“What about the nice guy theorem?” asks another man. “Nice guys finish last.”
“Not true,” Eastman says. “Those are just nice guys who don’t know how to market themselves.”
He continues to take questions until he runs out of space on the white board. Then he sets about answering them.
“What’s cool in the world of dating,” he tells the group, “is that no one’s ever telling you how they feel. They’re showing you.” He introduces “the orientation reflex.” That’s the move a person makes to orient toward what interests him—turning his head, for example. He insists that people orient toward us all the time, and we should learn to notice it. He talks about “pacifying gestures” we use to diffuse the anxiety of dating, how men rub their palms on their pants and women play with their fingers. He explains that many people do poorly on dates because they’re “emotionally incongruent”: What comes out of their mouths doesn’t match what shows on their faces.
He uses President Obama as an example: “During the debates, he’d say, ‘Mitt, I disagree with you,’ ” Eastman says, making a placid face. “Not, ‘Mitt! I disagree with you!’ ” Eastman says, changing his expression to an angry one. In that case, he explains, Obama came off as weaker than he meant to. But emotionally incongruent people can also come off as odd, and that can hurt them on dates.
So if they’re doing so many things wrong, how can discouraged daters improve their skills? “Video,” Eastman says. “You watch yourself on tape. Then you can change.” It might be a creepy move to set up a video camera on a first date, but Eastman will approximate the experience for you in his workshop by filming you talking to your classmates.
After the first hour, Eastman tells his students to get up and mingle. Everyone stands and starts moving around the room, wearing I-can’t-believe-we’re-all-sober smiles. I talk with one woman, an actress in her early 30s who grew up in Virginia and feels mystified by New York men. “Southern men are so different,” she says. “Here, I’m confused. I’m always horrible on the first couple of dates.” She’s taken two of Eastman’s classes with a LivingSocial coupon, and she believes they’ve made her more aware. She feels more comfortable and less compelled than she used to be to fill every moment of silence on a date. I talk with a computer programmer (I knew it!) who is here for the first time and says he’s benefiting from the class. “I don’t agree with everything Blake says. But he’s good.” I talk with another woman who says that meeting Eastman and his girlfriend has changed her whole life. She has new friends, a new job, a new outlook. She wears the dreamy gaze of a cult member. I meet another man who has taken a few of Eastman’s classes and seems similarly enamored. “He’s just so amazing,” he says.
After living in New York City for six years, I’ve met (sometimes as a seeker, more often as a journalist) my share of self-help gurus: diet experts, sex coaches, life coaches, career coaches, a man who believes he can make anyone a millionaire, an older woman who wants to fill up Madison Square Garden with young women and preach against premarital sex, an angry meditation teacher who demands $2,500 for meditation classes. And all of them, even the angry meditation teacher, have disciples—people who think this guru must be the path to happiness; on the guru’s website, they’ll write testimonials: I don’t know where I’d be without him.
But Eastman seems far more sweet than parasitic: While we were waiting for his students to arrive, he gushed about his girlfriend, whom he met in one of his classes. “Most people don’t communicate,” he says. “My girlfriend and I are completely transparent. We have the best relationship I’ve ever seen.” He talked about how great his friends are, how supportive his parents are. When I asked him what learning nonverbal communication has done for him, he answered, “I don’t know where I’d be without it.” Eastman doesn’t give the impression that he aims to gather admirers but rather that he yearns to help people feel as comfortable as he’s learned to feel. “Communication is the most important part of relationships,” he says. “I want people to learn to communicate.”
Later in the night, the group engages in a second mingle. This time, they seem more relaxed. Still, Eastman has tips: “You were playing with your fingers behind your back,” he tells someone.
“And you,” he tells another student, “have a low blink rate. Guess who else has that? Me. And you know what happens if you stare at people without blinking? They’re gonna think you’re creepy.”
And then, some advice we could all use: “You look upset,” he tells one of the computer-programmer types. “Come on!” he says with a smile. “Relax.”