To Have and to HODL: Welcome to Love in the Age of Cryptocurrency
On a rainy day in Palo Alto in March, Rebecca and Peter Kacherginsky stood before family, friends and a few dozen guests on Zoom as they exchanged wedding vows. COVID-19 accommodations aside, the ceremony was traditional. The bride wore a veil; the groom wore a kippah; neither could stop smiling.
Then things took a very 2021 turn.
Juggling her bouquet in one hand and iPhone in the other, Rebecca opened a virtual wallet and sent Peter a non-fungible token, or NFT. He did the same. Using an Ethereum smart contract Peter wrote himself, the couple exchanged unique digital signifiers containing a pink and blue animation titled Tabaat, which means “ring” in Hebrew.
They weren’t only getting married in the historic Gamble Garden, or in the state of California. They were also getting married on the blockchain, a virtual ledger that displays cryptocurrency transactions.
For the Kacherginskys, the act was a reference to their jobs — both work for the crypto exchange Coinbase — and a meaningful way to mint their union. Unlike their marriage certificate (which was contingent upon government approval), their online relationship status (which Facebook could delete in a heartbeat), or their paper ketubah (which would burn in a house fire), they personally control the NFT. Public, poignant and permanent, it’s the ultimate romantic gesture.
“It's almost like putting a marker on a bench, except that bench is going to be there forever,” Peter says.
It may have required a little explanation to the rabbi, but the concept wasn’t as far-out as you might think. 2021 has been a huge year for cryptocurrency: No longer confined to a niche, it’s firmly entrenched in American culture. We’re not just talking about Elon Musk’s Dogecoin jokes on Saturday Night Live — crypto is increasingly playing a role in romantic relationships, seeping into people’s DMs, dates and even divorces. It’s an activity couples can bond over as well as a way to plan financially for the future as they look toward buying houses, having children and growing old.
This is love in the age of crypto.
'Bitcoin for dummies' turned meet cute
It was a bear market when Erin Edwards answered the phone at the D Hotel & Casino Las Vegas in 2014 and heard a deep voice on the line. The caller would eventually become her husband, but at that point, he simply wanted to ask whether her workplace would host a Bitcoin meetup.
“I was like, ‘Sure! Hang on a second,’ and I Googled ‘Bitcoin for dummies,’” she says.
Once Erin knew enough to hold her own in conversation, the duo met in person to hammer out event logistics. Sparks flew — Kingsley recalls telling a colleague he thought Erin was cute as they left on the elevator — and the rest is history. They started hosting Bitcoin meetups as a pair, moved in together and attended crypto conferences around the world.
They got married last year in Arizona. Their wedding hashtag? #tohaveandtoHODL, “to have and to hold” tweaked to include a crypto slang term.
In most places on the internet, crypto takes on a parents-just-don’t-understand vibe. Redditors conceal purchases from their partners, fearing the wrath of wives who find out they bought more than agreed upon, and protest when pushed to cash out early. Horror stories abound: In 2018, news of a divorcing British couple fighting over $830,000 in crypto assets went viral.
But amid complaints about spouses who don’t Get It, there are heartwarming anecdotes like the Edwardses’. Wives craft Bitcoin piñatas; lovers send notes on the blockchain. And as it becomes more conventional, a growing number of crypto fans are trying to use their shared passion to form new connections.
Mentions of cryptocurrency are nearly three times more popular on OkCupid dating profiles now than they were last year. Tinder has seen a sixfold increase since August 2020, with a spokeswoman telling Money it’s “typically presented in bios as a funny flex,” as in “i may look dumb but i’m actually investing into crypto so i think that makes up for it."
The tight-knit nature of the community lends itself to relationships. Tatiana Moroz, a musician and crypto personality who co-hosts a podcast called Proof of Love, credits the specific way crypto has risen in prominence. Over the past decade or so, it’s evolved from an under-the-radar doctrine largely espoused by corners of the internet to a well-known asset owned by an estimated 21 million Americans.
“Even people you didn’t necessarily know or weren’t friends with — we've gone through this collective experience where we've been derided the whole entire time,” Moroz says. “Now we’re like, ‘Yeah, we were right!’ and high-fiving each other.”
To be sure, dating isn’t everyone’s priority. But for those who are looking for love, it’s nice to know you’re on the same page from the outset. Though you may disagree on whether to buy the dip, it’s safe to assume the person you’re talking to generally believes in decentralization. They, too, are probably going to chuckle when they see a “sats on the beach” cocktail served at a crypto happy hour.
The deepest connections, though, may be linked less to themed pickup lines than the crypto philosophy.
“When you're a Bitcoiner or cryptocurrency enthusiast, it's almost like a worldview,” Moroz says. “It becomes a little difficult to relate to ‘normies,’ so to speak.”
'I do'... to the moon
Legend has it the first Bitcoin wedding took place in a hotel ballroom near Disney World in 2014, when David and Joyce Mondrus said their vows in front of an orange Bitcoin ATM. The screen displayed a QR code adorned with heart emojis; when scanned, a transaction with data about the wedding appeared.
They were unwitting trendsetters. These days, it’s downright common to incorporate defi into your “I do”s.
When senior marketing manager Han Lien was preparing for his 2018 wedding, he could only find one other couple on Google that put crypto on their registry. Still, he says it “was a no-brainer” for him and his now-wife, Amy, to write on their Zola website they’d happily accept Bitcoin, Ethereum, Litecoin and other “coins that'll take us to the moon” as gifts.
Fast-forward a few years, and you’ve got people like Billy Zile, who used crypto to ask his five groomsmen to stand beside him at the altar this past August. While his then-fiancée Yaz whipped up chocolate-covered Oreos for her bridal party, Billy set up accounts for each of his pals in MyEtherWallet and gave them $35 worth of the cryptocurrency.
“I wrote the seed phrase in a card that I mailed to them to activate it,” says Billy, an engineer in Massachusetts. “I told them all not to sell it until post-wedding, so they’re up a bit on that.”
Yaz likes to joke that the wallets were “the most Billy type of gift you can get” — one “you have to work to understand.” But, admittedly, that was kind of the whole point of the nontraditional present. In addition to inviting them to the biggest day of his life, he wanted to bring his closest friends into one of his favorite hobbies.
For Matt and Sierra Mendez in Texas, it was more of a matter of practicality. They’ve been living with her parents lately, so when it came time to make a registry for their October wedding “it didn’t make sense to us to ask for regular home goods like pots and pans,” Matt says.
Though they could have requested cash from guests, it seemed “bland” to Matt, an NFT analyst. So, alongside options to fund a wood-working class, a ziplining session and a round of cocktails on the beach, the Mendezes included a link to a Google Doc on their registry with The Knot. In it, Matt listed his ETH address and profile on NFT marketplace OpenSea.
After all, he believes NFTs are the future. He knows Sierra is his future. Why not bring them together?
There are actual reasons these relationships work so well. The first is obvious: If two people meet because of crypto, they immediately have a mutual interest.
But financial therapist Sonya Lutter says it goes beyond that. Opposites attract, and though it may be exciting for a saver to date a spender who’s happy to splurge on elaborate dinners and expensive jewelry, long-term relationships work best when built upon a shared set of values.
Discovering those values can be hard when money is treated as a taboo subject. According to a 2019 SunTrust survey, only half of couples talk about money before getting married.
Crypto couples, however, buck that trend. Even if they’re just debating the merits of cryptocurrency, they’re still having financial conversations — “and that puts them way ahead of the game,” says Lutter, director of institutional research and education at the Herbers & Company Academy.
Inherent in discussions about risk tolerance or the role money played in someone’s childhood is what money means to them. This matters, Lutter adds, because conversations about money at the beginning of a relationship can be predictive of satisfaction later on.
Talking about crypto is a given for Madeline Mann and Henry Elder, a Los Angeles duo that was already dating when Madeline landed a job at a blockchain tech startup in 2016. As she brought him around to company outings, Henry fell in love — with her, and with the investment thesis underpinning crypto. Before long, Henry had quit his real estate private equity job and joined the space full time.
From there, they “ended up becoming kind of a blockchain couple,” Madeline says. They got married in 2019.
“Our emotions on a given day are definitely influenced by the cryptocurrency markets: us rushing to the computer, checking the price, moving assets, getting elated and super excited because things just spiked,” Madeline says. “If there's a skip in our step, it might be because of the crypto markets.”
Madeline no longer works at the firm that started it all — she founded Self Made Millennial, a career coaching YouTube channel — but crypto is still a huge part of their everyday lives. For Henry, the head of wealth management at Wave Financial, it’s both a 9-to-5 and a portfolio strategy. Nearly all of their liquid assets are in crypto. (“I convinced Madeline to let me buy a CryptoPunk,” Henry says proudly.)
It’s not unusual for crypto to come up on their weekend road trips to Yosemite National Park or wine country.
“It's a big part of, when we're building our future together, thinking about how we're growing our wealth, how we're investing,” Madeline says. “It's always a topic of conversation.”
When 'cryptomancing' goes wrong
Connecting over crypto isn’t seamless. For every success story, there’s a tweet that bemoans how “this dude I've like, low-key been talking to? sorta? has been talking to me (on a phone call) about Bitcoin for the past hour and I want to change my name and move across the country.”
Tatiana Moroz says it’s a tricky playing field, and not a homogeneous one. While the vast majority of people in the crypto community are genuine, some are attempting to navigate sudden windfalls or seeking sugar daddies. A few are scammers. Others won’t shut up about it.
“The guys are almost a bit boring because it’s all they can talk about,” Moroz says. “Do you want to hear about cryptocurrency 24/7 for 10 years? No.”
There’s a fine line between sharing fun facts and cryptomancing, which dating coach Damona Hoffman defines as “the art of showing romantic interest in someone through crypto talk.” She says people may believe bragging about their investments is sexy, but they should be careful not to overlook cues that indicate their companion doesn’t actually care to hear about the finer points of decentralized finance over drinks.
“You’re on a first date. You’re not at a Bitcoin seminar,” adds Sameera Sullivan, the CEO and founder of a matchmaking service in New York.
The underlying gender politics are complex, too. The crypto field has a reputation for being dominated by bros, and the data bears it out. According to the broker eToro, only 15% of Bitcoin investors are women.
Despite the overall lack of diversity, Joe DiPasquale says he’s still able to find kindred spirits in the community’s LGBTQ+ members. DiPasquale, the CEO of Bitbull Capital, has watched friendships, mentorships and partnerships sprout in grassroots groups like QryptoQueers, a Telegram chat for LGBTQ+ blockchain aficionados.
Crypto bleeds into domestic life outside of the industry, too. Just look at Twitter, where husbands are sneakily mining Bitcoin in cramped apartments and wives are using crypto metaphors to demand attention.
It’s funny social media fodder, sure, but it’s also a legit savings strategy for people like Ben Mumma and Anh Vu, who live in Texas. The newly married couple invested about $1,500 of the (fiat) money they received from wedding guests into Bitcoin. They’re putting away as much as they can — Ben says the plan is “not to sell any of it for a long time.”
“It’s a diversification play for us,” says Anh, who works in banking. “We’re heavily invested in stocks and real estate, so it's just another outlet as we’re looking to manage our portfolio.”
Pet doges, Cryptmas and 'a whole new world'
Believing in crypto is about growing with it, staying strong through ups and downs. And, not to get too mushy, but so are relationships.
Lindsay Nuon shares the story of how her partner, who was doing some light internet "research" when they started dating, uncovered a talk Lindsay gave at a blockchain conference. She looked up the definitions of a few key tech terms, later telling Lindsay, “I had to learn a little about it! You seem really into it.”
Bit by bit, Lindsay — the chair of Hyperledger’s diversity, civility and inclusion working group — brought her into the blockchain fold. Months later, things came full circle when they bought a painting with an NFT component on a trip to Hawaii.
“A lot like relationships mature, people’s relationships with cryptocurrency and blockchain mature,” Lindsay says. “You come and you might be attracted to Shiba [Token] or whatever, but as you connect with people — and as your understanding of the technology deepens — this whole new world opens up to you.”
It’s the small things, like how Erin and Kingsley Edwards roll their eyes at each other whenever they have to wait in line at an IRL bank, and the big ones, like how they share the private key to their wallet. One of their four pets is a Shiba Inu, the Dogecoin dog breed, named Satoshi after the creator of Bitcoin. Even holidays have a crypto slant in the Edwards household.
“We don’t celebrate Christmas anymore. We celebrate HODLdays or Cryptmas. We don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day; we celebrate Vitalik-tine’s Day,” Erin says, referring to the founder of Ethereum.
Peter and Rebecca Kacherginsky have come a long way from their blockchain wedding. On a recent Google Meet, they chatted about how they’ve been house-hunting (and wondering whether they can use crypto as part of their collateral).
Crypto is ingrained into their goals as a family — which is about to expand, as Rebecca is pregnant. They wear physical rings on their hands, but every once in a while, Peter gets a nice random reminder when he spots their wedding NFT on his phone.
“It’s there, it’s rotating, it’s doing its show. It’s not going anywhere,” Peter says. “This is exactly what our idea is for our relationship, our marriage: just going around together, again and again.”