People often use job analogies when discussing their singlehood—dating résumés, qualifications, relevant experience—so maybe it’s not so strange that some singles are now hiring professional coaches to help them find a mate. For the most part, it’s women seeking them out, and the cost is substantial: $125 an hour and up per session. But coaches say they provide an invaluable service, teaching clients how to break bad patterns and attract the right guys. If it sounds unromantic, maybe it’s just a sign of the times. Fate is out and strategy’s in.
Nancy Slotnick, 37, who founded the Upper West Side dating café Drip, which now exists only online, is a professional dating coach. Angular and pretty, she resembles a Jewish Katharine Ross and is surprisingly shy. Her Website is called Cablight.com. “If you want to meet someone,” she tells me over coffee at the Union Square Cosí, “you have to have your light on, the way a cab has its light on, to tell people that you’re open to a relationship.” This boils down to going out alone, making eye contact, and smiling at strangers. (Slotnick met her own husband on the street in front of a party they had both gone to. He smiled at her as he passed with a friend, she joined him at the corner, and they were married one and a half years later.)
Slotnick calls her coaching the Most Eligible Program and accepts only those she deems to have made a serious commitment to finding a mate. They have to see her for a minimum of six months (if they meet someone sooner, they’re allowed to stop). Although she wouldn’t reveal her rate, she says it’s comparable with that of a therapist or a trainer. Every week, her clients, 90 percent women, must have one session with Slotnick, spend fifteen hours on “the search,” and go on at least one date. “That sounds like a lot,” she explains. “But if a serious relationship is a priority in your life and you date once a month, it just doesn’t add up. I put them on a program and help them stay motivated and stick with it.”
At the initial session, she talks to the client in depth about her relationship history and tries to discern patterns. From then on, it’s date dissection and strategizing, tailored to the individual. For the nymphos, she stresses, “Don’t equate sex with a relationship.” For the stagnating, she advocates dumping the fuck buddies. For the psycho aggressive ones like me, she says the man should initiate phone calls and choose date locations: “It’s about figuring out what he’s going to do when you don’t control it. It may not turn out well, and that may mean you don’t like him. But you get to find out what kind of man he is.”
When I tell her this sounds like The Rules, she insists she doesn’t encourage deception. “I tell my clients not to play hard-to-get but to be hard-to-get, be busy with their lives,” she says. Of course, that’s easy when they’re spending fifteen hours a week on the search. (“Sorry, can’t do Saturday. I’m eating dinner at a bar alone.”)
With the logged-in search hours and minimum date requirement, it all sounds almost cultish. It’s so thought-out and deliberate: the opposite of falling in love. This becomes even clearer when one of Slotnick’s clients comes to the café for a session. She’s a tall dancer named Adele who resembles the actress Rachel Weisz and is in her fourth month in the Program. And she’s all of 24.
“ ‘I tell my clients not to play hard-to-get but to be hard-to-get, be busy with their lives.’ ”
Adele’s trying to meet gainfully employed guys, but the first story she launches into is about a bartender. He worked at a restaurant where she was applying for a job, and he kept coming over to talk to her. “Then he told me he thought he was going to get fired because his boss didn’t like him. The boss came out and called him into the office, and sure enough, he’d gotten fired. I think he has trouble with authority figures.”
“That might be a sign of immaturity,” Slotnick says carefully. Adele nods. Slotnick asks how Adele’s Internet dating is going. Adele pulls out a magazine in which her personal was the featured ad but says she didn’t get a single response. They discuss her photo (head down, arms over chest), and Slotnick suggests she choose one that’s friendlier and shows off her eyes.
They go on like this a bit, Adele dishing about crushes, e-mails, an upcoming Internet date, as Slotnick listens with the seriousness of a Freudian analyst. She encourages Adele to talk to married friends—so she can meet the eligible types. “You have to aim at who you’re targeting,” she says. “You’re looking for a needle in a haystack, but maybe you need to look in another haystack.”
Isn’t 24 a little young to be hiring a dating coach? I ask after Adele leaves. Slotnick shakes her head no: “I’m so proud of her for doing this at a young age. I have women coming to me in the same situation that she’s in who are 44.”
I leave feeling a bit confused, wondering whether all this deconstructing just makes women more man-obsessed than they already are. When I was at my most lovelorn, sometimes the best thing my friends could do was tell me to shut up.
A few days later, I call another of Slotnick’s clients, Jane, a 31-year-old CTO who raves about the Program. She’s meeting more men, hanging out at the Campbell Apartment, learning how to have fun. Then she tells me about an e-mail she was going to send to a guy that Slotnick edited for her in advance, and I get an uncomfortable feeling, wondering what the guy would think if he knew. “Nancy took out three quarters of what I had written,” Jane recalls, “and said, ‘If you send him this e-mail, he’ll call.’ I said okay, and sure enough, he called.” It occurs to me that maybe some of these women keep going because their relationship with Slotnick is guaranteed, unlike the other relationships in their lives. Even if they don’t find anyone right away, they’re no longer going through the heartache alone.
Does it ever feel strange to Jane that Slotnick’s so involved in her intimate affairs? On the contrary, she says: “Now when I go on a date, the first thing I think is, I can’t wait to tell Nancy about it and see what she says!”