In the time of dating apps, meet the ‘love gurus’ who claim to have all the answers
In the time of dating apps, there are still enough confused men out there who need help with relationships. Enter the ‘experts’ who claim to have all the answers, from love to breakups. For a price, of course
After dating Ankit Ahuja for six months, his first girlfriend dumped him. She preferred not to tell him why. A WhatsApp message that read “I don’t think it is working” was all he got. Ankit, 27, became a recluse. He wanted to start afresh but didn’t know how to. He decided to take the help of a dating coach he had heard about from a friend in Chandigarh. Real Dating School promised to transform him into the kind of man who could find success in relationships. “My understanding was that either you have it in you or you don’t. I knew that I belonged to the second category. I never thought of dating as a plan or process,” says Ankit, who enrolled himself in a six-month programme.
When the course was in its last phase, Ankit says he felt confident as he’d never felt before – of saying no to girls he didn’t want to hang out with, of approaching and dating girls he wanted to. “I was in control of the situation rather than being subject to someone else’s whim. The key was that I had begun valuing myself more than the other person. That was at the core of the programme,” he says.
Even in the era of dating apps such as Tinder, TrulyMadly, and start-ups like Floh that conduct events for singles, many men still prefer consulting ‘coaches’. Unlike the apps that help you find compatible or like-minded partners, dating coaches train students – mostly men in the 20 to 40 age group – on how to approach girls. For sessions that could last three days to six months, the student pays anything from ₹ 5,000 to one lakh depending on the progress or “the change in thought process” as Ankit says. Programmes, courses, or packages include tips on diction, body language, grooming and attire.
“The emergence of dating coaches is a sign of growing urbanisation and the natural fact that young people want to up their game to realise the universal idea of the good life, dating being an important aspect of this,” says Palash Krishna Mehrotra, columnist and author of The Butterfly Generation. “The modern love guru builds on the foundation laid by the personality development teacher and the spoken English coach. It’s the logical next step.”
Paromita Vohra, filmmaker, writer and founder of Agents of Ishq, a website on sex, love and desire, says, “The language of romance involves engaging, discussions and taking risks. But the room for this language is shrinking and there is very little in the popular culture to help people learn it. Young people (of all genders) increasingly don’t want to take the risk of rejection. They may therefore be drawn to something that seems to be a guarantee of being in control in the complex world of relationships.”
Ankit’s coach, 25-year-old Mohit Arora says he was once like the men he coaches. An introvert, his biggest worry, when he was in class 12 in a public school in Chandigarh, was that he didn’t have a girlfriend. He went online for solutions. “I read every blog, article and e-book on the subject,” he recounts.
He rented an apartment in South Delhi in 2015 as a bigger city meant more clients. He does not have an office. He meets his students where he can teach them and make them practice what he preaches on the spot.
He doesn’t remember how many men he has ‘taught.’ “Hundreds of them,” he says. But he does recall the clients he has said no to. “I don’t take clients who are after a particular person. That’s not my thing,” he says.
He does this as a rule. “The problem begins when you become obsessed with or desperate to be with someone. I tell them that first, they should develop the confidence to walk up to a stranger and start a conversation. Once they do this, they become good at interacting with people in general. They realise their world will not come falling down if they’re not with that one person they always dreamt of,” he says. Arora recommends some standard practices for beginners: Speak clearly because no one likes a partner who keeps mumbling; always appear welcoming so that the other person gets positive vibes when you are around.
“Most girls get attracted to men who are confident, have a path and purpose in life, and are responsible for their decisions,” says Arora.
About a 30-minute drive away from Delhi, in a room in Gurugram, 52-year-old Ashish Sehgal has the attention of a bunch of men as he scribbles dating equations on a white board. The setting resembles that of a coaching centre. “A meets B,” Sehgal begins, explaining a scenario to the curious students who jot down the points which, they think, will help them in the situations they are in. “I have had enough of serious relationships. Now I just want a casual one,” grumbles one. “I look for a spark in my partner, but I don’t get it,” says another. “My thing is that I don’t know what I want,” says the next one.
“Ask, don’t assume,” is the one mantra Sehgal lays emphasis on. “This is not about lack of confidence but clarity. Ask yourself, are you looking for marriage? Or are you looking for a short-term relationship?” he says. “The answer will tell you a great deal about how you should proceed. To avoid heartbreak at a later stage, step back right after the first meeting if you realise that you are not the kind of man she is looking for.”
The student who doesn’t know what he wants bangs the armrest of his chair. “Na nikalta nahin hai (it is not easy to back out),” he says. “Well…calm down,” says Sehgal, grinning, with both his hands up in the air. He offers a cure – a phrase popular in dating. “It’s not you. It’s me.”
“Hmmm,” the students murmur.
“Look here,” Sehgal points to the white board, and goes on to compare the man who seeks clarity with a sniper. “Some soldiers fire from machine guns. They shoot big volleys of bullets. Some of the bullets meet the target. And then, there is a sniper. He waits, shoot once, and hits the target. Which one do you want to become?” he questions. Everyone nods obediently.
Roughly 45 minutes into the class, Sehgal draws two lines on the white board – the first indicates where one is in life and the second line is where one wants to be. He then draws an arrow connecting the two. “To reach here, you have to build yourself. Dating, relationships, love, all of it will happen if you become interesting and start loving yourself,” he says. “Fill yourself with love. Become a fountain of love,” he says pointing to one of his students who came to him clueless about what he wanted from a relationship. “Are you looking for someone simply because everyone around you is dating? That’s a lousy reason,” he says.
After the session, Sehgal, a qualified engineer, shares takeaways from his life – the surprises, the learnings, and the patterns.
When he was young, he says, the desire to be with someone from the opposite sex was a natural pull, unlike now, when it’s the result of peer pressure.
Then, most of the couples in relationships aimed to have a life together. “Now it is more geared towards testing if it works. In a way, this is good,” he allows.
Sehgal says that the number of men who consult him now has increased manifold from 10 years ago, when he began practising. “Men are opening up more about their emotional challenges. Earlier, they did not think that they were in need of help. Those who realised that they needed to consult a coach were too apprehensive to go to one,” he says. “Why doesn’t she agree with me,” is the most common query for a majority of men who come to Sehgal. “They are unable to accept that the woman can have an opinion of her own,” he says.
Not all of Sehgal’s students ask him how to get into a relationship. “Many ask me how to exit too,” he admits.
(Some names have been changed to protect identities)