THE POLISH GIRL with the tea trolley is trying to figure out what the fuck is going on. A tall, athletic young man in a tight-fitting black T-shirt is standing in the centre of Room 202. His hair is meticulously tousled and a tacky necklace pendant bobbles on his chest. He is a rising inter-county hurling star, but that wouldn’t ring any bells. She’s more likely to have noticed that he’s holding the hand of another (identically kitted-out) young man and leading him in a graceful twirl around on the spot.
On the far side of the room, a third boyband clone is filming the pair on a digital camcorder.
I couldn’t tell you exactly what this hotel worker is thinking. But I’d be very surprised if the words “gay porn” aren’t high up there in the mix. With as much nonchalance as she can feign, she wheels the trolley across the floor, lifts the tray onto the table, turns around and stops. It is only now she realises that there are another eight men seated behind desks at the back of the room. They are scribbling notes and concentrating intently. She asks if there’ll be anything else. There won’t. She smiles politely and departs; the trolley still visibly accelerating even as it bounces through the doorframe.
The young man holding court here is Stephen Nolan, a 23-year-old UCD graduate and Wexford hurler. He is the CEO of Kama Lifestyles and a self-proclaimed “world-class pick-up artist”. Six students have each paid €300 to attend this two-day dating boot camp, which he is giving alongside his 33-year-old Turkish business partner, and fellow PUA (pick-up artist) extraordinaire, Emre Ilkme.
Although date coaching has been big business in the US since the publication of Neil Strauss’s seduction bible, The Game , in 2005, it remains a relatively new phenomenon in this country. Nolan, who is a teacher by profession, suspected that he would be exposing himself to ridicule when he embarked upon this venture. He was right. “Stephen Nolan: Love God” read one sarcastic thread title on GAA website An Fear Rua . “Stephen Nolan Embarrassing Himself” chimed in Boards.ie.
But the Faythe Harriers clubman has taken it in his stride. “There have been some remarks in the dressing room alright,” he admits. “But I’d be pretty good at holding my own. Nine times out of 10, the fella slagging you isn’t even in a relationship himself. His arms are folded tightly – he’s completely closed off.” Body language is something Nolan is acutely attuned to. “If you go to any bar in the country, you’ll see single men standing against a wall, protecting themselves behind their pints. These guys have to drink themselves stupid before they ever have the confidence to approach women.”
A better idea, Nolan argues, is to take a more methodical approach. “There are coaches for diets, fitness, even job interviews. So why not for dating?” His students today are a mixed bag. One of them (let’s call him Nicky) is a 27-year-old Monaghan solicitor, who bears a passing resemblance to Nicky Byrne of Westlife. Nicky is clearly something of a ladies’ man – the old T-shirt-and-suit-jacket combo give that much away. But he’s just come out of a relationship and wants to brush up on his technique.
On the other end of the Lothario spectrum is Felix, a quietly spoken 35-year-old financial analyst from Germany, who lives in Dublin. Felix has never had a girlfriend and, when obliged to speak, tends to blush while doing so. Others wannabe Don Juans have travelled from Waterford, Laois and Kildare to be here today. None has advised their friends or families of the true purpose of their visit.
The first seminar kicks off with some pop psychology. The fear of rejection, Ilkme explains, is a hangover from caveman times. With a limited number of women available for procreation in a given tribe, rejection from one would severely diminish a man’s stock in the eyes of the rest. Nowadays, though, most of us live in large towns and cities teeming with potential partners. Rejection, therefore, should not hold any fear. Besides, when one’s advances are spurned, it’s not the person that is being rejected, only his approach.
Nolan outlines the basics of “approach theory”. Striking up conversation with a group of women is referred to as “opening up a set”. Physical contact – vital in communicating the romantic nature of your intentions – is “kino”. Occupying the most strategically advantageous space within a group, meanwhile, is securing the “position of power”.
It is for that reason that the “twirl manoeuvre” (which Nolan is demonstrating when refreshments arrive) is doubly useful. Not only does it necessitate physical contact, it also allows subtle positional readjustments to be engineered. (“If you’re ever out and you see a guy twirling a girl he’s chatting up,” he confides, “he’s a PUA – guaranteed.”)
Some of Nolan and Ilkme’s tricks and chat-up lines are undeniably cheesy. One kino technique involves asking a girl where she’s from, and then telling her that your best friend is from the same place. The girl is then offered a celebratory high five, in which she will enthusiastically partake (assuming she’s a idiot.)
But there’s nothing particularly sleazy about them. If I’m honest, I was probably secretly hoping to witness a torrent of pseudo-science, psychobabble, misogyny and narcissism (think Tom Cruise’s character in Magnolia). But a lot of what Kama Lifestyles teach actually makes some sense to me. If you’ve ever received a text message from a potential romantic interest and, for no particular reason, waited a couple of hours before replying, then you’ve already played this game. All Nolan and Ilkme are doing is sharing wisdom gleaned from a whole lot more trial and error.
Their list of “Crucial Mistakes to Avoid Making with Women”, for instance, reads like a potted history of every romantic relationship I’ve been in in my entire life.
Nolan continually stresses the vital importance of thinking and acting like an alpha male. Being an alpha male doesn’t come naturally to every man, he concedes, but it can be learned and must be practised.
THAT EVENING at dinner, I order the pasta carbonara. Nolan tells the waitress he’ll have the biggest steak on the menu. Already, I suspect, I’ve missed a trick. I order a beer. Nolan says he’ll stick with the mineral water, thanks. Why, I ask him, should we believe that his success with women has anything to do with his mastery of “game” theory? Might it not conceivably have more to do with the fact that he’s a young, handsome, tee-total sports star?
“Physical appearance is only a small component of what women look for in a man,” he replies. Really? “Look,” he says, “a girl might have a prototype in her head of what she’s looking for and, fair enough, you mightn’t exactly fit that. But you have a good personality, and an interesting job. All you’ve got to do is get through the first minutes, then she’ll forget about the rest.”
Well, that’s reassuring: if a potential conquest doesn’t vomit within five minutes of meeting me, I have as good a chance as the next guy.
Now it’s time for the class to put into practice what we’ve learned. But before we hit the bars, we each have to rehearse our own CHV (Convey Higher Value) stories – pre-prepared anecdotes which showcase our most attractive alpha male qualities – in front of the group. Somewhat counterintuitively, Nolan recommends that our stories make mention of at least one ex-girlfriend with whom we are still on friendly terms.
Thus Nicky find himself awkwardly having to shoehorn mention of his former girlfriend, and how well they still get along, into an anecdote about his passion for painting. Verbal gymnastics are required also by Brendan from Waterford, to squeeze his ex into a tale of how he once used alpha male cunning to avoid a conviction for public urination. (Nolan winces. “I’m not sure pissing on the street is the side of your personality you want to be showcasing there, Brendan,” he says.)
Only Felix comes up blank. Under cross-examination, he admits to having briefly taken kick boxing classes as a teenager. “Use that,” says Nolan. “Tell us about some big kick boxing fight you won!”
“But I’m not a fighter,” Felix whispers. “I’m a peaceful person.”
THE GROUP SPLITS in two before we head out. The crew I’m rolling with tonight consists of (1) Ilkme; smooth-talking, balding Turkish Casanova. (2) Sean; suited and booted skinhead, bodybuilder and former male stripper from Finglas. (3) Felix; slight, reserved German with the tortured expression of a reluctant conscript about to go over the top. (4) Monaghan solicitor Nicky; tanned, suave and vaguely resembling an extra from Miami Vice. (5) Yours truly: pale, sweating and vaguely resembling an extra from The Bill .
A nice bunch of lads, to be sure. But I’m not sure how convincing a group of friends we make. Felix is visibly terrified of Sean, for starters.
First into the fray, when we arrive at The Morgan in Temple Bar, is Ilkme. Promising to show his pupils how it’s done, he makes a beeline for the two most glamorous women in the bar and strikes up a conversation. It’s car-crash viewing. When one of the pair appears to asks why the Bash Street Kids are standing five feet away, sipping mineral water and taking notes, I flee to the toilet in embarrassment.
When I return, something extraordinary has happened. Whatever Ilkme did while I was gone, the two women are now eating out of his hand. He’s high-fiving one girl and twirling the other. He’s just showboating at this point, it’s like watching a Harlem Globetrotters. When he finally attempts to make his excuses, the two women forcibly try to prevent him from leaving. This is not being staged for my benefit – it’s for real and it is mightily impressive.
In the far corner of the bar, meanwhile, Nicky has “opened up a three set” (engaged three girls in conversation), he tells me. But the girl he’s interested in is diagonally across the table from him, hemmed in by two walls and her friends. What would a true alpha dog do in this situation? The two of us wrack our brains… Pole vault across the table? Burst in through the partition wall?
Glancing across the bar, I notice that even Felix has now taken the plunge. He’s holding his mineral water so tightly the glass is in danger of cracking. But he’s talking to two real women and they’re really talking back to him. No sooner has he established a bridgehead than Sean, the terrifying ex-stripper from Finglas, has bounded over. He greets Felix like a long lost friend. “Felix, mate, long time!” he roars. “Still doing the old kick boxing? Man, you were always an animal in the ring!”
It’s now or never for me. The CHV story involves my having visited Gaza alone last year, delivering supplies from Irish Medical Aid for Palestine to the besieged territory.
Stephen thinks it showcases just the right combination of concern for my fellow man and disregard for my own personal safety. I spot a girl standing alone at the bar and pounce. After a short, cursory preamble, I opine that there is much injustice and suffering in the world. When she nods in baffled agreement, I segue directly into the Gaza anecdote. Of course, I make some changes to the anecdote here and there.
In this telling of the story, instead of the Israeli army interrogating me for two hours, it is I who interrogates them. That’s not the only white lie I slip in. “What was your ex-girlfriend doing in the Gaza Strip?” interrupts a rather baffled-looking Lorraine (or was it Lauren?) at one point.
But I’m on a roll now. “Oh, it’s a long story,” I tell her, “A long, long story…”
Dating boot camps are being staged in Dublin on July 18th-19th and August 8th-9th. The cost is €300. See: www.kamalifestyles.com
1. Go to the set on your own and invite your wing. Translation: Two guys should not approach a group of girls together. One goes first and, after he has broken the ice, he invites his friend to join them.
2. Whoever opens the set chooses the targets. Translation: Whoever breaks the ice chooses which girl he is interested in. He signals his intentions, when the wingman joins the group, by introducing her first.
3. Wingman occupies the other girls in set. Translation: Even if he isn’t interested in any of them, the wingman should make friendly conversation with the target’s friends. This gives the main man room to make his move.
4. Do not compete with the main man. Translation: Even if the main man’s target flirts with the wingman, he should not reciprocate. He should instead respond by directing flattering attention back to the main man.
5. Raise the main man’s value and he will do the same. Translation: Tell jokes and anecdotes that cast each other in a positive light. (e.g. “Did anyone read in the paper about Eoin dragging those orphans from that burning building last week?”)
6. Do not leave until the main man closes the set. Translation: The main man decides if and when to move on.
7. Respect each other’s feelings and never go against each other. There are lots of girls out there, but a good wingman is rare.