Becoming a Better Catch

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Never in my life have I seen so many photos of men holding fish as I have on dating sites. But wait, I’m getting ahead of myself.

I went directly from my parents’ house to my marital home, so I hadn’t lived the single life until I took off my wedding band. Online dating became my new reality and it was pretty much terrifying from the start.

It’s an interesting experiment that comes with a healthy dose of rejection. You’re either too this or not enough that. That’s hard when you’re coming off a broken heart. But it’s important to remember that dating is not a measure of your worth and that rejection is rarely about you anyway.

As confident and optimistic as you might start out, online dating can really wear you down. Because you must have a stringent filter to screen out the weaker or suspiciously creepy matches, you very quickly go through the pool of possible love connections until most potential has been drained away. So you cast a wider net. And you start to reconsider dating people you might have previously swiped past.

Which leads me to… the fishermen.

Plenty of guys choose profile pics that show them, well… showing off. If they’re not skiing or snowboarding, they’re fishing – or in the afterglow of said activity, proudly holding out their prized catch to the camera. You can almost hear them primitively grunt “Me, man. Me good hunter. Me caught big fish to feed woman!”

What’s startling is that a recent survey revealed that half of 1,000 women polled found dating profiles of manly men posing with slimy, smelly fish more attractive than those without. Seriously? Where were these women surveyed… Newfoundland?

I’ve always thought these pictures were pretty odd. Are they a clever metaphor for being a great catch, or a play on there being plenty of fish in the sea? Maybe they simply say this stud just really loves fishing and you too can look forward to eating shore lunch in hip waders if you’re lucky bachelorette number one.

While I have never been tempted to date anyone clutching a big mouth bass, I will admit that early in my limited online experience, I responded to one fellow who was an outdoors enthusiast. I grasped to find some commonality and ended up stretching the truth to fit. “Of course, I love the outdoors!” I replied exuberantly, despite the fact that my idea of roughing it is booking accommodations with three stars or less. “Some of my best memories are of weekends spent camping and hiking!”

(Well, that part is true, although I didn’t mention that the last time I did either I was still reading Tiger Beat.)

Our brief exchange didn’t get far. I can’t say that it wasn’t a total relief that I didn’t have to confess barely knowing a tent pole from a tadpole. Still, I felt icky for fudging the truth. Faking my interests for a chance to meet a complete stranger for a 40-minute coffee date is not at all who I am.

Sometimes we think that there’s no harm in pretending to be something we’re not if it’s not hurting anyone. I mean, it wasn’t like I was catfishing the guy (ba dum tss), I was just saying what I needed to say to appear more alluring. But it wasn’t long before I felt guilty for not being myself and realized that I wasn’t enjoying our interaction because of it.

We want to showcase the very best version of who we are to new people because we want them to like us. We do it at job interviews and we certainly do it while dating. We portray ourselves as poised and polished; we enhance our appearance, we tell our best stories and laugh at all their jokes. That doesn’t seem so dishonourable.

But forcing ourselves to behave how we don’t usually behave, think how we don’t usually think, or do things we don’t usually do will only lead to failure because it can’t be sustained. Imagine if you bait, catch and reel in one of those grinning fishermen when you in fact despise sport fishing. How long before your everlasting happiness reeks like a three-day-old carp?

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Could this be the rugged outdoorsman photo that sealed the deal for Angelina?

I went out with one genuinely sweet guy whom I never really got to know because he was always putting on an act. He was constantly trying to do things he thought would impress me. When he learned that I’d recently published my first romance novel, he bought and sped-read through it before our first date (I guess he thought it might provide some meaningful insight into my soul).

Throughout the evening, he peppered our conversation with thinly-veiled references about people and places in the book. It was jarring and a bit creepy, but I gave him the benefit of the doubt. He was nervous. He was trying to woo me like some suave fictional hero, using my own story as the blueprint to my heart. Maybe I should’ve been flattered. He had read my book, after all.

After that, I couldn’t be sure which remarks and gestures were authentic, therefore all of them came off with a tinge of phoniness. It’s too bad, because like I said, he seemed like a sweet guy. He was either too unsure or insecure, as if what he had to sell wasn’t worth buying on its own.

When our friends are in situations where their image really counts, we advise them to “just be yourself.” Why? Because we already know how awesome they are by nature. Because people usually see right through imposters. And because it’s always easier to be true to yourself than to keep up false pretenses.

Pretending to be someone you’re not will eventually cause you to lose sight of the person you really are. And that’s too bad because who you are at this very moment is special and the culmination of your unique life experiences. Your thoughts, opinions, interests and behaviors shouldn’t be altered to impress, please or win over anyone else.

Your true self is lure enough. Cut bait and throw back the posers if you need to, because it’s worth holding out for someone who thinks you’re a great catch just the way you are.