When I meet Gabe Jenkinson to hear about his experience of using a dating coach, my first thought is: he’s far too attractive to need help with his love life. I’m flummoxed to learn that this man has shelled out £650 on London-based dating coach Minnie Lane’s services. What’s more, he plans on having more sessions with Lane, at £275 a pop, when he moves to the capital later this year.
Jenkinson, 36, tells me he turned to a dating coach to tackle the “troubling patterns” in his love life – or those that have caused a lack of one. He’s among a growing number of men seeking professional help in London to learn how to date. They are shelling out thousands of pounds - in some cases, tens of thousands, for the services.
While seduction is part and parcel of the process, forming a long-term bond is the goal of many of the clients of these so-called ‘dating coaches for the elite’, including Jenkinson. He explains that it’s not an inability to attract women that prompted his decision to call on Lane’s services, but his seeming inability to turn dates into a full-blown relationship. “I was quite good at first dates. I almost felt like I peaked on the first date. I’d feel: ‘oh, there’s nowhere to go but down now’” the 36-year-old, explains.
“I have a very limited relationship history,” adds Jenkinson. “I would say that I have never been in a serious relationship ever. My issue wasn’t that I had trouble meeting people or that women didn’t find me attractive,” he explains. “But physical attraction is only the first little bit of it, there’s much more involved in having a relationship and in dating.”
Jenkinson’s lack of confidence in the dating world will resonate with many modern singletons. Having worked with Lane he describes himself as a “people pleaser”, adding: “If I liked the other person, I would try to act in a way that I thought would ensure that they liked me. I wasn’t confident that someone would like me for me. I felt like I had to put on a performance and that put a tonne of pressure on me.”
Inevitably, Jenkinson says these feelings led to self-sabotage in the early stages of forming a connection. “I would shoot myself down before they [my dates] got the chance,” he explains.
In their online sessions, Lane asked Jenkinson to do exercises designed to counteract this pattern. In one task, Jenkinson wrote a stream of consciousness describing what his life would look like in a year’s time if he were in a happy relationship. And it seems to have helped him make headway in changing his mindset. “If I constantly give attention to the downsides of dating and why I think it doesn’t work, then that’s more likely to be the result, but if I have an image in my head that is positive and something that I would actually want, it’s easier to believe in it and do things that would make it happen,” Jenkinson said.
I want marriage and kids and that’s part of why I did this. If someone wants a relationship, paying for help is worth it, in my opinion.
Five months on from his coaching, Jenkinson is not in a relationship, yet, but he is booking more sessions in order to smooth his transition from dating in his native Toronto to dating in London. “It will be a whole new experience with a whole new dating pool. Those first six sessions were like prep school, and now we are going to chat about what worked and what didn’t. Those first sessions gave me some tools to recognise certain patterns and to break them,” he says.
Jenkinson will have spent over £1,000 on his sessions with Lane. So does he feel it’s been a wise investment? “For something that I really want to happen; yes,” he says. “I want marriage and kids and that’s part of why I did this. If someone wants a relationship and there’s something stopping them from getting one, paying for help is worth it, in my opinion.”
For those happy to invest even more heavily in their romantic lives, Johnny Cassell is the name to know. He charges £1,000 for a single session, or at a cost of £24,000, daters can try his “advanced package” - consisting of weekly coaching over the course of six months. His clients also have permission to contact him at any time with dating questions.
Cassell has been a dating coach for 15 years and estimates that he has helped over a thousand men. By helping, he doesn’t mean getting them into bed with a new partner. As he quips: “Let’s be honest, there are cheaper ways to go out and get laid.” Instead, like Jenkinson, his clients want help reforming their dating patterns.
David Harper*, 28, a trader, has been working with Cassell since November, and has so far spent around £20,000 on his services. It began when he moved to London from Swansea last year and was struggling to meet women.
I felt like this was an expense I could justify because not having a relationship was mentally holding me back and affecting me.
For Harper, as well as assistance in finding people for dates, the need to gain confidence was a key reason for recruiting help. “I’ve never been comfortable with meeting new people and putting myself out there,” he explains. “It wasn’t something that was coming naturally to me. I didn’t know anyone here and I work from home.”
Harper found Cassell online and justified the cost by thinking about how big an impact a relationship would have on his life, though admits his friends “raised eyebrows” when he revealed the cost. “This was a really big deal for me, and I felt like this was an expense I could justify because not achieving this [a relationship] was mentally holding me back and affecting me,” Harper explains.
Like Jenkinson, Harper struggled to see dating as a reciprocal. “You go out and meet people and you are trying to sell yourself to them and hope that they like you, but Johnny reframed it to explain that I was also vetting people to see if they were what I was looking for,” the 28-year-old says.
In an early session, he was asked to write a detailed list of what he was looking for in a partner to help him approach dating with more clarity. Then a couple of months into working together, Cassell came to Jenkinson’s home to perform what he calls “an apartment audit”.
The coach insists: “Your apartment is an extension of who you are, and that’s a thing that guys miss.” When he visits a property owned by one of his clients, he’s asking: “What does it smell like? Is there any art on the wall? Is it well-kept and tidy? Is it fit for hosting? Do you have a decent music speaker? Is it fit for romance?”
In Harper’s case, Johnny advised decluttering and wanted to bring a “feminine touch” to the flat, which included working on giving it a more, um, alluring scent. “There just wasn’t a smell in the house, so I introduced him to the idea of incense and scented candles,” says Cassell.
Within four weeks of starting with Cassell, Harper met a woman who went on to become his girlfriend - and last month she moved in with him. It’s a pretty resounding endorsement of Cassell’s tuition, and having never had a relationship before, Harper credits the coaching for his new relationship. “I’ve become comfortable with presenting who I really am without as much fear of judgement. [Cassell] also helped me to improve on things like taking the lead, and being more assertive about when and where we are going on a date,” he says.
Despite reaching his original end-goal so quickly, Harper is still working with Cassell as a life coach.
I’ve become comfortable with presenting who I really am without as much fear of judgement.
Cassell insists that while many seek him out for help with their romantic lives, he in fact considers himself “a dating and lifestyle strategist”. His services for Harper have included providing advice on family relationships, help with time management, as well as sharing valuable contacts in London. “I give him access to my rolodex and anything that I don’t have access to, I’ll go out and get,” says Cassell.
His client’s wishes really are Cassell command – for the right price.
Cassell cites some of the money-can’t-buy experiences he’s offered clients as a way to help them “open their eyes and actually see the world.” The interesting stories to share on their dates are just a by-product, he tells me. One such experience he recalls could be straight out of Will Smith movie, Hitch. He took Harper and other clients to India, to have dinner with none other than the Dalai Lama.
“We went over to Dharamshala which is in the foothills of the Himalayas where you’ll come across monks and Tibetan flags tied to trees. It’s where the Dalai Lama resides,” Cassell recalls. He calls the trip “phenomenal” (three times no less), voicing that, in his opinion: “These are the things that we should be doing rather than just sitting around having our lazy European holidays.”
James Michaels had a rather more mundane, though no less successful, experience with a dating coach. The electrician, 40, turned to Kezia Noble when his marriage ended in divorce. He says he found himself unsure how to grapple with dating apps after being in a long-term relationship.
If I was going for an interview for a really good job, I’d happily pay someone for some coaching. This was no different for me, really.
“Dating in my thirties was very different from dating in my twenties,” says Michaels. “I used to go out to nightclubs and meet girls there, but when I got back into dating after my divorce it was all dating apps. Everyone was on Tinder, Hinge or Bumble. And I just didn’t like it. You spent ages talking to people then you went on a date and the person just wasn’t the way they had seemed on the app.”
Michaels spent £300 to attend a one-day bootcamp in London, and found it so useful that he booked on to Kezia’s week-long course at a cost of £3,000. It might sound like a large sum to some, but the 40-year-old feels it’s a fair price to pay to be set up for success in the dating world. “If I was going for an interview for a really good job, I’d happily pay someone for some coaching on how to pass that interview,” he says. “This was no different for me, really.”
Importantly to Michaels, the service was designed to show him how to date in the real world, off the apps. He says his coaching included 12-hour-long days, traversing London with ten trainers, receiving pep talks, chatting women up (respectfully, he insists) and being given pointers on how to improve on these interactions. “If it was during the day, we’d go to bookshops and cafes and in the evenings we’d go to bars,” he explains.
The service was extensive, Michaels explains. “You covered all sorts of things from working out what you want to find in a prospective partner, all the way through to how to meet those kinds of people, how to get chatting, how to keep a conversation going, to what is a good place to take someone for a date and how to dress.”
His success rate was of course mixed – dating is nothing if not unpredictable. “The trainer would tell me to go up and say hello to a woman and see what happens and sometimes there’d be no interest and sometimes you’d get into a nice conversation.” However, Michaels explains the end goal was more “about building up social confidence”, than appealing to everyone.
After the course, Michaels may not have immediately gotten a girlfriend, but he never felt the need to login to the apps again – a pleasure which many singletons would consider a fair exchange for three thousand pounds.
Now Michaels is in a happy relationship of two years, after putting his training into action. He credits Kezia’s coaching with giving him the confidence to approach a woman he spotted on holiday in Mallorca, who went on to become his girlfriend. “It’s a pretty terrifying prospect for most men [to approach a woman] unless they’ve got some alcohol inside them, but to do that sober, in the middle of the day - I can 100 per cent attribute that to my coaching,” he says. The couple now live together in Almeria in Spain.
So would Michaels recommend a dating coach to other men? It’s a resounding yes from the electrician. “People are willing to spend money on all kinds of things in their life: gym memberships, personal trainers, life coaches,” he says. So why not dating coaches? “If you find the right person, they can really support you in life but if you are with the wrong person, it can do the opposite. It’s a very important thing to get right.”
*Some names have been changed.
How to get better at dating, by coach Kezia Noble
Want an insight into the advice of a dating coach? Noble gives five tips for Londoners on the dating scene.
1. Treat dating apps as an extra option to meet someone, instead of making them the only option. The apps provide a wonderful resource to widen your dating life but don’t view them as the only way you can meet people - especially not in London when there are attractive and interesting people everywhere you look!
2. Don’t limit yourself to just bars and clubs when it comes to striking up a conversation with someone. Galleries, museums, a queue in a coffee shop, and even the park on a warm summer’s day can be filled with great opportunities to talk to someone.
3. Never show neediness. Neediness is the death of attraction. Showing you are keen and interested is fine, but if the other person feels you are too eager to please or bend your opinions to be more aligned with them, you will come across as weak. It shows a lack of self belief and communicates that you don’t have many options when it comes to dating.
4. Make your compliments bespoke and personalised. A vague compliment, or too many compliments, will fail to make the other person feel special and they might suspect you say the exact same thing to all your dates. Try to pick something about them which you feel goes unnoticed.
5. Keep conversations 50/50. Many people will make the mistake of asking the other person too many questions or talking too much about themselves. Make sure the exchange of data is equal. You don’t want them to feel interrogated but you also don’t want to be giving them a monologue.