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Team TNT’s only singleton caves into peer pressure and takes a course in pulling. Will his new skills hook him up this V-Day?

Jumping out of a plane scares the shit out of me, but I’d sooner do that than randomly walk up to an attractive girl, in the street, in broad daylight. I tell this to Doug Haines, co-director of The London School of Attraction, a training initiative that claims to help both men and women find the confidence to, well, pull. I’m getting a crash course in not being such a bloody wimp – or, rather, having the confidence to approach interesting women on the off-chance they’re the love of my life, to paraphrase the expert. “Daytime is the most alien time to approach someone, but it’s also the most effective,” Doug explains.

He goes on to tell me how to go up to a total stranger – from head-on, not the side, with small but decisive hand gestures. “Girls want to be talked to and guys see someone they’d like to talk to all the time, but do nothing about it,” he says. “A daytime approach has an 80 per cent hit rate.” By ‘hit rate’, Doug means a woman stops, listens and engages, as opposed to throwing coffee in your face or kneeing you in the nuts – as long as you’ve followed the rules.

The rules are thus: be friendly (“As if you’ve known them for months”), but not creepy (the tricky bit), acknowledge the weirdness (“I know this seems strange, but ...”), be interesting (“No facts and figures”) and lead the conversation (“Questions are fine but they’re thinking, ‘Why has this guy stopped me?’, so you can’t put pressure on them. Save them for the first date.”).

There’s more to this, which Doug’s company structures into three stages – theory (no probs), role play (if we have to) and the field (holy shit!) – which could last days, weeks or months, depending on the client’s needs and bank balance. Before we go on, I should mention that I’m no big fan of PUAs (or ‘pick-up artists’ to themselves) – the kind whose Bible is Neil Strauss’s The Game and who act to get girls into the sack. But seeing as I’m the only singleton in the TNT office and my colleagues all seem to think I’m in desperate need of help (cheers, guys), I go along with it.


Neil Strauss, author of The Game

All of these services say they’re not like the others, and maybe they aren’t, but LSA – which also runs courses for women and corporates – claims to be all about being honest and giving yourself a chance. Tick. And their point of difference is actually tangible, gorgeous and disarmingly friendly – an actress named Hayley Eagles. Big tick. After a theory run-through, I move on to role play with the bubbly Hayley, who can set her response level anywhere from ‘one’ (a married mother of seven on her way to pick up the kids from school) to ‘10’ (totally up for it). Not going too easy on me, Doug asks her to go for a ‘six’, before I have to stand and strike up a conversation as if she was alone at a bar. I’m to do most of the talking and “come in at just above her energy level”, for a minute.


Hayley and Doug from The London School of Attraction

About 45 seconds of bumbling idiocy later I have a familiar feeling. It’s not that I’m petrified of rejection, it’s just that there are so many reasons to not talk to a girl – she looks busy, is talking to her friends, is too hot for me, has a sign saying “fuck off” on her forehead … OK, it probably is the rejection thing, but Doug reckons he can beat this out of me. His method – try, try and try again, with some new skills – is akin to a boxer getting used to being punched.

Even though it’s a false situation, Hayley is still a pretty girl I don’t want to make a dick of myself in front of. Doug says I do fairly well, but he’s also told me many of his clients aren’t all that “socially calibrated”, so the bar isn’t high. We go again, and again, and the improvement is noticeable in what I dub my “gibber ability”. Doug tells me to be more over the top – “I know that’s hard ‘cos you’re so dry” – and stresses it’s just an exercise in taking a chat from small talk into a proper interaction. He reiterates that it doesn’t matter what I say, but thoughts, feelings and the bizarre is way better than facts and figures. This will “bring out my personality”. 

What follows is a rant about butterfly farms freaking me out (referring to artwork in the room, and true) and about how I once got bitten by a dingo (also true, but not as cool as it sounds). Apparently I nailed it. I even convince myself I made Hayley laugh properly a couple of times (which means they nailed it). This can go on for hours for a proper client, with Hayley getting him used to being shut down and Doug advising on how to keep a conversation going or turning it into a coffee date. I can see how this works and like that it’s not about lines, but building up the courage to fail and creating opportunities to meet women you otherwise wouldn’t without gimmicks.  At this point, Doug would take a client out in “the field” to make use of the confidence built with Hayley, and with his moral support. I promise to give it a go later. Hayley tells me to remember any rejection is more “about their situation than anything you’ve done. So you can’t take it personally”. Sure.

I was lying when I said I’d try it, but the more I think about it, the more I wonder, why not go to the effort of talking to more strangers who aren’t the old dudes I tend to make friends with at the pub? So the next day, instead of earphones and the paper, I say a nervous “Hi” to two stunners on the Tube. Result? Awkward smiles and eyes back to the Kindle. No harm no foul, I guess. Then I compliment a quirky cutie on her fluffy boots and 20 minutes fly by. This is fun. The street is a bust. The one time I try the patented front-on approach, the ‘target’ takes a curved line around me before an old lady asks if I’m OK.

“It’s difficult but, if you persist, the rewards will be huge,” comes the pep talk from Doug. “Be open and talkative to everyone you meet. Make an effort to engage them and it won’t be a big jump talking to new women.” Not as scary as plunging out of a plane anyway.  More on London School of Attraction at  lsattraction.com


London's weirdest dating events: Get involved!

SPEED SKATING:
As if speed dating weren’t daunting enough a premise, lovestruck.com is inviting would-be lovers to fall for each other – possibly quite literally – on ice. The event, at Broadgate Ice Rink on Valentine’s Eve, gives singles three 30-minute skating sessions to get to know each other. So, whether you’re confident on blades or are looking for someone to help you balance, this could work for you. Tickets cost £5 and the evening is on from 6.30pm to 9.30pm. See lovestruck.com.

WINE TASTING DATING:
Now, this sounds more like it. Grape Vine Social’s dating with wine tasting events are on regularly throughout London, and provide singletons with that all-important Dutch courage as a matter of course. You’ll taste six wines and meet 20 dates, with small groups spending 15 minutes together tasting a vino before moving onto the next group/ wine. As the organisers say, “it’s a matter of taste”. Next event on Feb 14 in Holborn, tickets £39. More at grapevinesocial.com.

WINK LONDON:
This new initiative looks to take the one-on-one jitters out of dating by throwing parties for singles that you can go along to with your mates. Strength in numbers, right? There are party games to get you mingling but, perhaps most important of all, the sociable element is intended to take the pressure off. The next event, ‘Nautical But Nice’, is a yacht party at Temple Pier on March 13. Tickets cost from £13 and sexy sailor outfits are encouraged. What could go wrong? See winklondon.com.

SPEED HATING:
The brains behind ace club night Feeling Gloomy – an extended wallowing session for miserable Morrissey fans – bring you speed hating on February 13. It’s just like speed dating, only you have to moan about things you dislike instead of spending a few minutes trying to sound interesting. Cathartic, and you might even meet a fellow grumpy soul to whinge with for the rest of your life. Tickets are £11, and the event is at The Phoenix on Cavendish Square. More info at feelinggloomy.com.


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The 'heart' of conversation: We learn pulling techniques at The London School of Attraction
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