At 17, Xavier See was an insecure school dropout with very few friends, little luck with girls and a bad stutter.
“Physically I was out of shape, my skin saw way too little sun and I had terrible hair. Socially, due to my poor looks and grooming, I had poor self-confidence. I never imagined anyone would take me seriously,” he said.
However, after discovering a vibrant online dating community and hiring a social coach to solve his teenage woes, he is a changed man at 23.
The self-assured, fashion-conscious See is now a professional dating coach and teaches other Singaporean men how to transform themselves and win women’s hearts — for a fee of S$1,800 (US$1,400) for an intensive three-day course.
“Men who take my classes just want to be able to have the confidence and skills needed to sweep women off their feet so that when the [right] one comes along, they will be ready and able to get her,” he said.
With 43 percent of Singaporean men between 30 and 34 — the prime marrying age — unattached, See has plenty of potential clients in the wealthy city.
Among women in the same age group, singles make up 31 percent, resulting in an imbalance against the men, who also have to compete with foreign professionals working in Singapore in wooing local girls.
See conducts one-on-one as well as group workshops to teach Singaporeans how to be the partner women want by understanding social dynamics and dating techniques.
He also takes them on “field trips” to bookstores, cafes, streets and clubs to interact with women they have never met before.
In his workshops, See demonstrates how he himself approaches women and then watches how the students do it.
See, a dating coach for a US-based company called 24/7 Attractive Man, said he has seen a steady increase in clients from 50 in 2009 to 140 last year.
Another dating coach who asked to be identified only as “Skilldo” has also seen a rise in students since he started his “boot camps” in 2007.
“Through our system of growing up in a conservative Asian society, we definitely do not dare to take as much social risk as [men in] other countries,” Skilldo said.
He said he has taught more than 700 students, including young men who want to find girlfriends and divorced men who want to learn how to date again. Several Singapore dating coaches promise results as long as their students constantly practice what they have learned, work on their voice and speech and memorize pick-up lines.
“Guys do not socialize. They would work, they would play computer games, but their social skills are very low,” said salesman Ryan Tan, 32, who took up dating classes in 2008 to improve his image.
He credits his two dating coaches for helping him court his current girlfriend of two years, 35-year-old Theresa Low, whom he plans to marry this year.
Men in their twenties are also jumping in early to get a headstart.
“Certain people need it, especially the ones who are too nice and those with no confidence in themselves,” said a -dating student who wanted to be known as Mike.
Mike, 21, joined See’s dating course this month, learning dating jargon and rules such as staying in the line of sight of his target.
Some of these concepts originated from the 2005 book titled The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists by an American writer, Neil Strauss, who investigated the underground world of pick-up artists.
Other coaches have tricks up their sleeves, in a manner of speaking.
Derick Ho, 29, from magic school Secret Skills, has conducted courses on magic and dating since 2007.
“Other than breaking the ice more easily, magic is very charismatic,” Ho said. “It is a different value or skill that not many people have.”
Magic spices up boring conversations, makes women smile and helps a man appear more fun to be with, Ho added.
“It doesn’t matter if I do it wrongly because you’re making fun of me, you’re laughing at me. It is chemistry,” he said.
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