Feel Strongly About Climate Change? Here’s How To Navigate Those Values While Dating Without Getting ‘Eco-Dumped’

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As the impacts of climate change, like forest fires, extreme heat waves, and more severe hurricane seasons become harder to ignore, more people are embracing values grounded in care for the environment and a desire to combat climate change—and are willing to take action. A 2021 Pew Research poll found that 74 percent of Americans would make at least some changes to their life to reduce the impact of the climate crisis. Apparently, those changes include how people approach their love life.

According to data from dating app Plenty of Fish, nearly one in five singles knows someone who has dumped a partner due to misaligned views on climate change and the environment—a trend its coined as “eco-dumping.” Nearly half of those surveyed chose to date someone specifically because they expressed care and concern for the environment.

Experts In This Article

At first glance, this phenomenon might seem similar to choosing a partner based on their political party affiliation, as both can be a shorthand for certain core values and beliefs a person holds. A person saying that they care about climate change, for example, might immediately hint that they're interested in eco-friendly practices like composting, or that they read (and believe) similar sources of news as you. There is also a wide variety of perspectives among people who are concerned about the climate crisis, impacting how they approach it—like whether they are vegan or stick with sustainably-sourced meat—mirroring how members of a political party may not see eye-to-eye on every issue.

But aligning values around climate change can be a bit more complicated to navigate, since this existential crisis directly impacts every aspect of our life. After all, your political party doesn’t typically dictate what car you’ll drive, what food you put on your plate, or what kind of laundry detergent to use. You likely won’t find yourself trying to convince someone else that a political party even exists, either.

So how do you successfully incorporate your beliefs about climate change into your romantic life, without eco-dumping and kicking every single prospective date to the curb? Relationship experts have tips to help you make your love life a little more green.

Bring up your values early and often

According to Eva Gallagher, Plenty of Fish’s resident dating expert, you should feel empowered to discuss your passions openly—including how you feel about the planet—even before you’ve met up in person.

“When chatting on a dating app, feel free to take the initiative to bring up issues that are important to you,” says Gallagher. “Give the other person an opportunity to share their thoughts on sustainability or climate change, and then take the time to share yours. Being confident in your convictions is important and will also highlight your strong sense of self, which is always sexy!”

Gallagher also recommends putting your views on climate change right in your dating profile, which can help you find potential suitors who share your values, increasing the chance of developing a compatible relationship rather than one that might end with eco-dumping.

Know what your priorities are (and communicate them)

Relationship therapist Karyn Spetz, LCSW, says it’s important to get clear on your true north when it comes to climate change, including how high of a priority it is to you and why, before centering it in a relationship.

“For me, the environment and sustainability is very important, like a seven or eight out of 10 in terms of priority,” says Spetz. “So if I were to ignore that part of me and push it aside because my partner isn’t in agreement or had a lower value of it, that would likely lead to arguments or resentment.” (This tendency is especially important to watch if you have a history of people-pleasing.)

Knowing these priorities makes it easier to choose your battles when tensions about your values versus your partner’s inevitably arise. “If you are going to draw a hard line and say that something is so important it isn’t optional or up for discussion, that is okay, and hopefully your partner will see how important it is and be amenable to that, but it shouldn’t be all or even most of the time,” says Spetz. “These should be things that are so important to you, you are willing to really fight for them—come what may. There aren’t many things I’m willing to bring fighting into my home for, so it better be good.”

“We need to remind ourselves to slow down a bit sometimes…we need to have patience and not try and rush people along to a similar point of understanding.” —Ness Cooper, clinical sexologist

For example, you might feel really strongly that you don’t want meat products in your home because of their impacts on the environment, and draw a hard line there. That’s fair—but in return, you might consider being more flexible about using plastic food containers or choosing to use a car, rather than blowing up about all of those potential issues, too.

“Compromise is not giving in or giving up your values,” says Spetz. She recalls a time when her husband, after giving it a chance, eventually vetoed a more eco brand of laundry detergent Spetz had purchased. She found an alternative they could both be happy with. “Compromise is saying ‘Yes, this is important to me, but sweetie, so are you. Even more important than our laundry detergent.’ When you think about it like that, I think it’s not so difficult,” she says.

Clinical sexologist Ness Cooper agrees that it’s not helpful to be too prescriptive and rigid in how you expect your partner to practice your shared values. She says she’s had a few clients whose strong stances on ethical and sustainable food, shopping, and lifestyle have ended up either pushing their partners away or into unhealthy, codependent relationships.

“We need to remind ourselves to slow down a bit sometimes,” says Cooper. “If you’re someone who’s into sustainability, you’ve likely been researching and practicing it for a while and it comes more naturally to you. But for your partner, it can be daunting to try and catch up, so we need to have patience and not try and rush people along to a similar point of understanding.”

Focus on feelings and emotions over reasons and actions

Our values are deeply personal and are informed often by our lived experiences and upbringings, along with culture, religion, and social connections. So expecting your partner to immediately be on the same page as you about environmentalism or climate justice, without taking the time to understand their perspective, doesn’t work.

“People focus on the now, and tend to forget all the milestones and moments of self discovery that brought them to the point they are today with the things they value,” explains Cooper. She counsels couples to have a broader view, and take time to explore and communicate how you came to value what you do as well as your emotions and needs related to living sustainably.

"When we can put our own judgments and expectations aside and help our partners to experience living these values in a way that they can connect to, there’s great potential in that for creating an emotional association which can lead them to shift their behavior on their own.” —Katie Bingner, LCPC

It’s a lesson therapist Katie Bingner, LCPC, learned in her own relationship. “For me, there’s a background of growing up financially insecure, which ingrained in me the necessity of sustainability in terms of minimizing waste and taking advantage of the resources we had,” says Bingner. But her wife had a very different upbringing—and thus a different worldview—which at first caused confusion and frustration in their relationship. “I didn’t understand how we could watch the same documentary and I would be so moved to take action, and she would just be ready to go to bed!”

To address this, Bingner got curious. She took time to understand where her partner stood on topics like climate change and the environment, without any judgment or expectation of change. In doing so, they were able to identify a connection point in a shared love of being outdoors. From this, Bingner and her wife found a tree-planting project in their community, which they both enjoyed participating in together.

“Your partner may be lacking the same emotional connection that you have to a cause [i.e. climate change], and thus to the behaviors that support that cause,” says Bingner. “Humans are experiential learners, so when we can put our own judgments and expectations aside and help our partners to experience living these values in a way that they can connect to, there’s great potential in that for creating an emotional association which can lead them to shift their behavior on their own.”

Make your partner feel cared for, not judged

Every expert emphasized the importance of demonstrating care, openness, and non-judgment when communicating any of your values—including those about addressing climate change. So if your partner’s nonchalance about the climate crisis or their refusal to compost is bugging you, don’t ambush them out of nowhere with a lecture or jump to conclusions about eco-dumping.

Bingner instead suggests finding a time that works for both of you to talk. “You say ‘Hey I’d love to find a time to talk with you about this, when is good for you?’ You’re allowing your partner the choice to engage in the moment or take the time they need before having that conversation.”

It’s a simple way to create a feeling of care and safety around the conversation because when people feel cared for, they’re more likely to care, says Bingner. Conversely, when people feel attacked or judged, she says they will likely be more focused on self-preservation than taking feedback.

Another way to foster that sense of care could be by supporting your partner to make lifestyle changes easier to navigate. “Giving our partner tools and resources to help them identify food or products that are sustainable takes away the guesswork and can help your partner feel more relaxed about agreeing to change,” suggests Cooper. Examples might include Too Good To Go, which allows you to buy soon-to-be-wasted food from nearby eateries at a fraction of the price, Good On You, where you can find more ethical clothing alternatives, or Yuka, which lets you scan food and beauty products for harmful ingredients.

Therapist and author Lauren Korshak, MFT, encourages patience above all. “When making this transition with a partner who is less invested [in the climate crisis] than you, set your expectations low, do some research together, and give them the time they need to adjust and take the information in at their own pace,” she says. “Research has shown that people are more likely to change their mind if they are presented with small bits of information over time. This may have to do with the fact that it is less confronting to one’s sense of identity and also less overwhelming to make a change when it’s broken down into smaller steps.”

Korshak suggests reading a book together, which can also be made into quality time that can be motivating for your partner. Some great options to add to your list are The Intersectional Environmentalist by Leah Thomas or the essays compiled in All We Can Save by Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Katharine K. Wilkinson.

While this new wrinkle in relationship dynamics may complicate things, it’s also a powerful way for us to practice having caring and constructive conversations about an often polarizing issue. Once we’ve mastered it with those closest to us, it’ll be that much easier to talk about climate change and how best to care for our environment with other people in our lives, which aids the spread of awareness and engagement around this important issue.

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