Just Call Him the Love Doctor

By Merle English, Newsday

IT WAS THE EVENING of Valentine’s Day. About 40 people, men and women ranging in age from about 30 to 60, had gathered in a cozy room in a midtown Manhattan building.

An item in a newspaper offering a free introduction to a six-week ”RelationShop” course had drawn them there.


In the item, Charley Wininger, a Brooklyn psychotherapist and “urban dating coach,” promised to provide for those who signed up for his RelationShop: information about the best places in New York City to meet someone new and what to do on arrival, how to accurately size up a new romantic prospect in 30 seconds, theater improvisational techniques to “comfortably approach anyone, anywhere,” the 10 best opening lines to use, painful mistakes that singles make and “lots more.”

It was the sort of activity that held out hope for Ann Tillman, 54, a widow from Rego Park. Tillman’s husband died 11 years ago, and she missed the companionship they’d enjoyed for 22 years.

“His sense of humor, his ability to be there for me, emotional support,” Tillman said are the qualities she missed most. “I was shy as a kid. He made me an extrovert.”

She didn’t expect to find anyone to replace him, but hoped for “someone to complement me,” and she was at the gathering for that reason.

“It’s a very good feeling when somebody is in love with you,” Tillman said. ”It’s security. It’s support. And it’s someone you enjoy being with and doing fun things with. I’m always looking to meet new people, and there isn’t much in

Queens,” she said, referring to a paucity of organized occasions for singles. She’d had some dates. A few had been promising but nothing had come of

them. “It seems that I’m doing something wrong,” she said. “My last relationship ended three years ago.”

So Tillman was eager to hear what tips Wininger would pass on to help her. Wininger, 52, an affable, easygoing man who doesn’t pull any punches,

guided the group through an exercise for sizing up a prospective date, called, ”You’re Such An Animal.” ”Think of someone you know, and see them as the kind of animal you think they would be if they were an animal,” he told participants. “Now, imagine what kind of animal you would be, interacting with the other animal in the same space. How does it feel? If you feel uncomfortable or unsafe, what would you do to make yourself more comfortable? It might mean running away.”

At the end of the exercise, some of the participants said they realized people they had dated or were dating made them feel uncomfortable or unsafe. Wininger informed them, “You were dipping into your intuition.” He gave danger signs to watch for when getting to know a new date, including drug and alcohol abuse, not talking about themselves and being withdrawn.

“You do want to know if the person has some social supports, if they cut off all ties with their family, their recent relationship history, if they’re on the rebound,” he said. “If you’re not healed from your last relationship, you’re going to be self-protective and not really open your heart. The problem is, we want to find somebody without doing the healing work.” There were specific issues that Tillman and others wanted Wininger to address. Honesty was among them.

“You’ve no way of knowing whether the person is telling you the truth,” Tillman told the other participants. Wininger agreed. “There’s a lot of lying out there, and it’s crazy,” he said, “because you’re going to find out eventually.” ”What about age difference?” asked one man.

“What about it?” Wininger responded. “I don’t have a rule, except the desire for children.”

On the issue of rejection, such as when new dates don’t return phone calls, Wininger assured the gathering, “Ninety-five percent of the time, it has nothing to do with you. We take it to heart as not just rejection but a comment on who we are, our worth and desirability. But there are ways to deal with it.

And on the opposite side of the coin, you have the right to reject.” And Wininger added: “Worse than someone who rejects is someone who strings you along, wastes your precious time.”

A divorcee who had been married for seven years, Wininger said he became a dating coach five years ago “when I realized there was a need, especially around finding somebody and keeping somebody.” He had become single again in the 1990s when, Wininger said, “the whole [dating] world was different. The entire male-female dynamic is being totally renegotiated,” he said. “Women are working, and many don’t need men to provide financial security like they used to. That fact alone means that all the old rules are out the window, and we’re making new rules up as we go along. It’s a wilderness out there for single people, therefore you need wilderness skills.”

“The mating instinct is there, stronger than ever because of Sept. 11,” Wininger said. “Because of the lingering threat of terrorism, people don’t want to be alone. They’re reassessing their priorities.”

“That’s where I come in,” he said. “People come to me when something isn’t working. Either they’re shy and can’t get a date, or they can get a date but not the right date, or they can meet the right person but can’t keep them. ”There are a lot of people out there who are perennially single,” he said. ”They want a long-term relationship, but they’re not capable, and they don’t want to examine themselves.”

The Opening Line:  To start a conversation with a prospective date, Charley Wininger suggests drawing from the circumstances or environment where the encounter takes place.

“The best line I ever heard was the most trite,” the dating coach said. A woman scrunched up next to a man in a subway train at rush hour said  to him with amusement, ”So you come here often?” he recounted.

“They ended up married,” remarked Wininger. “Use what’s around you.”

Stan, a retired stockbroker from Forest Hills, who has been divorced for 20 years and did not give his last name, said he wants to meet a woman “with a good heart and good nature,” but he doesn’t know where to look. ”The problem with the singles scene is there are very few places to go where respectable people can get together,” he said. “The girls are always looking for Donald Trump and the guys for Ivana [Trump's former wife].”

Although it’s easy to get discouraged, Wininger told them, “there’s somebody for everyone.” He advised that singles “widen their criteria in terms of age, race, financial status, education, careers and geography. When you do, the whole world opens up to you.”

They should never, however, compromise on core values, such as commitment to open communication, personal growth, understanding that problems are going to occur and learning how to fight right. ”Some people think when there’s a problem, that’s a problem. But problems are opportunities to grow and become more intimate when you successfully get through a fight,” Wininger said. Listening to him from behind the reception desk at the entrance to the room, his companion, Shelley, 51, a registered nurse at a Forest Hills hospital, who did not want her to give her last name, was in full agreement.

“A lot of what he teaches is from the mistakes he’s made,” she said later. ”We’re two, 50-plus years, but we have fun. If something bothers him, he tells me, and we discuss it, because neither of us wants anything to fester. There’s nothing we can’t work out together.”

Shelley is legally separated and in the process of ending an 18-year marriage that floundered because of cultural differences, she said. She met Wininger when he gave a lecture on dating 18 months ago at the Samuel Field YM & YWHA in Little Neck.

“I never really thought at my age to meet somebody,” she said.

She did not take Wininger’s RelationShop course and is glad she didn’t. ”Ethically, he would not have dated me if I had taken the course,” she said. So confident is Wininger of the efficacy of his RelationShop that he offers a money-back guarantee on the $300 course fee for those who aren’t satisfied after completing it.

The sooner you take action, the better off you’ll be.

To schedule by phone, call or text 718.314.6064.