I only met him half an hour ago, but here we are locking eyes across the table and ogling each other with intense concentration. Onlookers could be forgiven for believing us to be a blossoming couple on an early date, still basking in the “honeymoon stage” of a new relationship.
Except I’ve had precisely one date in the last two years and I’m panicking. My face is aching from the fake smile I’m pulling and I’m internally cursing myself for even considering doing this. Tim’s not too comfortable either. The doe-eyed ad-exec has succumbed to a nervous twitch.
“Time’s up,” calls Cate MacKenzie, an ex-rocker turned earth goddess and flirting expert, who now specialises in relationship coaching. This level of forced intimacy was the last thing I expected from a flirting lesson – something I told my friends I was going to for a laugh.
But after reading that 42 per cent of active Tinder users are already in relationships, I decided I had to stop relying on dating apps to get dates. I was interested to find out if I could flirt, and if not, had my over reliance on such apps left me with a serious lack of real life dating skills?
Walking into the class in The Joker pub on Penton Street I am struck by how popular it is. Around 20 well-dressed women and a couple of bewildered men perch awkwardly on wooden chairs making small talk. Garish clowns leer down at me from the walls, seemingly mocking my choice to spend a Monday night unlocking the secret to love. It is busy so I squeeze onto a battered sofa in the corner in a bid to go unnoticed.
Joining the group, my natural cynicism kicks in – how could sitting in a room full of female 30-somethings with desperation in their eyes help me to find the man of my dreams?
In a whirl of shocking red hair and lots of cleavage, pint-sized instructor Cate bounces into the room, wide eyed and breathless, ready to deliver her first piece of wisdom.
Why is it so hard to meet people? The problem, according to Cate, is us.
First up is the “open circle” stance. This involves opening your arms in a wide circle in a bid to allow love to flow in. I’m trying to move my arms without hitting the woman next to me, so mine is more of a half open circle, when Cate pops up in front of me and stares right into my eyes.
“We need to practice warming up our bodies like a kettle and opening ourselves to love,” she croons softly. I’m now pretty sure she feels sorry for me.
Next up is the “superwoman stance” (picture standing with your hands on your hips and feet shoulder width apart). It is funny what emulating Wonder Woman in a room full of strangers can do to your confidence. Suddenly, I’m feeling empowered enough to take on the night’s challenges.
In comes Tim, my partner for the next activity. What follows is a five minute staring session where we are asked to practice “giving” and “receiving” eye contact in a bid to open ourselves up to intimacy. This is hilariously awkward and not just because of the innuendo.
So there I was, attempting to peer at Tim with a semblance of flirtatious intrigue, when I had a startling realisation. Tinder has not only completely destroyed my ability to interact with strangers, but has turned me into a dating defeatist. I had completely discounted the task before we even started.
I decide to throw myself into the task at hand. During the next couple of rounds of staring, I smooth over all my normal pessimistic instincts and concentrate on being open and ready to mingle. So much so that when Cate calls over “this exercise is a good way to practice your ‘bedroom eyes”, I didn’t even flinch.
Surprisingly, as the class goes on, with more meditating and story swapping, I find myself increasingly suspending disbelief and agreeing with the logic of Cate’s words. When time comes to join in with a group dance at the end, to the classic power ballad “I Want To Know What Love Is”, I enthusiastically wave my arms, stamp my feet and “open up to love”.
Book your flirting workshop at Indytute or via Cate’s website. Classes cost £14 per person for a two-hour session and take place every second Tuesday at The Joker pub in Penton Street, with availability from 10 May.
Posed images by Isolde Walters showing the author and a model