“Be a keeper, not a sports fish.”
When I was separated and beginning to date, I got a lot of advice from friends, co-workers, friends of my ex-husband, randos, family members, old-marrieds. Everyone has their own formula for how to find true love, so I received all of the following advice at different times in my dating life by people wanting to impart their experience:
Fuck no one. Be single.
Fuck everyone. Date no one.
Fuck only men whom you could see absolutely no future with.
Fuck only men you could see a future with.
Don’t fuck, date.
Date and wait four to five dates to fuck.
Don’t date. Read books about dating.
Date, but date several men at a time.
Date, but only one man at a time.
The amount of advice I received was dizzying, so I did what was the smartest and dumbest decision of my life at the time: whatever the hell I wanted.
I was a 32 year old separated and then divorced woman with young kids. I felt damn fine with the “whatever the hell I want” pass I gave myself because I’d been doing what I thought other people wanted me to be doing for nearly my whole life, and I was oh so ready to try anything.
My mom, who has not been single since 1980, gave me her own set of advice as well: read Steve Harvey’s Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man.
Despite my hesitance, I did read Steve Harvey’s book, and I’ll tell you that he with the splendiforous chompers has some things to say that do, in fact, make a lot of sense.
“A man fishes for two reasons: he’s either sport fishing or fishing to eat, which means he’s either going to try to catch the biggest fish he can, take a picture of it, admire it with his buddies and toss it back to sea, or he’s going to take that fish on home, scale it, fillet it, toss it in some cornmeal, fry it up, and put it on his plate…”
Harvey says that women are either sports fishes or keepers. If you’re a sports fish, a man is going to toss you back into the sea (dump yo’ ass), but if you’re a keeper, he’s going to…eat you, I mean, marry you.
His analogy doesn’t work super well, but his description of women does.
Sports fishes have no rules, requirements, standards, or respect for themselves.
Keepers have rules, requirements, standards, and respect for themselves.
“It’s not the guy who determines whether you’re a sports fish or a keeper — it’s you.”
So do you have standards? Respect for yourself?
Because if you don’t, men are going to keep tossing you back into the sea. This kind of sounds like they’re trying to murder-drown you, but it just means they’re letting you go.
I started out as a “sports fish” when I first began dating. I had no clue what I wanted, had no future plans beyond the upcoming weekend, and not even enough self-esteem to make any decisions for myself. I just went along with whatever.
Needless to say, I got “thrown back” a lot.
I then took a break off from dating and tried to work on my self-esteem. It had taken such a crash after my separation that I decided to follow the self-help adage of doing affirmations. Every morning, I looked in the mirror and told my eyeballs, “I am lovable. I am worthy and deserving of love.” I hated it, and then I sort of liked it, and then I loved it.
Affirmations work. They help you counter all of the nasty ninnies in your head that love to tell you that you’re an ugly piece of shit who always fucks up and doesn’t deserve any of the good things you already have in your life.
So when I started dating again, I came at it as a “keeper.” I knew what I wanted. I loved myself and wasn’t willing to put up with any shit.
This did mean that I dealt with some different sort of issues. At one point, I was dating (read: not sexing) three different men who looked nearly identical. All taller than 5'10, outdoorsy, with massive combable beards, wanting me to call them my boyfriend and let them keep a toothbrush at my place.
None of them became my boyfriend because I wasn’t interested in any of them enough to let their toothbrush occupy space next to my toothbrush.
The man whose toothbrush is currently next to mine, though, knew as soon as he met me that I wasn’t a woman to play around with. He knew that I had expectations of what I wanted out of a partner and that I wasn’t going to settle for anything less.
Because he was interested in me and he was looking for a relationship too, he didn’t mess around with expressing his interest and eventually eating…I mean, marrying me.
If you want to be kept:
Command respect and discard anyone who doesn’t respect you.
If you want a relationship and a dude says he doesn’t, move right along. If he says he’s going to call and he doesn’t for something other than an emergency, let him go. If he shows up late without a courtesy phone call or text, let him go.
If he says he can’t talk while he’s at work or with his child, respect that. Know that he’s busy and has a life too. This also means not criticizing him and instead showing appreciation for what he does.
Be clear about what you want and expect.
You want a relationship and a family? Great. Share that.
Take care of yourself.
Work on your own career and what you value and love. Go the gym if you want to. Eat well if you want to. Strive to be happy in your own life and with your own self.
A lot of dating advice for women is just plain silly or slut-shamey, but working on yourself, knowing what you want, loving yourself, and then not putting up with anyone who isn’t willing to abide by your rules and standards isn’t dumb. It’s actually really smart.