Claire’s eyes are a pale shade of yellowy green. I’ve been staring into them for four seconds and I’m so focused on not blinking that my eyes start to water. Claire shifts in her seat and I play with my necklace. We both laugh awkwardly.
We’re both here for the same reason; to learn the art of flirting, and this exercise is meant to dispel the fear of maintaining eye contact.
The class has been in full force for about an hour now, and so far it’s not what I’d expected a lesson on attracting potential partners to be like. Rather than dishing out tips on how to make men fall at my feet with a wink of an eye, psychosexual therapist Cate McKenzie is teaching us “internal skills to help us open up to opportunity”.
“Flirting has a bad name for itself which is such a shame. It’s just about being warm and connecting in life,” Cate, who offers one-on-one sessions or group workshops to help people open up to love, tells us.
“It ain’t the most attractive people who get laid, it’s the people who send the signals.”
The room is packed, but the clientele don’t look like the kind of people who need to be here. I’m surrounded by beautiful, confident, successful women (and a couple of men) all in their 20s or 30s. There’s April who works in HR, Helen who is a photographer and, of course, Claire, who works for a charity. When I ask about this later, Cate explains that most of the people she helps in her one-on-one sessions fit the same criterion: very attractive women with brilliant careers who can’t seem to maintain a relationship.
At first the class seemed like some kind of religious cult. We all chanted in unison when Cate has told us: “Put your feet on the ground and say ‘yes’ if you want to let go.”
“Do you want to let love in?”
“Do you deserve love?”
We’ve also learnt some exercises to do in the mornings to help us “warm up.” Moving your hands out in a big circle starting from your chest apparently “opens up your heart”. Standing in “Superwoman pose”, that is with your feet apart and your hands on your hips, for a few minutes each morning should help you build your confidence.
I feel like I’ve been transported back to my year nine-drama class, and Cate’s stint as theatre teacher, before she became a relationship coach and therapist 20 years ago, has become apparent.
We’ve also had a go at meditation, as Cate places a lot of emphasis on the need to relax. In the meditation process we visualised a flower bud in our hearts, we opened up this bud up into a flower and “found the diamond within it.”
As strange as this seemed to a sceptic like me, with her flash of red hair and big eyes, Cate is the sort of person you trust immediately. She tells us: “You must be relaxed and open to opportunities in life at any place at any time. 93 per cent of communication is body language, tone and pace. It’s not what you do but the way you do it.”
So rather than teaching us to mimic Joey from Friends’ classic line "how you doin?” Cate tells us three golden rules.
The first of these is to have fun. “Have as much fun as you can, you won’t find the one by looking for them, you’ll find them when you’re enjoying life,” she says. “Take 15 minutes and write down the things you think are fun and then go and do them!”
She tells us an anecdote of how she met her husband after going to three festivals on the trot, because she was in her element of fun.
That seems simple enough: more eating out and getting pissed with my friends.
The second rule is to release. “Write down all the heartbreaks you’ve ever had, they don’t have to just be from romantic relationships. If you’re holding onto things you can’t let love in. Find the gold from these relationships; the lessons you’ve learned, say thank you and release them from your heart.”
Again, another step that seems rational.
Finally, Cate says her third golden rule is commitment: “Say ‘you know what? I’m doing it!’” By this she means actually showing up when you arrange to go on a date, actually giving opportunities a go, and not shying away for fear of getting hurt.
People around me are nodding in agreement and opening up about their own
insecurities. Tess, who works in banking, explains how she finds it hard to smile at people, as she’s scared they think she has desperate written all over her.
Cate explains that someone smiley and warm comes across a lot less desperate than someone hiding in the corner.
All these steps are meant to make us ready to meet people and exude an approachable, warm persona. And, to be fair, by the end of the session I do feel a lot more relaxed and comfortable. What I’ve learnt has been useful, although I’m not sure I’ll practice it all. Plus, I’m still short of a good pick-up line.
As the class draws to a close Claire and I are set the task to stare into each other’s eyes for the third time this evening. I’ve cleared up with Cate that I am allowed to blink.
It still seems odd, but certainly easier. At the end of our four seconds Claire tells me “I feel like I could look into your eyes anywhere now” and I couldn’t agree more.
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