Behind enemy lines
Men are forking out a sizeable chunk of cash for lessons in how to attract women
It's 10pm on a Saturday night and the air is filled with chatter, the clink of ice cubes and the heady smell of booze, aftershave and hairspray.
All around us people are chilling out on sofas, laughing and unwinding in the outdoor drinks area of a bustling Temple Bar hotel – but at my table the vibe is a little different.
For a start no one's drinking, and three of the group of five guys are wearing expressions not dissimilar to the soldiers in the boats at the start of Saving Private Ryan.
"It's time to make An Approach," one of them announces authoritatively, "I'm putting one of you into The Set."
The atmosphere bristles with anticipation as the three nervous looking lads shuffle and look around them, wondering what direction their fate lies.
It all feels a bit like preparing for war, but then love is a battlefield and, tonight, I'm behind enemy lines.
The evening is part of a guys-only dating service that offers men not only hours of theory training in the art of attracting women but also 'in field' training in Dublin's social scene where they can put the theory into action.
For the first time, I'm getting a unique perspective on what guys on the pull learn from a business that guarantees clients will "get good with women" or give them their money back.
Since starting in 2008, Kama Lifestyles (kamalifestyles.com) has had more than one thousand men through its dating boot camps, confidence courses and one-on-one tutorials.
It was set up by business coach Emre Ilkme (37) and Wexford hurler Stephen Nolan (28) after recognising a gap in the market for teaching Irish men how to approach women.
Turkish Emre, who has a girlfriend, takes the lead on the in-field training, while Stephen, currently single, leads the afternoon seminar on dating theory
Taking tips from a single dating coach might sound like employing a chubby personal trainer, but Stephen, qualified in the study of NLP (neuro-linguistic programming), has a wealth of encouraging anecdotes regarding ladies he's wooed in bars and bank queues that ensures his clients are keen to learn his wisdom.
And there's plenty to learn. From noon to 3pm on a Saturday afternoon I sit scribbling in a plush conference room while the secrets of seduction are laid bare.
From the psychological (summoning confidence on making An Approach, the lingo for going up to a girl) and verbal (using 'opinion openers' such as 'when do you think is too soon to get married?' to start a chat) to the physical (initiating touch within three seconds) and the practical (how not to get stuck paying for drinks and club entry).
We cover kissing, phone numbers, first dates and an entire segment is dedicated to the dos and don'ts of 'wingmen' while in The Set, the group containing a potential love interest.
My mind is whirling. Not since panicked maths revision have I compressed such a vast amount of new information into my brain in such a short space of time.
But, perhaps because they've invested not just time but money in the venture (the two- day boot camp costs €1,200) when I meet the guys later that night in a hotel bar, they're raring to go.
My own prejudice had led me to assume that the course's clients would be losers in love but in fact the three guys are in their 20s and 30s, friendly and not unattractive – they've had girlfriends before but are just a bit shy at initiating contact.
Straight off, Emre directs one nervous young chap into The Set, a pair of blonde twenty-somethings, sitting at a nearby table.
He ambles over and they look up expectantly.
"He needs to sit down," hisses Emre, urgently gesturing a down signal with his hand. Dutifully the young bachelor lowers himself to eye-level and within seconds has also secured touch with a high five.
One chap retreats sharpish from his set looking deflated. "They said they had beefy boyfriends on the way," he explains.
"It's not so bad after the first one," reports the first guy, buoyed from a 15-minute chat with blondie. "Once your heart stops beating really hard, it's okay."
I had intended to stay on the sidelines as an impartial observer, but Stephen has other ideas.
"I'm putting you into that set as wingman," he says ushering me reluctantly to where one of the guys is talking to two girls.
"So are you getting married?" says one of the girls enthusiastically, causing me some confusion.
It transpires my guy has used the marriage 'opinion opener' suggested by Stephen earlier, but, alas I fail to pick up on this. Bad wingman.
"It didn't really work," whispers one of the girls later when I explain what I'm actually doing there. "We didn't understand why he was asking us what we thought about marriage."
Keen to read my write-up of the night, she gives me her number, both of us chuckling a little that I'm the first of the group to get a girl's phone number that evening.
I report the negative feedback to Stephen who shrugs, "the fact is he was still talking to her after 15 minutes, so it worked," he says philosophically.
Conveniently, in bar three we even bump into a former Kama Lifestyles client, a chap in his 30s, now living with his girlfriend.
"Oh God," he says horrified as I point out to him that he's leaning into my space rather than make me come to him, "I'm so glad I'm out of dating.
"The course worked though," he adds, "I got want I wanted – a relationship."
Above anything else, this is actually the most interesting part of the whole venture.
I'd assumed the dating course would be The Art of Manipulating Women and those signing up would be doing so in the hope of getting women into bed.
The reality is that the guys I meet are scared of rejection, looking to meet new people and ultimately hoping to forge relationships and the course's aim is to help them do that.
Turns out, they're not the enemy at all, they're just the same as us.
What the clients say
Hugh O'Neill, 27, Co Meath, computer engineer
"I found it really helpful having the coaches there, it was like having a personal trainer in the gym, they really pushed me to go outside my comfort zone.
"I'd seen Kama Lifestyles on the internet and suggested to Mark that we might give it a go.
It's not cheap but I think it's worth the money. Some people would spend a couple of grand on a car, I'd rather invest in putting myself in a better position with relationships.
"I found it really useful going out on Sunday and doing approaches in the day time.
"I got a few numbers out of the boot camp and went on one date but I'd like to go to a few more sessions and really work on building my confidence."
Mark Boland, 29, Co Offaly, currently unemployed
"I found the guys really invested a lot of time in me and it was helpful to find out where I was going wrong, for example, Emre picked up that I was 'pecking' – leaning in rather than letting women lean in to me. The coaching also helped me realise the importance of not getting into my own head too much and anticipating rejection before I've even gone up to someone.
"On the night I got a few numbers but it was more about building my confidence and making me more comfortable talking. I think a lot of guys are too proud to admit they need help approaching women but it's not a weakness at all.
"I got a few numbers but nothing I want to pursue. The course was more about helping me have more options and take control of my dating life rather than relying on other people."