Clara Scott: Bait in the online ocean
A few weeks ago, my friends and I were hanging out and the conversation devolved into a wilderness survival scenario. We all agreed; one of them would survive for a few weeks and one would end up splitting from the group to join another. My own fate was unanimously decided in less than five minutes: As soon as my feet touched dirt, I would just cease to exist.
Although I am Michigan born-and-raised, the nature streak that many girls have growing up around this many lakes skipped me almost completely. I credit this to my parents, especially my father (who needs a hair dryer to survive). I have never been camping, am very allergic to mosquitoes and would probably light myself on fire if I tried to cook outside. Needless to say, I never dreamed of having an outdoor life. I have made some strides in embracing the natural beauty of my state, but it ends at a lack of indoor plumbing or the inability to plug in a microwave. Sure, I love the dunes, but the thought of returning to a warm shower is just as sweet as the sand between my toes in the moment. I assumed many girls were like this, or that it was at least a 50/50 split between the population of young women who loved being outside and those who despised it. However, according to the men of Tinder, I was wrong.
The first time I downloaded Tinder as a freshly-minted student here at the University of Michigan, I was shocked to immediately find a peculiar species of male Ann Arborite running amok: the fish man. I didn’t know this was such a major demographic in the online dating sphere, but boy, was I in for a surprise. These men are typically white, stocky, tall and absolutely LOVE to fish (or at least their online presence would say so). Their names are things like Brent, Logan, Trenton. Their first profile photo is characteristically an image of them on a dock, holding the prize of their time on the water limply in one hand. Each time I come across one of these profiles, all I can ask myself is whether these fish know what they’ve gotten themselves into. I look into their dead, slimy eyes ― do they know that their demise has become a ploy to get some 20-year-old laid? The fish do not respond, only hang in the photos like deflated props of masculinity. It is a sad, if confusing end for our scaly friends.
Beyond the fish themselves, the mystery of the men behind them has perplexed me since that first foray into online dating a year ago. They still come up every time I lazily swipe when I’m bored in class, or trying to fall asleep after watching a romcom. This phenomenon alone has cemented my suspicions that love is dead, but leave it to Netflix to change my mind, if only for an hour. Whatever the fish men’s deal is, it’s clear to me that I am decidedly not their target audience. But who really is? What I imagine is a girl dressed in all-pink hunting fatigues, bearing a hatchet in one hand and another fish in her second. Their respective fish eye each other, and romance is reborn. But that can’t be right. The phenomenon requires deeper thinking.
In my hypothetical musings on the fish men, I realized what they could truly be playing to: the primitive need to be taken care of. See, I have no interest in building a life out in the wilderness (or the suburbs, for that matter), but I can understand that many young women do. And what a better consolation for that dream than knowing that your Tinder match can literally provide food for a family? Hell, he could probably build you a cabin too. In this understanding, I finally came to comprehend the core of the fish men. They must believe that displaying their catch, however disgusting in theory, shows more than the fact that they are willing to sit for hours on top of an algae-ridden lake. It is more than a display of machismo; rather, a concrete example of the traditional male calling to build a home, fish and all.
Now, as previously established, this is not something I personally aspire to. I’d rather live in a shoebox apartment and subsist solely on bodega chips than deal with a home in the woods and everything that comes with it. However, my initial confusion around the fish men has slowly turned into a muted reverence for their cause. All they want is a nice blonde lady to eat their fish, to turn hot dogs over a campfire and attend country music festivals wearing matching bandanas with them. I know that I am not this girl. But for now, I’ll let the fish men live. Even if the fish can’t.