An Interview with New York Times Bestselling Author Neil Strauss

The Truth – An Uncomfortable Book About Relationships

Neil Strauss, the author of “The Game” and “Rules of the Game”, among others, has a new book out entitled “The Truth”.  Once an international hero of the pickup artist community, Neil has a new take on love, relationships, sex, and the pursuit of happiness.  The book is insightful, powerful, entertaining, and indeed at times quite uncomfortable.  I caught up with Neil recently for this interview, and he was gracious enough to share his thoughts and ideas with FSHN.

Jason: How much of this book is true?
Neil: It’s obviously all true, outside of turning certain characters and places into composites, and some shifts in the timeline to hide people’s identities and make things still work.  But it’s all true, otherwise I wouldn’t write it.

Jason: So, you’re naming a lot of well-known celebrities – these are the actual people?
Neil: Of course.  You mean like, Rick Rubin?

Jason: Yes, in particular, that’s right.
Neil: Yes, those are some samples of probably thousands of conversations we’ve had on these subjects.

Jason: In every chapter you have a gem, a pearl, an insight that pops out, and I noticed that chapters 36 and 37 are particularly jam-packed, almost page after page.
Neil: Yes, that is where all the lessons start to come together.

Jason: I was really struck by this one line, “It’s weird to hear them negotiating and manipulating to sleep with me as though I were some kind of prize.”  It sounded like something that you didn’t want, or that it bothered you, and immediately my mind went back to your earlier bestseller “The Game.”  One of the mantras from that book is, “You’re the prize.”  So, what happened?  Here is Mr. Pickup Artist, who’s got everything he could ever dream of, and suddenly his very own mantra is the subject of puzzlement to himself.
Neil: Right.  For starters, let’s not forget that a mantra exists because it’s something that you want to embody that you are not currently embodying.  You know, nobody says my mantra is, “Wake up in the morning,” unless they wake up in the afternoons.

Jason: So it’s coming from a place of deficiency?
Neil: Right, so maybe when you’re living with three times as many women, there’s going to be three times as much inadequacy.  I think Rick Rubin was the one who first pointed it out to me.  He’s like, “Listen, you got everything you wanted but you’re still not really happy.”   There are a lot of things we chase after.  We chase after money, we chase after wealth, we chase after fame. And if we’re lucky enough to get what we want, we also get lucky enough to find that we’re still not happy, and that thing you were chasing externally, was just a substitute for something you’re missing inside.

Jason: Sure. That also goes for all kinds of dead-end pursuits, whether it’s drinking, or gambling; you know, destructive behaviors.
Neil: But also things our culture supposedly encourages, like work and career, and money, and followers…

Jason: Right.  But whatever our path, somehow we have to make a living, we still have to pay the bills, right?
Neil: Yes, and you can do the same thing in a healthy or in an unhealthy way.  The unhealthy way is that you base your entire self-esteem on what you’re doing and not who you are.  You still have to work, but people have to know the difference between whether they are just working hard because they’re passionate, or because they need the money, or because they are avoiding life or connection.  Two people can be doing the exact same thing, in the exact same way, and one can be doing it for healthy reasons and one for unhealthy reasons.

Jason: Right, so we look at motivations.
Neil: Right.  “What is the unconscious motivation?”

Jason: So according to the flow of the book, this guy’s got it all.  Whatever he wants, he can get, he’s very good at that.  And then he gets it, and then he doesn’t want it.  He’s bouncing through all of these options, and he’s gotten through quite a lot of them, and none of them are hitting the spot.  It seems there is no type of relationship that’s going to help this guy.  He’s got to come to it for different reasons.
Neil: Yes I think that’s it. You’re looking for something externally, to fill a hole internally, and that’s never going to work.  I think that’s really what the lesson is, and it’s fortunate that I crammed a lot of experience into a short amount of time, so I got to find this out earlier in life.  A lot of people say, “If I can just find the right person, then my relationships will work, I’ll be in love, and I’ll be happy.”   And yet, after four, five, six, ten, twenty relationships, they still think they’re going to find that right person, until they realize that the person they need to be in a good relationship with is themselves.

Jason: So it’s not about what type of relationship is going to work, it’s about what’s going on inside, and what your motivations are for a relationship – of any kind.
Neil: At the start of the book, I felt like marriage was obsolete, monogamy was an anachronism, and I’d go find a relationship that would work for my true self.  As I find out later in the book it’s not relationships that are broken, it’s me that’s broken. If you’re healthy, any type of relationship you choose to be in will be healthy because you are making a healthy choice.

Jason: Right, though it seems like those realizations come to you early on in the book, but rather than accepting them you instead take the path of asserting the rightness of your commitment to finding what you think will work for you.  
Neil: It sounds to me like the strategy that most people take.  It’s the definition of madness.  It’s hard to change our behaviors if they are fueled by our unconscious beliefs.  We do things because we think we are not enough, or that we are entitled to something. Over and over the strategy won’t pay off, and yet we’ll keep doing and doing it.

Jason: Right.  But the main character Style, from “The Game”, who is you, doesn’t strike me as this doubting, guilt-ridden person.  He goes out there into the world and is deeply confident, so it would appear.  
Neil: He’s good at a certain skill set.

Jason: Would you call that manipulation?
Neil: Sure you can call it manipulation.  He’s driven by an unhealthy compulsion.

Jason: So it’s not confidence?
Neil: I think it’s just a guy who’s trying to fill the hole with women, and thinking he’s filled it.

Jason: So insecurity doesn’t play into the game, when you’re in “The Game”?
Neil: “The Game” is only about insecurity.  That’s what that book is about.

Jason: So what about the neg?  When a man says something to play on a woman’s perceived insecurities to make her more vulnerable to him…
Neil: It’s just two insecure people meeting.  A guy whose self-esteem is so low, he has to bring a woman down to his low level, and a woman who might be affected by something a total stranger says to her, so it’s just a sad interaction overall.

Jason: So, The Society – from your website: “Society members are high-performing industry leaders, entrepreneurs, and influencers from the technological, entertainment, medical, financial, and self-development worlds, among others.”  Is this something that goes on today?
Neil: Yes, and I really enjoy doing it.  I thought, “Why don’t I get a bunch of great people together, and we go on a self-improvement journey together?”  We take cool trips, we went to North Korea, some of the guys went to Antarctica. We bring in awesome speakers, learn about the deeper psychological elements that make you you, and try to work on them.

Jason: So this is not The Society of ten years ago when “The Game” came out, where men are learning how to pick up women.
Neil: No.  That was ten years ago.  More than half the guys in The Society are married or in relationships.

Jason: So it’s about the restoration of interior integrity so that people’s motivations are authentic and not driven by unconscious drives or unfulfilled shadow aspects.
Neil: Yes, really well said.  I like really experiential stuff.  It’s hard to transform from a book.  If anything, “The Truth” is a really entertaining story, with a lot of ideas and concepts that will hopefully inspire you to have the motivation to make the change on your own.  But I think that big change really comes from experiential stuff.

Jason: So, with regard to monogamy, I don’t mean the moral or Christian thing, just, pair-bonding – what’s your take?  Do you think it’s natural, or not?  Or is there a third answer?
Neil: It says at the end of the book, that I believe that it doesn’t fucking matter.  Anyone who bases their beliefs about what they’re going to do with their life on a scientific theory versus looking inside for what’s right for them, is looking in the wrong direction.  I think the real answer is, to do what’s right for you, what brings you joy and happiness, as well as the people you’re with, and that’s probably the answer.

Jason: So it’s an improper formulation of the question.
Neil: I think the monogamy/non-monogamy thing is a false duality.  In the book, I say I’m looking for love, but all I’m really looking for is a sexual arrangement, and I honestly think there’s a higher, better place you get to with love if you’re not just thinking about “who has my same sexual preference.”  That’s a good way to get into trouble with a relationship you maybe shouldn’t be in.  And maybe it’s a problem with our society, where we can only think of a love relationship as a sexual match or arrangement.  I think if two healthy adults are in a very healthy relationship, they can work out what’s right for them or the relationship as it comes up.

Jason: So it sounds like you are saying that a person can discover their own internal, authentic experience of what it means to be in love with somebody, and to cultivate things like empathy, compassion, through self-awareness, and knowing one’s needs – that people don’t have to hang on to a particular framework or system.  They can figure out their own.
Neil: That’s exactly it.  One minor thing I’d say is, which goes contrary to everything in “The Game”, to not to have to go look for it.  The great thing about a relationship is that two people can come together and create something new in a realm of infinite possibility, if you’re thinking about life like that, and I think that’s really exciting.

Jason: But to get two people to that place, to be able to co-create on that level–
Neil: …and you can do it together.  A lot of theorists believe that you meet somebody because you have complementary issues, and then you are given an opportunity to A: replicate your childhood traumas, or B: heal your childhood traumas and get to the next place stage of growth together.  So there’s a big life opportunity there.

Jason: Right, and intimacy brings all that up.  
Neil: Right because that replicates the parental bond and fears – “I can be abandoned,” “I can be betrayed.”

Jason: Are we assuming that everyone had a bad childhood, a trauma, and if they say they didn’t, then they’re lying?  Are we making an assumption that we’re broken?
Neil: I think the fact is that we’re imperfect, and we’re raised by imperfect people, so that’s what we’re dealing with.  So we have the choice to lead an unconscious life, or to grow and change and improve, and actually make the next generation just a little less imperfect.  We’ll never get perfect, just like we’ll never attain divinity.

Jason: But we sure can try.
Neil: It’s noble work to get as close as possible to that impossible goal.

“The Truth – An Uncomfortable Book About Relationships” is available October 13th, 2015.