Outside a London pub on a sunny afternoon, pints of beer in hand, Brittney Cornwell and Amy Hussey are gabbing about their love lives.
They’re in their early 20s and work together at a bank around the corner. They say one thing seems to come up more than ever on dates these days: Brexit.
“You can’t avoid it,” Hussey says. “It’s always a topic!”
In last year’s referendum, she voted for Britain to leave the European Union and is getting razzed for it by her work colleagues. Her friend Cornwell voted “Remain,” and playfully suggests she might not want to hang out with “Leave” voters.
Would she date a Leave voter?
“It depends how hot they are!” Cornwell deadpans. Her coworkers erupt into laughter.
They’re joking, but many British singles are not. Since the EU referendum a year ago, people have started posting how they voted — Leave or Remain — on their dating profiles on Tinder, OKCupid and Match.com.
M14 Industries, an app development company based in Manchester, spotted a market.
“It took us a few hours from deciding that ‘Better Together Dating’ is a really cool name to having it in the app stores,” says M14 founder John Kershaw.
Better Together Dating, or BTD, is a smartphone app that bills itself as “Tinder for the 48 percent.” That’s the proportion of British voters who chose Remain in last year’s EU referendum.
The app was online within days of last year’s referendum. It was never meant to be a commercial endeavor, but rather it started as a way to “give us a bit of hope,” Kershaw says.
“We’re more like a family than a company. We’ve got people who are here on EU visas. Half my family is French,” he says.
His staffers were all worried about what Brexit would mean for them and the rest of Britain. So they threw themselves into building an app to bring together people like themselves, Kershaw says.
M14 Industries specializes in building such niche dating apps, including another called Bristlr for people with beards. (Slogan: “Connecting those with beards to those who want to stroke beards.”)
Kershaw says that because they’ve never advertised it, BTD has only several hundred users and promotion has come via word of mouth.
When users log into the BTD app, they see an EU flag illustrated with tiny hearts. They set their location and search radius, and see a list of singles nearby. They can star the ones who interest them and hide those who don’t. They can also send messages and chat in the app.
Along the same lines, another team is crowdfunding to create a dating app called Remainder.
“We think everyone’s entitled to their views and we know that there are many sensible, kind and intelligent Leave voters but our audience is ‘Remainers’ and we’re trying to provide a little comfort for these heartbroken voters,” its website says.
But so far there’s no app — at least that NPR was able to find — for Leave voters.
“I suppose for Leavers, they won the referendum, didn’t they? So there’s no sense of alienation,” says Sam Freeman, 28, who uses the Better Together app.
He says he joined for a little respite from the Brexit arguments that dominate dinner tables across the U.K. these days.
“I’ve had plenty of arguments with people over it. I think the bulk of the people at work disagree with me. My parents both voted Leave. I strongly disagree with what they thought,” Freeman says.
He just doesn’t want to fight those battles on a date, too. He uses other apps, and he says he always swipes left — meaning “not interested” — when he sees profile photos emblazoned with the word “Leave” or with a nationalist flag in the background.
The United Kingdom Independence Party or UKIP used both the flag of England (a white background with a red St. George’s Cross) and the British flag (the Union Jack) in its campaigns for Brexit. Some “Leave” voters have continued to use both flags in expressions of support for Brexit on social media.
But it’s not all about politics. For Freeman, there’s an even bigger deal-breaker he encounters in these apps — something that always makes him swipe left.
“It’s always a little bit worrying when every photo has a cat in it. That’s always a bad sign,” Freeman says. “I’m allergic to cats.”