07/12/2013 08:35 am ET Updated Sep 11, 2013

A Fish Story For Anyone Who Does Online Dating


Everything I know about online dating I learned on a fishing boat. Truly. It all happened the first time I tried fishing -- literally. The reality of what it took to catch the right fish was quite an eye-opener. Four hours later, as the boat returned to the dock, followed by screaming seagulls and pelicans eager for the leftover bait, I had a new, more patient and more positive attitude towards online dating. After I share my story, I hope you will too.

Why were these fishing lessons even necessary, for me and for you? Well, it stems from my observation that many of us seem to have an infinite capacity for punishing ourselves. When things do not go our way, we pretty much take it out on ourselves. Have you ever told yourself you were an idiot, a moron, a jerk, or a loser? If you say you never have -- well, you're probably lying. Like most of us I've done it and chances are so have you. Hey, those words are just a few of the NICER things people say about themselves when they're feeling discouraged. Sometimes they even say it aloud!

Sadly, this often shows up dramatically with online dating, and across all ages and stages, not just in later years. But in later years we seem to have a greater capacity for blaming our aging bodies and minds for what we perceive as rejection. Which it often is not; though sometimes it is. And so what if it is! You do as much rejecting as the next guy or gal; why take it personally? In truth, it is not personal.

Even if you went on one "interview" date and the person you thought you really, really liked disappeared, it is more a reflection on him or her than on you. That stranger you met, briefly, does not know the special person you are. They don't know what your spouse or significant other loved about you, what your children love about you, what your friends adore you for, what your clients or customers appreciate, or why your dog or cat is always so thrilled to see you open the door. Okay the bird or goldfish. You probably get my point even if no one is excited to see you open the door because you have no pets.

She: I wrote; no answer. Guess what I wrote was all wrong. He called, we spoke, and he never called again. Guess I said all the wrong things. I am such a screw up!

He: I winked, I made her a favorite. She looked at my profile. No response! Guess I am not attracting the ladies any more.

She: I'm not attractive enough.

He: Getting old there bubba.

She: This is too hard. There's no one out there for me. They want women younger, thinner, richer, smarter...anyone but me.

He: Let's face it -- these women don't want just a decent but ordinary guy like me. They want someone taller, richer, with more hair. They want a stud. I just don't have much left to offer. It's over bubba, throw in the towel. Give in to loneliness, it's not so bad. You have your kids and grandkids and golf and sports and let's face it, kiddo, you already had your life. Women, feh!

She: Men, feh!

Here's how I believe you and I can cut through a good deal of the angst about this "thing" called online dating: by seeing it for what it really is... that is to say, fishing!

Yes, online dating is fishing. It's a sport, it's a game, and if you do it with the right attitude it can also be great fun. Before you reel in the big fish (the perfect partner you have in mind) allow yourself to enjoy the process -- smell the salt air, eat the sandwiches, drink the sodas or beer, revel in even the brief encounters you have with other people on the fishing boat, and generally see it as another adventure.

Here's the story of my Aha! Experience with regard to online dating. I swear it's all true.

I was in Florida last winter for ten days, with a lovely man. Ultimately we found out we had incompatible agendas and were not able to make a go of it for the remainder of our lives. But for the several months we were together it was magic. One day he asked me if I wanted to go fishing with him, or stay back by the pool.

Fishing was an activity he loved and indulged in often, with all the right equipment. Though I had never been fishing, I said I would be delighted. I was happy to share the experience with someone I really liked, and curious as to what the allure was for him and for countless others.

Would he mind teaching me how to fish? Gladly, he said, and gave me the shorter of the two "special" fishing poles he kept down there for his winters away from the frigid north. He did show me some basics: how to hold the pole, how to keep my fingers on the reel and let the line out slowly, and optimistically what to do when I had a bite.

On the reeling in part -- that should have been IF. I learned that some days the fish bite, some days they don't. This was one of those days when, to compensate for the fish not biting in one area, the captain of the fishing boat we were on kept moving us further out as he tried to find us schools of fish with his special instrumentation, which allowed him to see many fathoms down.

Now we still had four hours ahead of us. A comfortable, if at times tedious, four hours, but with delicious sandwiches and cold drinks and of course the iPhones and other devices everyone had with them -- there is no getting away from technology anymore even if you are a fish, but that is another topic.

There were also a few neophytes like me, who had never even held a rod, and we kept having to ask for help to untangle our reels when we let the line out too fast or caught a bunch of seaweed instead of the fish we thought we were reeling in. Ms. Personality to the end, I figured what I lacked in finesse I could make up with enthusiasm. So when someone did catch a fish I was right there at their side congratulating them, as the poor thing they caught twisted around until it (quickly thank goodness) gave up the ghost, or however you can describe the demise of a fish.

For most of those four hours nothing was biting on my line, except clumps of seaweed. But boy oh boy was I learning some incredible life lessons.

The people around me were catching fish, but not many that were big enough to keep. Those that were too small had to be thrown right back in. Others were big enough but were not in season and so, by law, had to be released unharmed. Which they were: taken off the hook and thrown back into the sea with maybe just a touch of fish-style PTSD to show for their momentary trauma. What tales they could tell!

It took almost the full four hours but I did finally catch a fish. Medium size, and fortunately one that was in season. My companion was so relieved and thrilled for me that he had one of the boys take my picture with that fish. Much later, people I showed it to said, "Oh, was that the bait?" But I loved my fish. For one thing, I had totally enjoyed the entire new experience. Most of all, I appreciated my fish. Of all the fish in the sea and all the other fish hooks he (I am sure it was a he) could have glommed on to, this medium size fish (6 inches; no comments on size please), he had taken MY bait.

Here are my lessons learned that are applicable to online dating, which occurred to me while I was on the open waters of the Atlantic that afternoon:

The experience of online dating is just that: an experience. It is not a measure of your worth, and it is not usually even about you. Sometimes the fish are biting, sometimes they're not. If they're not, you cut bait and move to another part of the ocean. In other words, change what you are looking for, try another online dating site, or take a bit of time off to give the pool of fish a chance to refresh, or to get hungry again. New fish are always coming in.

Bait is important. If the fish don't like what you have on the hook, and enough time passes, try different bait. Rewrite your self-description, change your photos, maybe work with a professional photographer and be captured under better lighting where some of the wonderful lines that make your face so unique don't show up quite as starkly. You know you look much better in person, when your animated spirit comes through, so...cheat a's still honest bait.

And stop chastising yourself. If you don't catch a great fish, the perfect fish, well, you can still go out for a fish dinner, can't you? Remember the watched pot never boils. Don't put a timeframe on catching the fish, and he or she will appear.

Lower your standards a drop. Nobody is perfect, least of all perhaps you. Okay, least of all me. You don't need to catch the very biggest fish. Even if you did, you might have to throw it back. Trust the Universe to put the perfect fish on your hook, and then cultivate gratitude.

I know for sure that the fish I want is out there, deep in the dating ocean. I say, hey, you gorgeous fish, your ship is about to come watch the waves, Neptune, and get ready for a big catch that will change your life!

One word of caution is in order my friends, continuing this fish analogy. There are dangerous sharks as well as prize Marlin out in the deeper waters. There always have been, even when we were trolling and playing the game in our youth, long before there was an Internet. The rules never change. One does need to be vigilant, and use common sense. You do need to cut your losses, cut bait at times, thrown the wrong fish back sooner rather than later.

What pains me is how our expectations too often dim, after so many painful learning experiences with the not-so-opposite sex. It may not be at all surprising that so many men and women resign themselves to being alone after a while.

Don't do it. Don't lose heart. That's what this story is really about.

I love you.

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