“People feel weird when they meet me,” 27-year-old Blake Eastman tells me. He’s perched on a coffee table eating gummy bears.
Sitting across from him on the couch in an expansive, hardwood-floored rental space in Chelsea getting ready to watch him teach “The Dating Workshop,” I admit that I feel, if not “weird,” a bit self-conscious. It’s hard to meet a master of body language (or, to quote Eastman, “nonverbal communication”) and not worry about what you’re doing with your hands, how solid your eye contact is, and whether he’s reading your mind. Hint: He sort of is.
For eight months, Eastman has been teaching singles on the dating scene to read minds, too, and to use their bodies to send clear signals. For example, you can send the message, “If you touch me, I will gag,” by slowly moving away each time your date invades your personal space. Or you can communicate, “Kiss me! Now!” by playing with the buttons on his shirt, looking at his lips, or softening the tone of your voice just so.
Those moves might sound primitive, but on a first or second date, it’s difficult to say exactly what you’re thinking. Most people opt not to. Eastman’s theory is that if you’re not fluent in body language, you’re likely to give your date the wrong idea, to inadvertently act uninterested when you’re interested or vice versa, to be left mystified by someone’s vanishing act, even though he was telling you the whole time—wordlessly, of course—that he couldn’t wait to get away. Modern dating is one big (quoting Led Zeppelin here) communication breakdown. But The Dating Workshop and Eastman’s other classes, including Body Language Explained and Deception Detected, are designed to help.
“I promise you,” says Eastman, who has a blue-eyed baby face but speaks with the quick cadence of an Aaron Sorkin character, “in about a year and a half, my name will be synonymous with body language.”
Arguably, the writer Neil Strauss has a corner on that market. His 2005 runaway best-seller, The Game, told the story of the years he spent with professional pickup artists learning how to seduce women. Much of Strauss’ strategy entailed nonverbally conveying self-confidence. Eastman, however, didn’t come to the study of body language to get laid. He says he developed his proficiency in nonverbal communication during childhood as an adaptive response to his anxiety. In social situations, he often found himself paralyzed, imagining worst-case scenarios about what would happen if he made the wrong move or said the wrong thing. So he learned to read people to discern what they wanted from him. Years later, he obtained a master’s degree in forensics from John Jay College of Criminal Justice, started teaching psychology classes at LaGuardia Community College, and became a professional poker player. He uses his winnings to fund his own research in nonverbal communication, conducting countless hands-on hours in the field.
Some of his lab settings are cocktail parties; he sets them up, films them, and then studies the footage. In the summertime, he stands between two mailboxes across from the outdoor tables of Blue Water Grill, a seafood restaurant in Manhattan’s Union Square, observes people on dates, and collects data. He shares his findings through The Nonverbal Group, the research and teaching company he founded and runs. In his rental space, he maintains an office—a desk and computer, shelves full of body language and pop-psychology texts including The Brain In Love, Who’s In Charge?, and a couple of books by Malcolm Gladwell (“who I fucking love to death”)—as well as a seminar room where he’s taught more than 2,600 students in the past year.
Eastman tells me that The Dating Workshop usually draws more women than men. But when the room fills up, the crowd is about 50/50, the majority in their 20s and 30s and got tickets to the class through Groupon and LivingSocial. The women have nervous eyes and adjust their tights; the men look like computer programmers with their straight backs, solemn expressions, and wire-rimmed glasses. To begin, Eastman asks his students to shout out questions and writes them on a white board.
“I can feel people making assumptions about me,” says a guy in the back row who wears a blazer over a plaid shirt. He asks Eastman for advice on changing that. “Like, I tell people I went to Harvard, and I can tell they’re thinking I’m a douche bag.”
Eastman nods, watching him for a moment. He tips his head and squints. “Well, you do have a little douche baggery to you,” he says. The room, including the Harvard graduate, erupts into laughter. “We’ll work on that,” he adds. (Later, he tells me that the “douche baggery” he picked up on stemmed from a disconnect between the arrogance in the Harvard graduate’s words and the insecurity apparent in his body language.)