What Can an Online Dating Coach Do for You?
Over video, chat and text — though rarely IRL — digital dating coaches help you create a more attractive online profile, decipher your date’s cryptic text message and boost your confidence after an unsuccessful Tinder fling.
These are not substitutes for a licensed therapist, but they’re convenient. “We strive for instant gratification,” said Liron Shapira, 30, the co-founder of a chat-based Silicon Valley start-up called Relationship Hero. “We give 24-7 service. If you want advice at 4 a.m., you can get it.”
Like Virtual Brunch
Online dating coaches have been around practically since online dating began, but their focus has shifted. In 2009, when Laurie Davis Edwards started a company called eFlirt Expert, her most popular offering was a dating “concierge” who would write client profiles, suggest potential matches and even respond to messages for the client, like an online Cyrano de Bergerac.
But Ms. Davis Edwards, 36, who now also runs a group video chat session called Abundant Love, said she came to realize “that women didn’t want us to do it for them but with them. They wanted to feel empowered in their dating lives. They wanted to learn.”
She offers the Abundant Love seminars through her new company, the Worthy One, which strives to help single women find confidence and optimism in their dating lives. (Her husband runs a similar program for men called Fearless Dating.)
“It’s like virtual brunch,” said Kelley Joyce, 45, a divorced entrepreneur in Manhattan who tried the eight-week program last fall, using it to analyze, for example, a prospect who was reluctant to schedule weekend dates. “I threw out all my crap to the group, and they were really good about helping me sort out the real issue: ‘He’s not making you a priority.’ They helped me pursue a conversation with him that wasn’t an emotional summit.”
Match.com has also entered the confidence-boosting game with webinars like “The Art of Speaking Your Mind.” Tripp Kramer, 32, whose YouTube channel “Tripp Advice: Dating Advice for Shy Guys,” has over half a million subscribers, runs a three-month Skype-based coaching program, including six one-on-one calls, weekly webinars and unlimited email questions. Blake Jamieson, 33, author of the book “TinderHacks,” offers a Tinder profile “audit” for men who may need help “getting an up-at-bat.”
But What Does It Cost?
The price and scope of these services vary widely. Mr. Jamieson charges $49 to $99 for his audits. Mr. Kramer charges $3,000 for his three-month program. Abundant Love, which recently expanded to three months, is $2,500. Icebrkr, a Boston-based start-up, charges $25 for the first two weeks of texts and $20 a month thereafter. Relationship Hero, which uses a proprietary chat platform, charges a dollar a minute.
Oliver, a 32-year-old software engineer, has spent roughly $200 on Relationship Hero, with coaching sessions that have lasted between three and 46 minutes. (He requested his last name be withheld, because he worried women might have an “uncharitable” opinion of a man who was paying a coach to analyze their conversations and texts. “They might think, ‘What a loser,’” he said.)
Last fall, Oliver contacted Relationship Hero after an especially bad Tinder date. He told his coach that the woman had seemed normal in her texts, but in person she turned out to be obsessed with status. He asked how to avoid meeting women like this in the future, and if he did end up on another bad date, how to leave early without seeming rude.
“Oh boy. lol,” the coach wrote. “so would you say you are often drawn to women by their looks first? Because you will have to dive a bit deeper … you know what Im sarying?”
At the end of the chat, the coach suggested that Oliver write down his expectations before his next date and then compare them with his postdate notes. “Good advice but also thanks for listening,” Oliver wrote. The coach signed off with a smiley face.
Oliver doesn’t consider his coach’s typos or colloquialisms unprofessional. “It’s just a conversation,” he said. “Not a formal document.” He found the coach clear and helpful. “You just want someone to hear you,” he said. “It’s like a two-minute therapy session.”
Not a Therapy Substitute
Relationship Hero, which has 20 coaches and has raised $620,000 in funding, emphasizes it provides “tactical relationship advice,” not therapy. “We won’t tell you to search your emotions, but give you advice that we think is most proven to get results in the situation,” Mr. Shapira said. Though some coaches are psychologists, the company’s co-founder Lior Gotesman, who is also a lead coach, says he often rejects candidates with graduate degrees, “because they’re not as much in tune with their intuition.”
But neither intuition nor expertise can solve every problem. Hunt Ethridge, another lead coach, says clients frequently want help winning back their exes. “Should that not work out, we’ll help set you up for the next thing,” he said. “We can’t do magic.”
Kristen, 50, a divorced mother who works in the real estate industry in Boston, said she doesn’t have such lofty expectations of her digital coach. (She also asked that her last name not be used.) “It’s an as-needed approach when I connect with someone, and I’m not feeling inspired or creative about how to reach out,” she said. She works with Kevin Murray, 35, the founder of Icebrkr, who has a master’s degree in communication and information studies from Rutgers and wrote his thesis about how people present themselves on internet dating platforms.
Recently, when a Bumble match wrote that he loved steamers and white wine, Mr. Murray suggested she ask the man to describe the perfect setting for this meal. Kirsten did so, and said the man replied, “On a sleek jet at 50,000 miles.”
She was not impressed. “I was like, ‘Ew,’” she said. “That sounds like a horrible place to have steamers. And also, he’s trying to make me think that he’s rich.”
Mr. Murray persuaded her to give Jet Man a chance. “The air between us wasn’t crackling,” she told him after a four-hour first date, which she gave a grade of B-. “But we had a nice time.”
After a few more exchanges with Mr. Murray, Kristen reached a verdict: She would see Jet Man again. “Kevin is my online dating Sherpa,” she said. Up to a point. “He’s constantly reminding me that I can reach out to him on a date,” she said. “But I can carry on a conversation in person.”
A version of this article appears in print on March 29, 2018, on Page D3 of the New York edition with the headline: Losing at Love? Maybe You Need a Dating Coach. Order Reprints| Today's Paper|Subscribe