Most of the time James Norton is an accountant at a law firm. But on the side is Brother James. He has a thriving business as a dating coach for men in and around D.C. and has been featured on “The Today Show” as an expert on dating and mating. Here’s Part One of a conversation I had with him recently about his work, his play, his clients and the romance landscape in the region.
How did you get into this line of work? What compels someone to become a dating coach?
A while ago I had a bad breakup with a girl—a real fire and ice relationship—and I knew I wanted somebody but I didn’t know how to get them. So I went out there and tried to experiment about how to get to that other place. So that kind of started a whole long journey. Some of this pickup artist material started coming out and I read that and tried to practice that. I was a pretty smart, intelligent guy. I was the class president in college. So I’ve never had a problem making friends and meeting people and stuff like that. I just didn’t know how to find a woman, you know, be sexually attracted to her. Well, I knew how to be sexually attracted to her [laughter] I just didn’t know how to convey that.
And then, basically, one of my good friends was into it too. So him and I just would go out all the time, approach women, talk to people, just try to figure out what worked, what didn’t work. Ultimately we became part of this underground group that was trying to get better at meeting women. We became, kind of, leaders of it. We literally had guys come up to us and say, “What are you doing?” At the time I thought we knew nothing, we were still kind of clueless. But we started teaching it. We took six guys and taught them everything we knew—we didn’t charge them anything—and at the end they’d give us hand-written letters saying, “You don’t know what you’ve done for us” and we gave them certificates. And from there we just started coaching.
Then, two years ago, we went our separate ways. I’m still coaching, he’s still coaching but it got a little crazy. We were on “The Today Show” and things happen.
How much was trial and error, what you were doing out in bars, and how much was it reading up?
I definitely read up. The problem sometimes is you get too much information in your head. Too many people don’t go to speed dating or they always do their same habits over and over again. How do you break those habits? How do you do things different or find a trick? Because a lot of times, those things in our heads aren’t true. It’s false information we believe is true. A lot of self-limiting beliefs.
So, who are you clients? All guys? Straight guys?
Yes. I’ve never worked with a gay guy. It’s mostly guys, though I’ve considered working with women because I think there’s a lot of what goes on in our heads that women don’t really realize, like our insecurities about trying to approach and woo and not look like a flake.
The majority [of clients] are pretty much professionals in some capacity. They might be presidents of companies. I’ve had even a guy who was like a “Wolf of Wall Street” at one point in time. There is a portion of my clients who have Asperger’s, so I work with them which is interesting. I think a lot of things are teachable, coachable. It’s just about how you approach yourself, your outward expression.
Do you always meet with them one-on-one in person?
I do. That’s become my model. We used to have 6-session courses and, to be honest with you, I’m sick and tired of doing the bars and pubs. I mean, you can learn a lot when you have the person right there. They say they do this, that and the other thing. Then, when you have them there, you can look and see that their hands are in their pockets, they’re looking completely down, not even approaching people.
It is beneficial. But I’ve really found that—energy in, energy out—that a lot of it is these individual sessions. I usually do about a session a week, maybe longer. We all have our habits and they’re hard to overcome. And a lot of it is not me being there; it’s you doing it … and then going out there and failing. And I mean fail as a good thing, just trying.
Does that mean there are homework assignments?
They do actually get homework assignments. Actually I get them to try to be more engaging. Say hello to a nice stranger every single day. Most people don’t do this, men or women. It’s just a habit. You pay at the cash register, you sit and have your coffee alone. But if I’m more comfortable just walking up and talking to people, if I see that beautiful girl it’ll be a lot easier for me to walk up and say hello rather than rely on Missed Connections or whatever else is out there. I think that’s big.
Or even looking at online dating, it removes that barrier of the approach anxiety. But if you’re not out there living your life right and not really dealing with your stuff, no one’s going to want to date you.
Speaking of online dating, how do you feel about that as a means of bringing people together? Are you anti?
Yes and no. I’m coming around to [dating sites] more because you get in your circle of friends, you see the same people over and over again. You don’t branch out. When you go to a bar you stick with your group of people and you don’t really talk to that person across from you in the bar that you really want to. So it kind of creates that bridge where you can meet different people in other areas. Even I’ve lived here 13 years and I see the same people over and over.
What are the biggest mistakes clients make that you try to work with them on?
I think it’s doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. To a degree these guys go to bars over and over and they get the same results. … With regards to approaching people, it’s kind of scary. But, us, as guys, it’s sort of our job to approach, to say hello. And I think that’s a big part of it. A lot of people, especially women, they want to say hello and hi. They’re insecure too. People are just dying to talk to each other.
Then, there are two other areas. One is the outward expression of yourself. There’s body language but also how you dress. There are a lot of horrible dressers in D.C. Turtlenecks. Old gym shoes. Acid-washed jeans. It’s like, what are you trying to show here? What year is it? It’s the first impression and what you’re judged off of, whether someone thinks “Oh, he’s hot” or “I don’t want to meet him, he looks like he’s going to kill me.” It’s the primal instinct of threat or not a threat.
And there’s the internal expression of yourself. To a degree it’s me telling you what my story is and what I stand for and don’t stand for. I’m going to present who I am so that you can fully understand. And I think what a lot of guys get tripped up on is talking in facts. They don’t really talk in emotions, about what drives them. It’s more of, “This is my batting average.” When they go out on dates they get into interview mentality. Fact. fact. fact. And then they don’t know anything about each other. I know their stats but not who they are, what moves them.
So when someone comes to you, are you really blunt with them? Do you take them shopping if they’re not put-together?
A lot of it is not saying, “You need to wear this,” because everyone’s unique. You have a guy who’s a skater and he wants to wear his tribe gear. A guy is a partner in a firm, and he needs to not look like a skater. But we have to go through the reasons for why we wear the things we wear. What are we trying to portray? Or maybe they’re not thinking about that. Well, what happens if that girl sits next to you? You look like the slob and she’s not going to be like, “Great, a slobby guy is interested in me.” So it’s really getting into the reasons behind it and talking about what needs to happen. And they go out and do it.
How about the actual approach? Are you a fan of lines and standard things to say?
Yes and no. To a degree I think there is such a fear of approaching sometimes it’s nice to actually have a canned line. Am I fan of it? No. As a human being, me saying a canned line to you, it’s essentially saying you’re not worthy of me talking to you as myself. Personally I’d rather just go up to you. I mean my line is often, “Hi, my name is James.” That’s my go-to.
My old business partner, one night, challenged me that when I went up to women my only line was to be, “Hi, I’m a pirate.” I had to do it for the whole night. It worked out pretty well. One person was interested in talking to me. One acted like she didn’t know what to do. There was a third who shut the door to it. Actually one girl looked me up and down and said, “Are you here to steal my booty?”
You mentioned the “Pickup Artist” earlier. Do you feel like that era is over? What do you make of Mystery and that crew and line of thinking now?
It’s interesting because when that came out there really was nothing else out there for guys trying to understand how to meet women. There really weren’t books or anything out there. For a while it was a different way to look at things. Maybe your older brother would give you some tips but, as guys, we didn’t have a guy’s Cosmo about how to meet women.
That was literally about 10 years ago now. Where the community is now is leaps and bounds where the “Pickup Artist” was. This community is actually really knowledge-hungry. Coaches, myself included, look at sociology, primatology, everything.
I don’t know if you’ll agree with me but my sense is that the “Pickup Artist” was a lot of trickery and games and manipulating women into some objective, and, usually, the objective was hooking up, not making a connection. Women were seen as interchangeable.
Yeah, I think that part of it has really gone away. I don’t think there are as many tricks. There are people out there selling that but it doesn’t really do anything to help these guys out.
What’s usually the time frame in which you’re helping guys? Is it usually right up to when they start dating someone? Through their relationship as well? Or more on the starting end?
To be honest, I’m usually more on the starting end. Like I said, I try to put the tools in place so they can experiment and figure out what they need to do to get to whatever level they hope to get to. So it’s more of the front end.
We talked about approach anxiety but there’s also the issue of, how do I express to her that i’m interested sexually? I could be an amazing guy, I could have my stuff together but if there’s not that extra thing where I let her know, “You know, I want to make out, I want something beyond friends,” it doesn’t happen. That’s another part that gives guys a lot of anxiety because it’s possible rejection. They don’t know how to approach it. You go out on that date and there’s no kind of sexual chemistry. You had a great time, maybe you both liked each other but nobody’s really made that move. At the end of the night, there’s that awkward area of: Do we kiss? Do we not kiss? So guys are going to freak out about that and may run away and be in the car and think, “That was stupid. I really wanted to kiss her but I didn’t know what to do.” So we work on that too.