Wear heels, harness your "feminine energy," and other lessons that were difficult to take seriously
"I'm working with a love coach," my friend Jane tells me while taking a sip of wine.
My skepticism is palpable.
"She's not a 'love' coach," Jane clarifies. "She's a relationship expert who provides tailored advice to a handful of clients."
For several hours, I cajole Jane into telling me everything about her guru. I learn that Caroline the coach is approximately our age (early 30s), self-trained, and currently single, which makes her an earnest, if questionable, adviser.
Although I worry about Caroline's lack of credentials, Jane speaks highly of her, and in this era of information overload, a strong personal recommendation goes a long way. Besides, there's no central database collating information on coaches.
(As I would later learn, Caroline deflects criticism of her unwed status by claiming that she's in the trenches with her clients; she says singlehood makes her approachable and knowledgeable.)
By the end of dinner, I've decided to give Caroline a shot. I've hired therapists, acupuncturists, and personal trainers: Why not throw a relationship expert into the mix?
Caroline and I begin our relationship over the phone, and red flags instantly appear. Her cutesy "honeys" speak volumes about her approach to communication. I soon discover that, in addition to dissecting my psyche and charging as much as a PhD, Caroline intends to transform me into a relic from the 1950s. She implores me to wear dresses, high heels, and bright lipstick and seems concerned by my confidence and professional ambition.
She and other love coaches seek to cultivate women's "feminine energy," which Caroline likens to lightheartedness and openness. In the back of my mind, I hear the voice of my mother—an affectionate southern woman who's begged me to soften up since I was a little girl mimicking my three big brothers. This line of guidance makes me feel defensive. Why should I change? And haven't we evolved beyond traditional gender roles and delineations?
One evening, I meet Caroline at her midtown office. We've agreed to spend the session reworking my Match.com profile, but I mention that I have a blind date following our meeting. I'm seeking advice and encouragement, but Caroline unleashes a blow when she asks me whether I plan to speak to my date the same way I talk to her.
"You have this way of communicating that's...a little aggressive," she says. "It's very masculine energy."
Already frustrated by advice that seems antiquated, I am astonished when Caroline suggests that I talk to my date as though he were a seven-year old girl. I decide to stop working with her. I realized later that what I needed in that moment was a cheerleader, not a coach.
Why hire a dating coach in the first place?
For years, I met guys organically—through school, friends, or out and about—but as time went on, the pool of single, age-appropriate men began dwindling, and avenues I'd formerly used lost effectiveness. I tried online dating, went to and organized singles mixers, and asked my friends to set me up, but I eventually confronted the fact that relationships—and the way we enter into them—are changing.