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Suitor Tutor

November 16, 1994|STEVE EMMONS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEWPORT BEACH — Mike--we'll call him Mike--was about to go into the game. True, it was only a practice game, but his nerves were jangling like wind chimes.

His coach, Paul Whittemore, was doing his best to get Mike mentally prepared. Don't forget eye contact. Keep control of the situation. Maintain your confidence. Be nonchalant. Do not let any nervousness show. Score quickly, then get out of there.

Mike edged toward the door, opened it and entered.

It was worse than he'd expected. She was beautiful. The figure of a professional dancer in training, the looks of an NFL cheerleader. She had been both, in fact, with the brains of a teacher to boot.

She sat in the waiting room thumbing through a magazine. As he entered, she looked up and smiled. The game had begun.

To make a painful story short, Mike fumbled the ball. His conversation was abrupt, his anxiety was apparent and he panicked and forgot to ask for her phone number, which was the whole point of the exercise.

Not an untypical start here at the Date Coach, the training camp for the romantically challenged.

Run by Whittemore, a clinical psychologist, at his offices near John Wayne Airport, the Date Coach aims to teach men and women--but mostly men--why they are not attracting the type of dates they want.

No hopeless cases need apply. The Elephant Man would be wasting his money. People with serious emotional problems are referred instead to Whittemore's psychological practice.

The people who see the Date Coach, Whittemore says, don't really have trouble getting dates. They just want to do better.

"By and large, they are very, very successful people. It's not just the fact that I'm located in Newport Beach and these sessions are $80 each. They are professionals and very highly functioning." These kind of people consult coaches to improve their golf or tennis games, Whittemore says. So why not get coaching for the Big Game?

"I tell people, you can't not play the game. I'm talking about the courtship game that has been guided by evolutionary forces for hundreds of millions of years. You can play it well or play it badly, but you must play it."

The Date Coach will not teach you how to forge lasting, meaningful relationships. He teaches only the opening moves--how to get a phone number, set up a first date and conduct it so it could lead to more.

But that is not as easy as it sounds, says Mike. He's 35, lives in upscale Corona del Mar, brings home about $150,000 a year, has average looks and is in shape, but he was striking out with the women he found attractive.

"Some guys just come by it naturally, and other guys, it's a complete mystery. Me, it's a mystery. It's what I missed out on when I was in high school. I didn't date until college, and I had no idea how to do it.

"Trying to approach a stranger when you're putting a lot of pressure on yourself is frightening. Having someone coach you--you know, 'This is how the game is played'--it was contrary to almost everything I'd come to believe."

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That's not surprising, says Whittemore, because recent beliefs have been founded on a fallacy. Psychologists, and people in general, are rediscovering the basic differences between what the sexes find attractive in one other. While men and women have been moving toward political, social and economic equality during the last 30 years, "equality does not mean sameness," he says.

The fallacy, he says, was the assumption that since men and women should be treated and paid equally for equal work, "that must mean at the heart of the matter, except for obvious anatomical differences, they must be the same. This is a very, very big mistake.

"Men of my generation, the baby boomers, grew up at a time when we were taught not only to regard women as social and economic equals but to treat them the way we would want to be treated. So men started treating women by being overly compliant and overly deferring to their judgment--'Where would you like to go? It doesn't matter to me.' And the women were turned off by this, because the men came across as indecisive and weak and too eager to please."

On the other hand, Whittemore says, women absorbed the same cultural fallacy, "and they tried to relate to men in a way that they knew they would be impressed by. They were impressed by signs of accomplishment, power, success and wealth. Emphasizing their own achievements proved effective in their professional lives, but it wound up being a turnoff if they carried it over into their romantic lives."

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That's just basic evolutionary psychology, says Leland C. Swenson, professor of psychology at Loyola Marymount University, who for eight years has studied and published articles on human sexual attraction.

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