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From trainspotting to knitting, hobby dating is here to make you more attractive online

For decades, our digital love lives have been synonymous with left and right swipes on a screen—almost as if we are flinging Angry Birds in a gamified romantic experience. But it’s only after matching with a potential date that you turn into a Sim, crafting answers and finding the energy to respond without making it seem like an interrogation.

At this point, there are certain factors that help drive engagement before the conversation dries and eventually dies out. Profile pictures, for example, are a good start. Has your match uploaded images with a pet? Well, chances are that it was the major reason you swiped right on them in the first place. But even if that’s the case, you’ve got the best ice-breaker at the end of the day. On the other hand, if the rest of their profile is swamped with sweaty gym selfies and foot-long fishes they caught during the weekend, you know what to do.

Although the brazen display of muscles, motorcycles and boats have evolved into huge red flags in the dating sphere, there have been no contenders replacing these age-old trump cards—ultimately all about celebrating our individual passion, if you really think about it—until now. Fellow gen Zers, zillennials and millennials, follow me as I welcome you into the wholesome world of hobby dating in 2022.

What is hobby dating?

As dating app users look for new ways to show who they are and what they love, physical interests have become an essential part of their profiles as they are increasingly planning dates around new hobbies. Not just any hobbies, by the way. We’re talking about unconventional ones and, in this case, the nicher, the better.

According to a recent study carried out by data and analytics group YouGov, commissioned by the women-first dating app Bumble, there’s a booming trend in showcasing your niche interests when building your dating profile—from traditional hobbies re-discovered over the course of the pandemic to quirky unconventional competitive sports.

Surveying 6,770 adults from the UK, France, Netherlands, Germany and Ireland, the research revealed that more than half (51 per cent) of single people believe photos which reveal a skill for an interesting sport or activity would prompt them to strike up a conversation. In fact, almost one in four (22 per cent) of them stated that having a unique hobby trumps other desirability factors when it comes to finding the perfect partner—beating the likes of knowing multiple languages and being skilled at DIYs.

Heck, half of the UK audience even agreed that having an enthusiasm for a sport or activity can make you a more passionate partner in general. Where is the lie?

While the research helped Bumble identify the growing desire for partners who are unwaveringly passionate about their unconventional interests, it also shed light on the least favourite things to feature on one’s profile. The list in question includes gym selfies (60 per cent), duck faces (57 per cent) and photos that seem to crop out an ex (53 per cent). Messy bedrooms (43 per cent) are also a big no-no.

Top ten ‘sexiest’ niche activities

Hobby dates are undoubtedly an easy and convenient way to get back into the dating world post-lockdown. But what exactly counts as a ‘niche’ hobby in 2022? Enter Francis Bourgeois in all of his awkwardly-charming glory.

Dubbed the ‘Bourgeois effect’, the video creator has inspired an entire nation of budding trainspotters—not to be confused with train hoppers—including those who had absolutely no interest in locomotives. Now, a third of gen Zers admit that they’re more keen to date a trainspotter than ever before.

@francis.bourgeois

Luckily @ryan.windridge picked me up on the last train back to Gloucester @llanellirailway #trains #trending #fyp

♬ original sound - Francis Bourgeois

Meanwhile, British diver Tom Daley, who won hearts for his habit of knitting between events at the Tokyo Olympics, to help him cope with the stress of the competition, has driven the interest of 29 per cent millennials aged between 25 and 34 to date someone with a passion for knitting and crocheting. In fact, Daley has even converted his craft into a business due to public demand, launching Made with Love which now sells knitting kits for sweaters, blankets, accessories and even a pink flamingo named Elvis.

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A post shared by Made With Love (@madewithlovebytomdaley)

Now onto some insights that are bound to peak more fascination around the dating sphere today. According to research carried out online by Research Without Barriers (RWB) in April 2022 with 2,011 UK adults, the top ten ‘sexiest’ niche activities are: dancing (25 per cent), wild swimming (20 per cent), cycling (19 per cent), horse riding (17 per cent), karate or judo (14 per cent), bouldering (13 per cent), stand-up paddleboarding (13 per cent), volleyball (13 per cent), cheerleading (11 per cent) and golf (11 per cent). Anyone hot yet?

“Dating, especially in the early days, is about finding things to connect over and understanding who the other person is. Your photos are your opportunity to reflect who you are, what you love, and what you’re looking for,” said Bumble Sex & Relationships expert, Dr. Caroline West. “For example, a hiking photo can highlight your love of the outdoors, a particularly tough achievement or signal that you prioritise fitness and well-being. Representing what makes you happy is key to finding an authentic connection and by highlighting your unique interests and passions you give people an easy conversation starter.”

The visual way forward

There’s no denying that you can learn a lot about a person by simply listening to them talk about their favourite pastimes. By giving others yet another reason to connect with you, such hobbies also provide great fodder for first and second dates by helping you pick out ideal locations for meetups—with the ultimate potential of individualising the entire experience.

In short, how we spend our free time influences our relationships. In light of this, Bumble has even launched Bumble Shoots, a unique photography experience that seeks to help users put their best foot forward and craft a profile that shows off their niche skills. The free-of-charge photography session (which can be easily signed up for via the dating app’s Instagram account) offers daters the opportunity to be captured in the activity they enjoy the most, be it striking an intricate yoga pose or landing tricks on a skateboard.

To champion all the booming niche activities, Bumble is also launching seven new ‘Interest Badges’ in the coming weeks—including trainspotting, knitting, parkour, frisbee, beekeeping and more. “So far, 2022 has been a year of discovery for dating, and we’ve seen that people on Bumble are looking at new ways to show who they are and how they date,” said Naomi Walkland, Bumble’s Head of UK and Ireland.

“We identified a trend of hobby-dating earlier this year and have now added new interesting sports and passions badges on the app, including trainspotting and knitting which are new hobbies we’ve seen emerge from the pandemic,” Walkland continued. “People on Bumble can still pick from old favourites, like skateboarding, that speak to the return of millennial culture.”

By launching new badges, the romance giant hopes to empower users to show off even their quirkiest interests. In the end, it’s worth noting that pursuing your passion never goes out of style. The only changes are your hobbies which are bound to evolve over time. So what are you waiting for? If you’ve got some long-lost obsessions in the attic, now’s the time to revisit them and enrich your relationships along the way—as long as you don’t kittenfish your way out of the trend, that is.