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Renegade women: Meet the female pick-up artists who are kissing dating apps goodbye

Renegade women: Meet the female pick-up artists who are kissing dating apps goodbye
Renegade women: Meet the female pick-up artists who are kissing dating apps goodbye


Page* has subtly nodded towards a tall man with his back to us who is talking to his friend. “OK, that’s the target,” she tells me. “Twelve o’clock. Ready?” “Um… sure!” I squeak, with absolutely none of her confidence. She walks forward assuredly, stops a foot away from the two guys, touches the “target” on the arm and smiles. “Hey – would you mind taking our picture?”

“Oh… yeah, of course!” He is eager to help, moving Page’s smartphone around to get the right angle while we pout and pose. “Is that OK? I can take more.” We huddle around the phone together, scrolling through the shots to decide if any are Insta-worthy. “These are great!” Page says, all charm. “Thank you so much. What’s your name?” A conversation ensues, brief but long enough to consider the mission accomplished. We grin at each other giddily as we head back to base – in this case, a spot near the entrance of the trendy hotel bar we’re currently in.

The irony is, Page has no interest in keeping the photo of the two of us. We’re virtual strangers, after all – and the picture-taking was purely a tool to engage men in conversation.

I’m currently on a “Secret Place” bootcamp session designed to help women meet men in real life – or IRL, as the kids call it. It’s a practical, three-hour training workshop where you head to a busy location – in this case a central London bar – and carry out exercises designed to encourage members of the opposite sex to make a move.

I hadn’t known what to expect when I’d rocked up earlier in the evening after work, stressed, slightly dishevelled and carrying a massive backpack. I wasn’t in the most “let’s meet some men!” frame of mind, to put it mildly, but dating coach extraordinaire Hayley Quinn swiftly puts me at ease.

“The idea is to cultivate an abundance mindset,” she tells me over a sparkling water (no booze here – clear heads are the order of the day when training). “Women in particular are often given this impression that there’s a scarcity of men, but we challenge that notion. There are actually lots of men out there! Our sessions are about learning techniques that get them to approach you – and to start sifting through them to identify which ones come up to your standards, not the other way round.”

What qualifies one to market themselves as an expert dating coach, I muse? In the case of Quinn, now a married mother living in France, there’s a fascinating backstory. It begins with the boom in male-orientated books such as The Game – dating guides and pick-up manuals that became gospel among single men in the Noughties – many of which she helped ghost-write. There were workshops and conferences held all over the world, too, teaching the “secret” of how to get the girl – or as many girls as possible – in exchange for a hefty sum. Quinn would get wheeled out as the token female to run a session on “what women want”. But she was struck by the fact that: a) most of the men coming weren’t creeps but normal guys just looking for advice on how to talk to women; and b) the content that was being taught wasn’t serving them. So she took what she’d learnt, decided she could do a better job, and never looked back.

Asking a guy to take your picture can start a conversation

(Getty Images)

Quinn’s fellow coaches are often former clients who’ve discovered they have a knack for IRL interactions. This is the case for Chris, my guru for the evening, who starts by talking through my relationship history and dating goals.

That’s enough sitting around, though – we’re straight off to the aforementioned bar, where I’m told to walk into the entrance lobby and pause before slowly taking my coat off. This, says Chris, ties into one of the three main tenets of getting men to approach you: Visibility. “You have to be seen,” he says. To this end, I’m told to take a walk around the room, slowly, to give people a chance to notice me. The problem is, I’m used to doing what I call the “London walk” – the sole purpose of which is to get from A to B as quickly as possible. I decrease speed to the point where it feels unnatural, but it’s still not enough to satisfy Chris. “Try again,” he says when I return. “But slower.”

After Visibility comes Proximity. “You have to close down the space between you and the guy,” Chris tells me. Having to cross a physical distance – from one side of the bar to another, for example – can be enough to deter someone from coming over. He instructs me to use my backpack for the next exercise: I’m to go to the bar, find a man to stand next to, and ask if he minds me putting my bag down. I feel as though I’m radiating awkwardness as I approach the bar, self-consciously scouting for men. But after I nudge someone and ask my inoffensive question, and he smiles and gives his assent, something clicks into place in my brain.

The idea is to cultivate an abundance mindset

Hayley Quinn

I’m suddenly reminded of a conversation I had with a single male friend just before Christmas. Though we were both bemoaning the joyless experience of using dating apps, he admitted he wouldn’t be comfortable chatting someone up IRL anymore. “Post #MeToo, I worry about coming off as a creep,” he said sheepishly. “I want to be respectful – but that means never approaching a woman, even if you want to.” I was aghast at this; there’s respectful, sure, but bowing out even when you’re getting all the right signals? It seemed like such a waste. It had echoes of the now-infamous quote from Superman actor Henry Cavill, who told GQ: “I think a woman should be wooed and chased, but maybe I’m old-fashioned for thinking that. It’s very difficult to do that if there are certain rules in place. Because then it’s like: ‘Well, I don’t want to go up and talk to her, because I’m going to get called a rapist or something’.”

Cavill was roundly pilloried for his comments at the time, yet anecdotally most of the women I know have noticed a sharp decline in IRL approaches from men. Whether it’s a post-pandemic, post-apps, or post-#MeToo thing, people seem to have lost their nerve. “You have to realise, most men are very, very scared to come up to you,” agrees Chris.

The bit with the bag and the phone exercise later on – referred to as “breadcrumbing” by Chris – are simple but effective techniques that give men permission to speak to women, should they wish to. You’ve left the door open; you’ve given the metaphorical nod that they’re welcome to step inside if they want.

It’s all about eye contact…

(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

The one truly excruciating exercise comes in the form of the third tenet: Eye contact. Any woman worth her salt knows the effectiveness of this one – it’s the most powerful tool in our seduction arsenal – but Chris pushes it a step further, making me stand at the bar alone to practice. I’m not to order a drink. I’m not to look at my phone. I’m just to stand there, making eye contact with men and holding their gaze past the point where it’s comfortable. My heart is racing. I am genuinely shocked by how much I struggle to just be, alone and without using my device as a crutch, but as I gradually calm down and catch glances, I start to feel strangely empowered. While others look at me and then away, slightly abashed, I don’t back down. It’s very possible I seem crazy. Or sexy. Either way, who cares?

As a sociable animal, I definitely prefer the latter part of the workshop where I meet up with Page and the other participants to act as “wing women” for one another. It’s no wonder Page is more of a pro, though – while I’m just here for the evening, the others are several weeks into a month-long “Going Renegade” bootcamp comprised of four online masterclasses and five in-person coaching sessions. These women have already spent the day meeting men in bookshops, cafes and the Apple Store; Page managed to get a man’s number in Harrods and is going on a date with him later tonight. I can only bow down to such pick-up prowess.

It’s very possible I seem crazy. Or sexy. Either way, who cares?

It’s horrible to admit, but if pressed to imagine what sort of woman would enrol in this course, I might have said someone who was extremely shy, lacking in self-esteem or, to put it bluntly, not particularly attractive. On all fronts I’ve completely missed the mark. The three young professionals out tonight, all in their mid-thirties, are good-looking, well-dressed and great company – they’re just sick of dating apps. “It had become so much work to even get as far as a date,” says Sophie*, who lives in Hertfordshire. “You’d end up sending so many messages and never even meet. I’m not interested in any more pen pals!”

Page, meanwhile, is a French marketing exec who lives in Berlin. She’s been travelling back and forth between there and the UK over the past month purely to attend the bootcamp, which is a level of commitment bordering on insanity, surely? “There’s nothing like this in Berlin,” she explains. “It’s pretty unique. My friends think I’m nuts, but I really wanted to get out of my dating rut and try something different.”

And as we go through our final debrief at the end of the evening, that is perhaps my main takeaway: I am nothing but impressed by the courage and confidence displayed by these women in getting out of their comfort zones and embracing the unconventional. Without even knowing it, they’ve inspired me to stop swiping, ignore the awkwardness, get out there and give it a go. So the next time a strange woman asks you to take her picture in a bar, it might just be me. And I might just be attempting to chat you up…

*Names have been changed


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