Dating coaches are nothing new. Here to help people find their perfect match, they’ve been the topic of much discussion (remember Hitch?). Today, with the numerous dating apps available to everyone, the dating coach industry seems like it should be a thing of the past, but instead it is thriving, and with it its sleazier counterpart, the pick-up artist industry, is booming—currently estimated at $100 million.
The idea of trying to fix all of your dating problems through the help of a ‘love guru’ is somewhat reminiscent of holistic health care—it’s an industry entirely unregulated, meaning that just about anyone can become a coach, with no requirements of particular qualifications or education. Of course, that is not to label all coaches as unequipped, but the lack of regulation makes it difficult to distinguish the good ones from the bad, like real bad.
Johnny Cassell is a London-based dating coach and pick-up artist (PUA) who charges his clients a minimum of £597 for his Impactful Connection Workshop, or a 7-day intensive workshop starting at £6,000. Cassell has a waiting list for personal mentorship, priced even higher than the rest of his services, where he teaches men how “to master the art of attracting the women [they] truly want,” as his website states.
Cassell’s tactics have been widely criticised as he teaches his male clients how to approach and seduce the women of ‘their dreams’ by flirting with strangers they meet in a public space—something many may see as street harassment. Cassell also teaches his clients the technique of ‘screening’, which has been dubbed the ‘art’ of seducing (or manipulating) a woman into having sex with you.
While Cassell claims that his main aim is to help men work on their confidence and social anxieties linked with approaching women, it is uncertain whether he undergoes any particular training of consent or basic respect with his clientele. In fact, I myself was in contact with Cassell up until I sent my questions forward to him and his publicist, asking for his opinion on the criticism his industry receives for being sexist and exploitative. Needless to say, I did not get a response following that. My guess is that he probably doesn’t care too much, but I decided to give Cassell the benefit of the doubt and interpret his silence as a busy schedule.
‘Negging’ is something that was initially introduced by pick-up artist Erik von Markovic, which is defined as the act of neither complimenting nor insulting the woman in order to try to lower her self-confidence and get her to become more vulnerable to the man’s advances. Unsurprisingly, this is a tactic that many PUAs disguised as dating coaches teach their clients, and it is manipulative, exploitative and misogynistic.
“Pick-up artists are the people who do this—not dating coaches. Dating coaches are teaching people how to get into loving relationships,” dating coach and relationship expert James Preece tells Screen Shot. The main drive behind Preece’s work is to help people who are “frustrated with dating,” understand why that is; how to stop from going for the wrong people and how to start approaching love, intimacy and relationships in a healthy manner. As we all know, dating can be really difficult—it is a challenging social interaction, and it is great that some people can find comfort and aid through working with a coach. But, just like searching for love, finding the perfect dating coach might be another perilous task.
Hayley Quinn is a London-based, female dating coach whose company guides people of all genders and sexualities, and teaches the importance of self-worth, confidence and the building of healthy relationships. She explains that, “It’s not just the dating coach industry—life coaching too, it is so heavily dominated by men and there needs to be more female voices.”
The problem is that a vast majority of the population has been raised and taught to approach intimacy and relationships through a set of ‘traditional’ expectations: that love is exclusively monogamous, usually heteronormative and must conform to outdated conventional gender roles (which explains why there are so many male dating coaches dictating the narrative).
Yes, dating coaches and pick-up artists have been around for a long time, but while our society is slowly progressing, as well as our relationships with it, the dating industry only seems to be regressing. New gens promote diversity, inclusivity and open communication, especially when it comes to relationships. So, if the dating coach industry wants to stay around, changes and new approaches must be made, because it will only be able to survive if its tactics undergo necessary adjustments.
Intimacy means many different things to different people. It could mean trusting a person enough to tell them something you’ve never shared with anyone before, or finding someone whose touch doesn’t make you too nervous, or with whom you can spend an extended amount of time without having an argument. Most significantly, it means having someone you can feel completely comfortable with. Intimacy can be platonic, and it can be sexual, and it seems that more and more people want to understand what it means to them and where their boundaries begin and end. Whatever intimacy looks like for each of us, it usually takes a long time to find someone you can have that level of intimacy with. Whatever the scale is.
For people in monogamous relationships, understanding how intimacy can work in non-monogamous relationships can be challenging, especially as intimacy to date has so often been defined as being exclusively shareable between two people. Often imagining your partner being intimate with another person can leave room for jealousy, and this is certainly not just something that affects monogamous couples. It leads many of us new gen consumers, thinkers, and doers to wonder how is it possible to have the same level of intimacy with multiple partners without the associated feelings of guilt, jealousy and sometimes betrayal.
There are many ways to explore intimacy outside monogamy but we live in a digital age so it doesn’t come as a surprise that it is apps that help new gen individuals navigate these waters. While looking for the right way to start exploring new aspects of intimacy, you might end up on Feeld, the dating app offering a space for couples and singles to meet like-minded people. Before entering a polyamorous relationship, most people’s preconception is that it is founded on a strong emotional connection with just one person, and perhaps on a less meaningful one with other partners but that is in no way the blueprint. The idea that it is best to only love one person and keep any other relationship trivial dominates many people’s dating lives when, in fact, it could often be linked with the reasons some relationships fall apart. In a sense, admitting to having more than one significant other can sound more acceptable than hiding it from a society that sees monogamy as the only option.
I asked a Feeld member who is currently in an open relationship with his partner of eight years and used Feeld in the past whether intimacy was an important part of the conversation before opening up their relationship. “It’s not that there isn’t enough intimacy in our relationship,” he says. “I just like hanging out with other people and being close to other people and being able to touch them.” Many other non-monogamous couples share the sentiment that communicating openly, like this user and his partner did, is what makes their relationships work.
Despite knowing what comes with polyamory, some couples still get the occasional pang of jealousy, but how do they get past it? In many cases, it’s often down to learning from the mistakes we make while in a monogamous relationship. Open communication and verbalising our desires rather than hiding behind how we’re meant to act or be like in a relationship is a crucial step, and one that Feeld is trying to create through the app, community and conversations it is cultivating.
In the same way that every monogamous relationship you have over the years is different but still meaningful and strong—as it varies from each person you date—people who chose to be in polyamorous relationships are able to have many connections simultaneously. For most non-monogamous couples, the hope is that conversations around intimacy will start to open up and include them, rather than scrutinise their ability to form intimate relationships with more than one person.
It’s time to accept intimacy in all of its forms. Intimacy is a personal thing, and so it will continue to look different in every relationship. After all, who are we to say there is one right way to have a relationship.