The Dating Coach
April 28th, 2011 by Brandon Stanton
I consider myself a charming individual. I’ve got a real big smile, which usually shows up in an aw shucks kind of way. I’m really tall, so I try to be gentle and soft spoken. I’m good at asking questions. I’ve got plenty of jokes. I like people. They make me happy. I like to make them happy. And mixed all together, I think these things generally come across as charm. But John Keegan— I didn’t know people like this actually existed.
“You are intimidatingly charismatic,” I told him.
“I do have a special skill,” he said.
John Keegan is a dating coach. He makes a living by teaching men how to approach women. I discovered John on the NY Times website. A couple years back, the Times profiled John in an article entitled The Ladies Man. In the article, John explains his philosophy toward women. I wrote John an email: “I think we could have an interesting conversation,” I said.
John was a tough man to nail down. But after several email exchanges, and a few unanswered voicemails, he finally agreed to meet me in Central Park. We recognized each other from about 50 yards away. When John saw me, he started pumping his fist in the air. I couldn’t help but smile. When he got closer, we exchanged the customary bro-hug.
“Thanks for meeting with me,” I said.
“Brandon, I need two things. I hope you don’t mind.”
“I need a tea. And I need to pee. A tea and a pee. You think we can make that happen? ” I laughed.
“We can make that happen.”
And thus John gave the first demonstration of his special skill: instant rapport with absolute strangers. Preferably— and here’s where he makes his money—with absolutely beautiful strangers.
I imagined that John and I would speak about his philosophy for a couple hours, and then I would request a demonstration. But that proved unnecessary, because the demonstration began immediately. On the way into Whole Foods, John stopped to talk with the security guard. He talked with the cashier. He talked with the girl who made his coffee. He crumpled up his receipt and threw it at her. As we waited in line, he turned around and talked with the girl behind him.
John seemed like a battery that could not hold a charge. Like he could only survive by constantly drawing energy from his surroundings. As we talked, he’d constantly stop me mid-sentence, so he could approach a girl. A random, beautiful girl. It was so easy for him. If she shrugged him off, he laughed. He didn’t care, he was having fun.
“You know why I find you interesting?” I asked.
“Because you take charge of chaos.” I paused to form my thoughts, then continued: “This city is so random and chaotic. There are so many people, and so many opportunities. But most people just hope that chaos will spin their way. They hope that they will be in the right place, at the right time, and will meet the right person. They hope that if they keep with their routine, they will somehow collide with something good. But you force these collisions. You collide with everything around you. “
“Wait,” said John. “Say that last thing again.”
“You force collisions. You collide with everything around you.”
“I love how you said that. You are really intelligent.” John seemed very sincere. ”I mean seriously, you are like a philosopher. You are definitely somebody I would like to hang out with again.”
“I normally try to validate a person as soon as I can,” said John. “Everyone wants to be validated.”
We were walking in Central Park now. John was stopping a girl every five minutes. “Excuse me,” he’d say, “I’m sorry to bother you. But there’s just something about you.”
“Oh yeah?” said the girl.
“Yeah, I’m not sure exactly what it is. It may be how you carry yourself. You just have this spark that makes me think you’d be a fun girl to hang out with. I could definitely see us hanging out. ”
Every time it was something different. It might be a girl’s smile. Her t-shirt. Her way of walking. If John appreciates anything about a passing female, he stops her, and he tells her. John stops all types of girls. Tall girls. Short girls. Skinny girls. Not-so-skinny girls. Girls he wants to date. Girls he doesn’t want to date. He stops girls for one reason only– he loves talking to girls. And that, more than anything else, is why he is so effective.
“You can’t talk to girls for the purpose of getting a date,” he said. “It doesn’t work. I call that outcome dependency, and girls can sense that from a mile away. I call it taking-energy. If you walk up to a girl with taking-energy, if you want something from her, she’s going to sense that. You just have to love women, and love talking to women. The conversation has got to be the end in itself.”
John fixed his eyes on a girl walking toward us. She was tall, elegant, and wearing a burgundy dress. He stepped into her path. “Excuse me,“ he said. “I noticed your necklace from far away, and I thought: I have got to talk to this girl. You just seem so elegant.” They talked for several minutes. It turned out that she was an opera singer from Belgium. When the conversation ended, I asked if I could take her photograph.
With John, I found myself in a role that I’d never been in before– that of the shy friend, standing on the outer edge of conversations, intimidated by the force of my friend’s personality. When John approached a new girl, I hung back a bit. I smiled at appropriate times. I nodded when spoken to. At times, I courageously ventured into the conversation– if only to show that I too had a personality. John definitely wasn’t a ball hog. He’d make several attempts to engage me in the conversation. My friend and I were just talking about that, he’d say, he’s a philosopher. But it was tough to keep up with his pace.
The presence of such a fearless individual made me uncomfortably conscious of my own hesitations. But at the same time, it made those hesitations seem more surmountable than ever before. Seeing John plow through one intimidating social situation after another, these encounters suddenly did not seem so intimidating. If a girl was cold, or mean, John just bounced off her. Who cares? How could John feel rejected when he wasn’t looking for anything? He didn’t want a date. He just wanted to talk. Often a date came from these conversations, but it was never the aim of the conversation.
When I first began taking street portraits, I was really affected by rejection. If I really wanted a portrait, and the person told me “No,” it could throw off my whole day. But I have over 2000 portraits now. No matter how awesome the portrait, it’s not going to significantly impact my body of work. So when I approach someone now, I’m not overly concerned with the result. I’m no longer outcome dependant. I really don’t care all that much if a person says “No.” And now, ironically, they almost always say “yes.”
On the way out of the park, John stopped two British girls. They introduced themselves as Gemma and Becky. John joked with Gemma about her Victoria’s Secret bag. He pointed at her recently painted toenails, and said: “You are the definition of someone who is hot from head to toe.” It sounds cheesy, I know. It may even sound creepy.
But that’s the thing. That’s the whole point. When you get to be John—when you are giving off that energy, and having that much fun, and not looking for anything else, you can say just about anything:
“I want to hug you,” John said. “You just look like someone I would like to hug. Can I hug you?”
I’m still not sure if John did this on purpose. But after a few minutes, he became focused on Becky, and somehow spun Gemma and I into a private conversation.
“So what’s you guys’ story?” she asked.
“Well, he teaches people how to communicate. I’m doing a story on him.”
“So that’s what you guys are doing,” she said. “Going around—talking to girls?”
“Well, kinda.” I said. “I mean, he teaches guys to get girls. But he’s got a good heart. I came into this expecting he’d be manipulative, but it’s really not like that at all. He just loves people. He loves talking to people. It isn’t just girls. He loves talking to everyone.”
“I can see that.”
“So what’s your story?”
“Well, I’m visiting from London. But I think I’m going to come back in September and stay for an entire year. But I’m worried about making friends. Do you think I’ll be able to meet people?” I glanced over at John. He appeared to be giving Becky some sort of palm reading. Both of them were laughing.
“I definitely think that’s possible,” I said. “If you want to meet people you can.”
“John, there is one negative adjective I would ascribe to you.”
I’ve never met anyone like John. Honestly, I wasn’t even aware that someone like him existed. He can engage anyone, at anytime. Nobody passes by that he cannot choose to make part of his life, if only for a moment. For most people, the crowd can be intimidating. It is large, daunting, and impersonal. But for John, it is intoxicating. John thrives on the crowd. It is his drug. Because no relationship is out of his reach, every person who passes by is a temptation. The crowd beckons constantly. It represents endless adventure. Endless opportunity. Endless experience.
I think it would be difficult for any single person to compete against that.
As I spent the afternoon with John, I thought back to the 91 comments on his NY Times article. Having met John, these comments made me mad. John possesses a unique philosophy: I always try to validate people. People need to be validated. And quotes like these can make him seem conniving. But the bedrock of John’s personality, and his philosophy, is a sincere love of people. Spend any time with him, and you don’t question his heart. It may just be that his love of people prevents him from adequately loving any single person.
When we finished our interview, I gave John another bro-hug.
“You are a wonderful person,” I said. After all, people need to be validated.
And in one of life’s wonderful coincidences, I got home and realized that I’d already taken my best photo of John.
We’d met two months ago, and neither of us realized it: