Today is Valentine’s Day, and I’m a hopeless romantic.
Maybe you’ve seen it in the way I write about my favorite quarry: trout. If not, you’ve doubtless read extended metaphors about my love affairs with gar, bass and sturgeon. Part of my brand is self-deprecating humor about being unlucky in love, and I really don’t have to embellish that much. Fishing is my favorite warm weather activity, but dating unsuccessfully is my go-to winter activity. It has been for the better part of a decade.
I probably should’ve dated more in college. You know, when I was surrounded by women my age on a daily basis. Sure, I had valid reasons for my lack of dating activity; I was working full-time, going to school full-time, and fishing in the precious gaps between. Plus, I lacked confidence and had all the swagger of (insert name of nerdy person here).
I always assumed I had time for dating down the road, as long as I had what Rogelio de la Vega (from TV’s “Jane the Virgin”) claims are essential to attracting women: health and hair. Check and check.
Then suddenly, I was out of college. Almost overnight, marriageable women became an endangered species in my world. My friends (many of whom were already married before we graduated college) began coupling off at an alarming rate.
I remember going to a New Year’s party around that time. There were 21 people there, including me. You know why I remember that number? Because when we split up to play minute-to-win-it games in teams of two, I learned I was the only single person at the party.
I was in half a dozen weddings before I knew what was happening, and I attended a dozen more. Before I knew it, I was one of just two people left from my graduating class who was neither married, engaged or divorced.
All this time, I told people — heck, I told myself — it was fine, that I wasn’t worried about it. I focused on my career, my writing and, of course, fishing. That was true. I was never desperate, and I was rarely lonely so long as I had fishing to keep me occupied.
That is, until around December when the fishing opportunities in my small town became fewer and further between than the dating opportunities, and the seasonal affective disorder (aptly-abbreviated SAD) kicked in.
For most of my twenties, fishing season would end around December, and dating season would begin. I would try, in earnest, to find love for those cold winter months with limited success. But every year, spring would thaw my heart, and I’d let fishing, my eternal mistress, distract me once again.
It’s not that I didn’t date or try to date during fishing season; it’s just that I put more effort into fishing for the catch of a lifetime than looking for the catch of a lifetime.
Over the years, I used all of the tried-and-true methods: everything waiting outside the offices of divorce lawyers to attending viewing parties of “Gray’s Anatomy” and pretending I’m interested. I’m kidding, obviously, since humor is an adaptation I developed in the years before my “glow up” when I wasn’t yet attractive enough to not be funny.
“Funny” became just another way to stand out in a highly-competitive market.
My strategy has long been multifaceted, and I experimented with tactics from both ends of the confidence spectrum from directly asking women out at church, the bar or the gym to playing the slow game and liking every one of their Instagram posts for months or years before sliding into their DMs. I’ve had success with both, I must admit.
I’ve had online dating profiles on every major app for years now, and I’ve gone on Bumble, Hinge and Tinder dates. Shameful, I know, but necessary when your only chance to meet singles is in fleeting moments at the grocery store, the gym, restaurants, coffee shops or through social circles. I assure you the small town dating pool is shallow. Shallow enough that it will eventually force me to move out of the town that I know and love for fear of becoming a line from that Kacey Musgraves song that says: “Just like dust, we settle in this town.” Not that settling is the norm, but as you age and your options shrink, it certainly becomes more tempting.
Yes, I’ve used the friends and family referral program.
I’ve even tried going to bars (hate them) and parties (hate them more) just to get myself out there, but let me refer you to the naked ring finger on my left hand for proof of how that’s gone.
Honestly, there are few strategies I haven’t tried to meet someone.
You know what I haven’t ever done, though? Whistled. Shaved my head. Traveled to Asia. Been the defendant in a class action lawsuit. Found my lifelong fishing partner.
Fortunately, if fishing taught me one thing, it’s that sunburns can happen any time of year without the proper skin protection. If fishing has taught me two things, it’s the sunburn thing and patience.
Last year, after a lifetime of trying, I finally got my fish of a lifetime. I wasn’t expecting it. I wasn’t planning for it. No, I was planning a weeks-long trip across the country to fish for anything and everything but rainbow trout. That’s precisely when it happened, and I was certainly — wait for it — CaughtOvgard. I just reacted properly when the situation unfolded in front of my eyes, and before I knew it, I was photographing and releasing a 31-inch trout.
Granted, I had to catch 1,772 redbands to get my 30-incher, but it happened, and I never lost hope. I just sort of put it on the backburner and focused on other things.
Nonetheless, I’m happy for you if you’ve found the love of your life and get to celebrate with them this Valentine’s Day.
I’m optimistic. If the 1-in-1772 metrics hold for the “catch of a lifetime” then I’m only like 1750 first dates away from my Valentine. I just hope my hair can last that long.