It’s Saturday night in the hills outside outside Byron Bay and a community gathering is in full swing.
A man in his mid-30s stands a little awkwardly on one side of the hall, occasionally glancing at a woman chatting with friends near the dance floor.
He wants to walk over and speak to her but the fear of rejection or being seen as a ‘predator’ keeps him rooted to the spot.
Eventually he returns to the safety of his own friends, quietly ruing another missed opportunity.
The experience is painfully familiar for thousands of men across the Shire.
With sensitivity around the sexual harassment of women at an all-time high thanks to the #MeToo movement (and rightly so), approaching women in an honest, non-sleazy way can feel more daunting than ever for men.
But it doesn’t have to be this way according to one local.
Dave McDermott says it is possible for men to face their fears around approaching women without losing their integrity and going into the shady world of ‘pick-up artistry’.
The men’s empowerment coach has developed a so-called ‘conscious pick-up’ workshop in which men learn how to approach women with honesty, integrity and confidence.
‘Two of the biggest things behind the fear men have are the fear of rejection and the fear of being seen as a predator,’ Mr McDermott says.
‘I help men learn to express their attraction towards women in an authentic way that allows the woman to feel safe.’
The 35-year-old came to the work of men’s empowerment through to a personal journey that involved a lot of frustration and painful experiences with women.
‘I grew up in a particular type of conscious spiritual organisation that led me to experience a lot of sexual oppression,’ he says.
‘I was a virgin until the age of 28, but even after that my interactions with women were pretty mediocre. I online dated for years… I dabbled in the world of pick-up artistry out of desperation.
‘After a lot of exploring and experimentation I came to a place in my interactions with women where there was no manipulation needed, no pretending to be confident, and I was 100 per cent authentic about who I was and what I was feeling.
‘It’s about really respecting a woman’s need for safety.
‘If she’s not feeling comfortable, then you need to move on.’
To avoid making women feel uncomfortable, men often bottle up their sexual desire out of fear they will be seen as a predator.
This can lead to immense anxiety when approaching women, or to simply staying away.
McDermott encourages men to acknowledge their fear.
‘I’m a fan of naming what you’re feeling, saying to myself “I’m feeling anxiety and there’s nothing wrong with that.”
‘You can still walk up to a woman and say ‘“Hi, my name’s Dave, I just wanted to come and say hi. I think you’re really attractive. How’s your day going.”
‘You might even say, “Look, I’m feeling pretty nervous, but I’m really happy to be talking to you.”’
McDermott is joined in the conscious pick-up workshops by his partner, local sex coach and relationship expert Helena Nista.
The two act out a series of roleplays to demonstrate some inauthentic but all-to-common ways of approaching women – the overly timid guy, the fast talker, the self-focused spruiker.
Later, a panel of women talk about their experiences of being approached by men – the good, the bad and the very uncomfortable.
Then the participants are invited to approach the female members of the group and initiate a conversation, getting constructive feedback afterwards on how they did.
‘Simply being present with a woman is a really powerful thing. She can see it and feel it when you’re really there.
‘So many men grow up with the traditional stoic model of masculinity where you don’t express your feelings,’ he says.
‘Others have gone so far in the opposite direction that they have suppressed some of the healthy, strong aspects of masculinity such as integrity and taking responsibility.’
For more information visit www.empoweredman.com.au.