When a long-term relationship ended unhappily, Katya, 43, suddenly found herself in “uncharted waters” as she struggled to navigate the bewildering number of dating apps and the confusing — and mostly unwritten — set of modern dating rules.
Needing someone more experienced to guide her, the 43-year-old corporate executive turned to a professional online dating coach.
How should she describe herself in her online profile? What words should she use and what photos should she post? What messages should she send or not send?
How could she seem interested in someone without looking poor? And what should she do if she doesn’t hear back after that all-important first date?
Before the advent of dating apps and the explosion of texting, none of these matters mattered or even existed.
“It’s exhausting!” laughed Katya, who refused to give her last name.
From men going suddenly silent online (known as ‘ghosting’) to overwhelming lists of seemingly standard questions (‘please tick if…’), Katya said she was ‘shocked by some of the behavior I’ve seen “.
While there is no data on the number of such online counselors or their success, dating coaches seem to be everywhere, part of the booming business of personal development.
“She helped me understand what the modern definition of an asshole is,” Katya half-joked, insisting that their conversations were “more meaningful and deeper than any conversations I’ve had about the logistics of all my dating… What are my needs? What are my standards?”
Katya continued: “She only helped with the mundane details like, ‘No, it’s actually normal’ or, ‘That guy, I agree, he was such an asshole.’
Having a dating coach, she said, was really not much different from having a sports coach.
– ‘Wild West’ –
Dating coach Sabrina Zohar doesn’t really consider herself an influencer or a therapist, but with more than 450,000 followers on Instagram and nearly 800,000 on TikTok, people are interested in her take on modern romance.
At first she dreamed of becoming an actress, then she studied psychology for a while before going into business.
After going through a difficult relationship herself, she started a podcast and posted videos about the world of love and dating, often drawing on personal experience.
“I was that anxious girl who literally couldn’t function or sleep at night because I was waiting for a message from someone,” she admits.
But she turned that bad experience into a wealth of knowledge for her clients.
“I’m going to show you something about myself so you feel safe to share something in return,” she tells them, “and I think people feel seen and heard.”
“So I’ve been able to sort of take that and create, I think, a new environment to help people that actually gives them tools” to navigate the world of online dating, which she likens to the “Wild West.”
Zohar said she does about 15 sessions a week. Most of her clients, both women and men, are between the ages of 27 and 44, and they pay anywhere from $35 for a quick answer to a question to $6,600 for unlimited follow-up consultations.
– “Professional skills” –
The success of dating coaches doesn’t surprise sociologist Amanda Miller, a relationship expert.
She said two phenomena have “collided”: the explosion of dating apps — with their users’ often conflicting expectations — and a pandemic that has upended many social interactions.
“I think during the pandemic we’ve gotten a lot more comfortable with app-based services,” she said, partly as a reflection of “the American efficiency model of capitalism — we want it fast, fast and cheap.”
“Does it diminish the romance? Not necessarily. In the past, our elders or even our good friends might have given us the same advice. Now we see it as a professional skill set in a different way,” he added. Miller, Department of Sociology, University of Indianapolis.
It was this professional aspect that led James, 54, who declined to give his real name, to dating coach. He soon found himself doing some “deep emotional work.”
“She has a lot of knowledge that a therapist would have, but her approach is more about how can I apply it in my daily life now,” said James, who runs a startup in California.
In just a few months, he says, his trainer helped him deal with his anxieties and feel more confident — good skills to have when the modern dating world remains far more complicated than just swiping left or right.