I've been invited along to the workshop to celebrate the DVD release of the Reese Witherspoon movie, How do You Know. In it, Reese plays a 31-year-old woman unable to decide between two men. Does she go with Owen Wilson's millionaire, baseball-playing hunk with a penthouse or Paul Rudd's hard-up business man with a heart? Not that I have any such problems, being very much at the WLTM end of dating, rather than the 'unable to decide' (tho', if I'm honest, the penthouse would prob swing it for me).
Despite my slightly clammy palms and a nagging fear I might have to 'fess up to all my previous dating disasters, I'm also thinking yada, yada, bring it on, yawn, let me out of here, I'm meeting a friend for cocktails at 8.30, and like, as if you're going to tell me anything I don't know. Dating is just, well, dating, right?
Enter Michael Myerscough, 'Relationship Expert' from the Relationship Gym. Looking part shopping telly presenter, part fitness coach, he does not fill me with confidence. I have another slurp of wine, stuff a few more crisps in my mouth and sit back prepared to enjoy a shouty ride. I also half expect my fellow attendees to start whooping at any moment and us all to start giving each other high fives.
It doesn't happen.
"Figure out what you want and how to ask for it," is Michael's opening gambit. He goes on to tell us 52% of marriages fail. "Forty eight per cent will stay together," he adds, "But how many of those relationships would you want to be in?"
People stay in dead relationships too long, apparently, "Your soul mate becomes your cell mate." Now that sentence resonates. I put my glass down, move the crisps out of reach and start paying attention.
For a relationship to work, he says, we need to be aware of our 'red flags', yet, seemingly our inherent fascination with danger stops us doing so. We recreate what we are familiar with, which is why we get so specific in our needs and wants and what we THINK an ideal partner has to have (green eyes, certain height).
To really see in black and white how we repeat history and constantly make mistakes in our relationships, Michael tells us to write down the names of the last five people we've been involved with, and list all their good and bad points.
Whoop. Bring on the high fives. Now it gets interesting. Seeing, in black and white, the chronological history of my love life in all its glorious wrongness is a real eye opener. The same things attracted me to all the people on my list, and the same things ended up putting me off them. Starting with the first boyfriend at 15, through to most recent liaisons, the same words appear throughout. In good points (as in the things that INITIALLY attracted me) 'clever' 'older than me' 'witty' are on repeat, then, in bad points, AKA the reason we eventually broke up, the running themes are laziness, lack of ambition, inability to make a stand/take charge.
So, having identified these 'history repeaters', Michael has us analyse our individual needs and assess our 'market value' (yes, he really does use that term). That starts with listing the five essential qualities I need in a partner, the four core emotional needs I MUST have met, and the five things that I KNOW are my red flags in a relationship (as in the things that infuriate me in a partner).
As an exercise it seems pretty self-absorbed, but Michael says we put more effort and 'must have' caveats into finding a house than we do in finding a partner, and then we wonder why things don't work out. We let things happen in relationships that we would not tolerate in any other area of our life.
So basically, we have to conduct our relationship as we would any other 'big investment'. With a business plan, almost.
It seems an almost cynical approach, but seeing it written down, it makes total sense. If a little unromantic.
"What about waiting for the man of our dreams appearing on a white charger to carry us off into the sunset?" someone ventures.
"It's not going to happen," says Michael, "People stopped routinely riding horses years ago."
I leave the session clutching a wadge of notes, lists and crib sheets and with a new set of relationship rules ringing in my ears: don't let history repeat itself, know your market value, make sure your emotional needs are met. And forget about men on white chargers.
Sounds so simple, eh?
I attended the Meeting Mr Right with Michael Myerscough from The Relationship Gym as a guest of Sony to celebrate the release of How Do You Know, out on Blu-ray and DVD on Monday 20th June
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