Love & Sex
People feel weird when they meet me,” 27-year-old Blake Eastman tells me. He’s perched on a coffee table eating gummy bears.
Sitting across from him on the couch in an expansive, hardwood-floored rental space in Chelsea, New York, getting ready to watch him teach “The Dating Workshop”, I admit that I feel, if not “weird”, a bit self-conscious.
It’s hard to meet a master of body language (or, to quote Eastman, “nonverbal communication”) and not worry about what you’re doing with your hands, how solid your eye contact is, and whether he’s reading your mind. Hint: he sort of is.
Eastman teaches singles on the dating scene to read minds, too, and to use their bodies to send clear signals. For example, you can send the message, “If you touch me, I will gag,” by slowly moving away each time your date invades your personal space. Or you can communicate, “Kiss me! Now!” by playing with the buttons on his shirt, looking at his lips or softening the tone of your voice just so.
Those moves might sound primitive, but on a first or second date, it’s difficult to say exactly what you’re thinking.
Most people opt not to. Eastman’s theory is that if you’re not fluent in body language, you’re likely to give your date the wrong idea, to inadvertently act uninterested when you’re interested or vice versa, to be left mystified by someone’s vanishing act, even though he was telling you the whole time − wordlessly, of course − that he couldn’t wait to get away.
Modern dating is one big (quoting Led Zeppelin here) communication breakdown. But The Dating Workshop is designed to help.
“I promise you,” says Eastman, who has a blue-eyed baby face but speaks with the quick cadence of an Aaron Sorkin character, “in about a year and a half, my name will be synonymous with body language.”
Arguably, the writer Neil Strauss has a corner on that market. His 2005 runaway bestseller, The Game, told the story of the years he spent with professional pickup artists learning how to seduce women. Much of Strauss’ strategy entailed nonverbally conveying self-confidence.
Eastman, however, didn’t come to the study of body language to get laid. He says he developed his proficiency in nonverbal communication during childhood as an adaptive response to his anxiety. In social situations, he often found himself paralysed, imagining worst-case scenarios about what would happen if he made the wrong move or said the wrong thing.
So he learned to read people to discern what they wanted from him. Years later, he obtained a master’s degree in forensics from Manhattan’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice, started teaching psychology classes at LaGuardia Community College, and became a professional poker player. He uses his winnings to fund his own research in nonverbal communication, conducting countless hands-on hours in the field.
Eastman tells me that The Dating Workshop usually draws more women than men. But when the room fills up, the crowd is about 50/50, the majority in their 20s and 30s. The women have nervous eyes and adjust their tights; the men look like computer programmers with their straight backs, solemn expressions and wire-rimmed glasses.
“What’s cool in the world of dating,” Eastman tells the group, “is that no one’s ever telling you how they feel. They’re showing you.” He introduces “the orientation reflex”. That’s the move a person makes to orient toward what interests him − turning his head, for example.
Eastman insists that people orient toward us all the time, and we should learn to notice it. He talks about “pacifying gestures” we use to diffuse the anxiety of dating, how men rub their palms on their pants and women play with their fingers.
He explains that many people do poorly on dates because they’re “emotionally incongruent”: what comes out of their mouths doesn’t match what shows on their faces, and they can come off as “odd”.
If they’re doing so many things wrong, how can discouraged daters improve their skills?
“Video,” Eastman says. “You watch yourself on tape. Then you can change.” It might be a creepy move to set up a video camera on a first date, but Eastman will approximate the experience for you in his workshop by filming you talking to your classmates.
'THE DATE WHISPERER CHANGED MY LIFE'
I talk with a woman who says that meeting Eastman and his girlfriend has changed her whole life. She has new friends, a new job, a new outlook. She wears the dreamy gaze of a cult member. I meet another man who has taken a few of Eastman’s classes and seems similarly enamoured. “He’s just so amazing,” he says.
Eastman seems far more sweet than parasitic: while we were waiting for his students to arrive, he gushed about his girlfriend, whom he met in one of his classes. “Most people don’t communicate,” he says. “My girlfriend and I are completely transparent. We have the best relationship I’ve ever seen.”
Later, the group engages in a second mingle. They seem more relaxed. Still, Eastman has tips: “You were playing with your fingers behind your back,” he tells someone.
“And you,” he tells another student, “have a low blink rate. Guess who else has that? Me. And you know what happens if you stare at people without blinking? They’re gonna think you’re creepy.”
And then, some advice we could all use: “You look upset,” he tells a computer-programmer type. “Come on!” he says with a smile. “Relax.”
- Sunday Magazine
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