but both woke up—helpfully at the same time—to the realities of the world order in September 2014. Since setting up Awake Dating less than a year ago, they've gained over 10,000 users worldwide, with 70 percent from the US. Texas and Florida have the most users.
Left-wing theorist Christopher Hitchens once described conspiracy theorists as the "the exhaust fumes of democracy." If there's anything that recent months have shown us, it's that smog is belching out at an alarming rate. "If you look at the last six or seven months politically, conspiracy theories have become very common in political debates," says Professor Karen Douglas, a social psychologist at the University of Kent who specializes in conspiracy theories. She identifies Donald Trump as the world's most high-profile conspiracy theorist—from his early support for the birther movement to his more recent allegations about President Obama wire tapping his campaign headquarters during the 2016 election.
"Conspiracy theorizing can be traced to quite fundamental ways of thinking and the way people organize information," Douglas explains. She says that those attracted to conspiracy theories tend to be "people who feel mistrustful generally; those who are quite politically cynical with lower self esteem, or those who are narcissistic."
"There's also an argument," Douglas says, "that if you're feeling quite powerless or uncertain in general, conspiracy theories allow you to regain control; find an explanation; reduce your feelings of uncertainness. People feel like it can help them cope with difficult situations, but research suggests it doesn't." In fact, Douglas argues in one of her own papers that exposure to conspiracy theories "increases feelings of powerlessness, which in turn leads to a variety of maladaptive behavioural intentions," such as "withdrawal from politics, a decreased willingness to reduce one's carbon footprint, or a decreased willingness to have a child vaccinated."
Fidden sees things rather differently. "Awake means people who are aware that all central banks of the world are run by a few families and money is given out as debt. So we the people are forever in debt to privately owned businesses," she explains matter-of-factly. "So that's one thing," she continues without pause for breath, "and the other thing is being aware that there is a global genocide taking place to depopulate the earth."
When I ask her to explain that last statement, Fidden pauses to soothe what sounds like a baby on her hip. "Chem-trails are being sprayed from international planes," she explains patiently, "all these airlines are spraying chemicals. It's the same people who own all the central banks of the world. They're genociding us."
The allegation that Jewish families control international banking systems is a known anti-Semitic conspiracy theory, but when I challenge Jenny on this, she becomes uncomfortable. "OK, I'm Jewish," she tells me, "and anything that reeks of anti-Semitism I immediately revolt against. If you want to accuse people, accuse white men in general! They are the Illuminati. Old white guys, basically. I don't pay no nevermind to any bullshit Jewish agenda stuff. It's very dangerous. And with Trump around, it's happening now. Anti-Muslim, anti-black, anti-gay, anti-Jewish—you'd think we would learn from history!"
Moving on, I ask Fidden how she manages to juggle the needs of two kids, a fledgling business, and organizing the resistance to the global depopulation program. "I don't manage it very well, that's the thing!" she admits. "A year and a half ago my daughter got really ill and I just absolutely freaked out. And I was like, 'Oh my god this is because I've not been paying enough attention to the health stuff.'" Now, Fidden mostly focusses on her kids—although she still makes time for fun theories about aliens and time travel.
26-year-old Kelly. Photo courtesy of subject
How do you date a conspiracy theorist? "I like normal dates where you go see music or you go eat dinner," Jenny says. "But if I met someone who was say, more of a ufologist, it would be really fun if we got in the car one night and we drove to a nice open quiet dark space and we tried to make ET contact or something."
On 37-year-old Elijen and 36-year-old Danaja's first date, Danaja took Elijen to see a reconnection practitioner. (The Croatian couple have asked me to use their Awake profile names to protect their identities.)
But what exactly is a reconnection practitioner? "It's reconnecting yourself and your energies to—" he begins, before Danaja interjects: "Mother Earth!" So successful was the reconnection that Elijen was able to stop taking his prescription anti-depressants: Mother Nature cured all.
After only nine months of dating, Elijen and Danaja are already planning to have children together (Danaja has a five-year-old daughter from a previous relationship). Although unconvinced by Fidden's global genocide theory, both are avowed anti-vaxxers—believing that vaccinating children against common diseases like measles actually engenders the spread of disease, rather than being a preventative. "There are too many cases for it to be a coincidence," Elijen tells me.
For Elijen and Danaja, being awake means being aware of "your higher self and the world around you." Also, Elijen adds, watch out for chemotherapy.
"Cancer treatment," he says, "is literally poison. A couple of members of my family died of cancer. And I know that those treatments were really expensive, really hard on their bodies and eventually those treatments killed them. So there's a big business in healing that's deliberately destroying people."
Unsurprisingly, their families can't fully grasp their unconventional beliefs. "They think we're crazy!" Danaja confirms. "But we are also lucky," Elijen adds, "because despite disagreeing our families are accepting."
Like Jenny, 26-year-old Kelly from Virginia joined Awake Dating after a bad experience on a mainstream dating site. "I started talking to this very handsome young man who lived nearby me," she recounts. "In the past I usually waited to ask questions concerning conspiracy theories until after the first date, but this time I just asked how he felt about them."
His response wasn't exactly what she'd been hoping for: "They're the fuel that makes the minds of crazy people operate," he messaged back. "You're pretty and easy on the eyes, but you won't change my mind on the subject."
In dating, as in life, it's good to distrust other people's motives. Here, conspiracy theorists have a natural advantage. "Trusting people should be difficult!" Kelly exhorts. "Trust no one. Always ask questions. You have to have that doubt in the back of your mind."
But in the search for romance, conspiracy theorists ironically fall victim to the greatest con of all. After all, what is love but a capitalist conspiracy?
"Valentine's Day is hyped up in the same way corporations hype up any other holiday or engagement," Kelly explains. "They definitely take advantage whenever possible. Love is a played-off capitalist conspiracy. I believe they use emotion as leverage to gain profits. Similar to how they played up diamonds, and now most people expect diamonds for an engagement."
Despite this, Kelly is not so cynical as to have avoided Cupid's arrow altogether. She has since met and fallen for a fellow conspiracy theorist. "We met on another platform but we are both 'awake'", Kelly confides. "I asked how he felt about conspiracy theories before we met in person. He asked why, and I told him I need for him to not think I'm crazy when I start talking about them." Luckily for Kelly, her paramour was open minded about her unusual beliefs.
Meanwhile, Jenny's search continues. "If there are any guys out there after they read the article that are interested, tell them to reach out to me," she says.