I've had so many bad dates in the last five years I thought I'd rather set my hair alight than meet another stranger for a disappointing drink. But it's Friday night and I'm with a gang of women buzzing around East London hitting on hotties IRL and I'm conscious I've not had such a fun night out in months. Sure it feels mad to be striding up to a man in a blazer to tell him 'you look hot in that' (which he does - in more ways than one) but it beats the hell out of messaging some chap on an app for the umpteenth time who never replies at all. And when this man smiles and replies - handing over his number - we're on. Tonight, I'm one of the pioneers of a new movement called 'Going Renegade'...
Going Renegade, for the uninitiated, is a new dating movement led by dating guru Hayley Quinn, designed to help us wrest back control from the dating apps that oppress us and meeting men we fancy IRL.
It helps that we’re several bottles of prosecco down and have one to one support from Hayley’s three-strong team of male dating coaches. We’ve undergone an hour-long crash course in chat up lines and the importance of VEP - ‘visibility, eye contact, proximity’. We’re single and we’re mingling. We’re learning to identify the men who are interested in us and we aren’t waiting for them to make the first move. This shouldn’t be radical. But, in 2018, it very much is…
‘Dating nowadays is largely seen through the male gaze,’ says Hayley, whose TED talk about her own search for love has been viewed half a million times. Hayley explains that - thanks to so much bogus dating wisdom - while men get to play ‘The Game’ women feel bullied into following ‘The Rules.’ And that’s just ridiculous, outdated, un-feminist nonsense, according to her. In fact, her first act in what is essentially a three-day dating bootcamp, is to insist that we are complete in and of ourselves. ‘Women are repeatedly shamed for being single,’ she explains. ‘But the first thing to remember is - you don’t need a man to make you whole. This is primarily about making dating what it should be - fun. It’s about rediscovering your playful side.’
Men, she insists, are just as shy as we are about making an approach when they fancy us and it is ‘empowering’- not embarrassing - to make the first move. ‘How will anything ever happen if you see a cute guy and then stare at your phone or your shoes?’ she demands.
We spend Saturday in Soho - hitting on men in broad daylight, stone cold sober. On the Sunday, at the Going Renegade HQ near Hackney Central, we work on our flirting techniques. Hayley’s top trick is to ask men to take photographs of you for Instagram. ‘This is the go-first principle whereby offering information about yourself works as a useful prompt to get him to ask you out,’ she says. ‘If you give him your Instagram information, that could lead to a follow and a date.’
Hayley’s advice is particularly illuminating when it comes to that handsome stranger you lock eyes with on the tube. When this happens she recommends ‘making a kerfuffle’ - pulling things out of your bag or dropping a book at his feet. When he notices, you then follow up with a friendly, open-ended observation before introducing yourself.
‘You have to give a man time to realise that you really are chatting him up,’ Hayley teaches. ‘We’ve been so well trained in “stranger danger” since we were at school it’ll take him a few minutes to catch up with what’s going on and be able to respond in kind. Be sure to exchange names because that’s very powerful.’
Initially, I was very sceptical. Also incredibly nervous. But if you’re courageous enough to try them, Hayley’s techniques certainly work. On the journey home, one member of our group, Poonam, struck up a conversation with a man who’d just run the London marathon. She asked for his email so she could contribute to his JustGiving fund. And several hours later he emailed back - asking her out to dinner.
‘It’s all about creating opportunities,’ is Hayley’s parting advice. I’ve spent years in overcrowded bars staring at my stilettos when a handsome man looms into view. Now I know to make eye contact, strike up a conversation - after all, what’s there to lose?
Going Renegade takes place in London on July 20th-22nd
Bad Romance by Emily Hill is available to buy in Hardback now