I’ve never really liked fishing. I can, however, appreciate why some people find comfort or joy in it. You can see beautiful scenery, be in nature, have quiet time to yourself, or make it a shared experience with others. I also like how the act of fishing can elicit a special combination of emotional states – patience, hope, apprehension, boredom, frustration, relaxation, excitement.
But for me it was always a different sort of thing. I remember a time when my dad took me fishing at a pond near our house. I was young and I cried over the thought of hooking a fish and dragging it out of the water, even if the intent was to toss it back. As I got older I maintained my own personal distaste for fishing as a sport. “What senseless trauma!,” I thought, “Poor fish, being tricked, tempted, and baited only to be rejected, consumed, or displayed as a trophy.” Thus, it seems that fishing is a complicated enterprise that can be experienced by different people in drastically different ways. There can be a mix of emotions, an array of objectives and goals, and for these reasons and more, maybe it makes sense that fishing metaphors are so frequently applied to romantic relationships.
The metaphors are familiar: If you’ve got great game, getting a date can feel like shooting fish in a barrel but you might quickly start to feel like a big fish in a very small pond. When looking for love it may be good to cast a wide net. When you do happen to find a good catch, reel them in and hope that they fall just as hard for you, hook-line-and-sinker style. But just in case the relationship doesn’t work out, remember that there are plenty of other fish in the sea.
Some time ago I went through a break up that inspired one of my favorite conversations with my father. In my confusion, frustration, and sadness I vented pathetic statements of exasperation such as, “I really thought this relationship was a good one that would last!” He responded with an unexpected question, “Cori, did I ever tell you about the first time I went fishing with my dad?” Uh……nope. So he told me a little story that went something like this: “I was sitting there with my dad, just casting out my line into the water, watching the bobber do its thing. I asked him, ‘But, Dad, the hook is so far away and the water is so dark that I can’t see anything. How will I know when I’ve caught a fish?’ He just looked at me and said, ‘You’ll know.'”
It was one of the more delicate and clever uses of a fishing reference that I’ve heard to address someone on the topic of relationships. I responded, “Okay, Dad…yes, I get it.” For good measure he assured once more, “You’ll know.”