HOLLY WAINWRIGHT: Stone-fishing is the dating behaviour that you're definitely guilty of.

I can cook a pea-mint risotto that will make you forget about chicken. 

I can recite all the words to Under The Bridge by the Red Hot Chilli Peppers.

I can explain soccer’s offside rule. 

I know that Margaret River does a good Cab Sav, but if you want the best Shiraz, the word you’re looking for on the label is Barossa. 

I know that an AFL tackle must be above the waist and below the neck. 

I once read a “classic” book called The Dice Man that – and I can’t overstate this – is everything that is wrong with the world. 

I can build a fire, put up a tent. I know how to roll a very tidy joint. 

These dubious skills are all on my life CV because of men I’ve dated. And the women I’ve pretended to be in the process. 

Women who love football, drink red wine, appreciate dude-lit, and don’t require proximity to a hot shower. 

Some of those women live within me. Some of them were never anything more than a mask. All of them started off as cosplay. 

And they're all symptoms of a dating phenomenon that gets a bad name. I’m calling it stone-fishing. 

Watch: Twenty-somethings on dating. Post continues after video. 

Video via Mamamia.

So there's cat-fishing, where a predator pretends to be something they are truly not – a different age or gender, say. They have no intention of real connection, only of luring prey to serve their own purposes. 

Then there’s blow-fishing, where you enhance your actual Life CV in order to impress. Your job is a little more important, your list of countries visited is a little longer, your prospects are little brighter. We have all done a touch of blow-fishing in our time. 


And there’s stone-fishing – changing yourself to blend in. 

It’s almost impossible to spot a stone-fish on a shallow, rocky sea bed before you step on a poisonous spike. They are masters of assimilation. 

And so was I, throughout my dating life.

Stone-fishes crave only connection, and they will invent it if they have to. I am a straight, cis woman, and I have always been attracted to physical, creative men, so my stone-fish history is scattered with predictable stints as a wannabe rock-climber, a guitar-tuner, a connoisseur of big-wave surfing, a multi-day hiker. 

In truth, I am a born-and-bred city dweller, who, until the age of about 23, panicked when the pavement ran out. 

But as I sit here in mid-life tallying up the things I’ve done and the places I’ve been because of the men I dated or loved, my regrets are few. 

I love how watching football takes you out of yourself. Pea-mint risotto is heaven. Sleeping under stars is one of life’s pure pleasures. 

The true stone-fish regrets come not from the things you pretended to like, or the new things you pushed yourself to try. The stone-fish regrets come from who you pretended to be. And what it cost you.

In The Couple Upstairs, the novel I wrote over the course of the pandemic (you can pre-order it, here, friends), one of the two main characters is young, in passionate lust, and working hard at being someone she isn’t. 

Lori believes, for example, that if she’s the kind of girl who wears toe-rings, twinkling away on her bare feet resting on the dash on a long road trip, she might become ‘toe-ring girl’. Laidback, easy-going, fearless. The kind of girl who expects nothing from her lover: not fidelity or praise, not security or reassurance.

My novel, The Couple Upstairs, is out August 30.  


Young me tried to be toe-ring girl, many times. 

Cool, air-dried and braless, allergic to making plans, unflustered by stories of past lovers. Unbothered by their actual reappearance. Whatever, toe ring girl says. All good. Cool if you don’t want to stay tonight. See you whenever. Cool, cool. 

In reality, young me had frizzy hair, sweat patches under her free-range boobs and spent nights contorted in 'what’s wrong with me' tears as I pictured my lover in the arms of an “ex”. 

Young stone-fish me once stood petrified on the edge of a soaring rock edge, willing and willing myself to leap into the cool, inviting water below. Fury and self-hatred burned my throat as I cursed why I couldn’t just jump, like the others, like the real cool girls, like my boyfriend wanted me to. 

“Come on! It’s no big deal,” the cool ones called up to my frozen form. It was. I was terrified. I wasn’t someone who could 'Feel the Fear And Do It Anyway'. I was someone who could see only an end-result of stinging humiliation, of myself smashed into a jagged rock wall, of red welts blooming in impact. I couldn’t do it. 

“I thought you were adventurous,” my boyfriend said, as I slid into the water from the sand after a hot walk back down the stony path to the waterhole. His tone was cold. My stone-fishing had failed. I was all too visible again. 

Toe-ring girl can take many forms, and not all of them appear in dating. Her contemporary sister is all over Instagram - fresh-faced and apparently effortlessly slim, selling you things, including the fact you shouldn’t have to work so hard to be her. She’s just anxious enough to be interesting, but not so anxious as to be an inconvenience. She’s successful but values boundaries and self-care. She has a partner, someone beautiful and besotted, who doesn’t fear PDA on public platforms. 


She, most likely, is a stone-fish. 

She swallowed someone’s ideal of a generic cool girl and camouflaged herself accordingly. To not stand out, to not be awkward.

Listen to Mamamia Out Loud, where Holly Wainwright, Jessie Stephens and Emma Gillespie discuss "blow-fishing". Post continues after audio.

My tween daughter’s stone-fishing amongst her friend group right now. They all wear the same oversized hoodie in neutral tones, the same high-waisted jeans. They request hair cut to the same length, campaign for the same black and white hi-tops.

At work, are you stone-fishing that you are someone who can “take a joke” when your boss spikes you with critique dressed as praise? Or as someone who loves feedback? Or as someone who doesn’t mind doing that extra shift, to help out your work wife?

Cool, cool. 

But it’s in dating and relationships where the stone-fish is the most self-sabotaging, while also delivering a few surprising perks.  

I don’t need to stone-fish with the father of my kids. Long-term relationships make subterfuge impractical and exhausting. So my partner doesn’t try to make me join him in climbing mountains, knowing my enthusiasm for the outdoors ends when the steep climb begins. He knows I have no interest in his kind of football (rugby union, a code too far). He knows I won’t be watching the directors’ cut of Apocalypse Now with him, three times a year. 

But in the early days, I added a few stone-fish accomplishments in my Life CV while we wooed, for sure. A Thai curry made from scratch, spices toasted and crushed to a bright paste. An appreciation for absurdist Kiwi comedy. The whole tent thing. 

But I can tell you for certain, he was not the boyfriend for whom I read The Dice Man

That man brought out my spikes and encouraged the shaking off of camouflage and the reassertion of self. 

Even the stone-fish has its limits. 

The Couple Upstairs is Holly Wainwright's fourth novel, and you can order it here

Feature Image: Supplied.

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