Thursday, November 11, 2010

Seduced by Neil Strauss: The Truth Behind The Game

"There was a pickup artist who met a girl, and within 15 minutes they were having sex in the bathroom," says Neil Strauss.

"They're now married."

"On the other hand, I'm sure there are plenty of girls who have guys who want to sleep with them; they chase them and chase them for weeks or months, and once they get the sex it's over."

Strauss is telling me a story - one I've heard many times before - as we share the backseat of a cab to JFK.

We had just exited our own New York marathon - one that went 36 hours and featured a select crop of hand-picked models and the world’s most elusive pick up artists - and Strauss was on his way back home to Los Angeles.

"There are two kinds of women in this world," Strauss clarifies.

"The ones who have read the book and the ones who haven't."

 "The book" - as Strauss modestly refers to it - is the 2005 New York Times best-selling novel The Game, which details the writer's sexual and often illicit exploits in the seduction community. (No one is safe; Strauss uses his tactics on everyone from Tom Cruise to Britney Spears.)

"A woman who hasn't read the book hates it and thinks it's the worst thing in the world," Strauss continues, as we zip by a blurry Brooklyn Bridge.

"But I haven't gotten one negative feedback from a woman who's read the book."

(I won't be the first.)

I met Strauss two days earlier while covering his book signing/ghostwriting session at DUMBO's powerHouse arena. Alongside New Yorker editor Ben Greenman, Strauss had spent 45 minutes writing a memoir about a Game-worshiping twenty-something at the height of his drug-dealing days in high school. A slew of peacocking admirers looked on in wonder.

"I feel somewhat horrified that I started that," Strauss tells me, as we watch a dude in floor-length fur survey the room.

I made an off-handed suggestion that the novel be renamed Naked, High and Handcuffed (instead of Naked, High and In Handcuffs... Flows better... Agree?) Strauss did. He invited me to join his party for drinks after the signing and aptly obliged when I asked for an interview.

36 hours later - after two consecutive nights parading around New York's most exclusive underground clubs until dawn with a selection of runway models, exotic dancers and pick-up artists - I felt like William Miller in Almost Famous: starry-eyed, sleep-deprived, and still without an interview. I also found myself fiercely invested in the personal lives and storyboards of these PUAs - listening to them banter, watching them hit on my friends, talk about their exes.

At one point in an elevator, Strauss kisses me.

"Do you ever feel jealous watching a girl you slept with leave with someone else?" I ask him.

"I felt more jealous watching you kiss your boyfriend tonight than any girl I just slept with," he says.

(Sorry John.)

It had only been two days, but our encounter felt bizarrely longer - a phenomenon Strauss perfected by using "trance words" (repeating a person's words back to them in conversation to establish a sense of commonality), Kino (subtle but suggestive physical touching), and repeated location changes (rezoning several times in a night to appear as if you've known someone longer and experienced more together.)

"Fair," Strauss said, when I prevented the kiss from escalating. It was a word I'd been using all weekend.

I knew all of the rules, memorized all the tactics, and played my fair share, but the thing I never realized about The Game until now is that while these perfectly crafted sentences and mind-altering encounters are organized and rehearsed, they're also profoundly personal.

"You're hard on yourself," Strauss tells me both nights, as I beat myself up for something as stupid as a missed state capital. It was a line, but it was the truth. 

Another truth: Strauss doesn't need lines or Kino or a best-selling book to get a girl's attention; the guy is brilliant, hilarious, and deeply insightful. The Game only began because he didn't know it. 

PI: How do people react when you they find out you wrote The Game?
NS: The book is not advocacy; the book is what it is. Maybe it's not for everyone. It helped me and hurt me in some ways. If you had met me at the height of doing it, I was probably a very unlikeable person. You saw the guys at the signings last night... They're going through this metamorphosis. Your whole identity as a pickup artist is 'I'm gonna go out and meet women and have success if a woman likes me.' It makes you incredibly needy and insecure. And you give off that needy energy. Or, it can give you confidence. It's like a forking path. The book begins with the so-called greatest pickup artist in the world about to commit suicide, so you know there's a dark side to it.

PI: Talk me through a seduction workshop.
NS: Most of the guys who come are all really cool and interesting guys, they just don't know it. They have to teach themselves. People always say, 'Oh just be confident.' But it's impossible to be confident if someone says it. Success breeds confidence. Once you're out there and you're getting enough positive feedback from people and you're realizing, 'Oh I'm attractive and people like me,' you start to let go. Part of The Game is just a very shallow and fun path to self-esteem.

PI: Who's the most surprising person who's come to you for advice?
NS: As soon as I did the book, I got all these people that I thought I envied - either very rich or very famous - calling for advice. I've had singers who performed for maybe 50,000 people on stage call from the bathroom on a date. 'How do I do The Cube again? What does the horse stand for?' It's humbling because one thing about The Game - if you read it, you realize how scared guys are and how insecure they are. If a guy comes up and approaches you, you really just have his entire self-esteem and manhood in their hands. I think a lot of women can see guys as predatory, and it's kind of humanizing. Guys are just as bad as you think they are in terms of what they want, but at the same time it's not threatening, its kind of sad and sweet. 

PI: At the end of the book, you enter a relationship that drastically changes your life. Was it a tough transition to monogamy?
NS: I think I had to unbrainwash myself when I got into a relationship afterward. It was very hard for me. I'd be out with my girlfriend and I'd see three girls at the bar that no one was approaching and it'd drive me crazy! 'No one is approaching that three set.' I couldn't let go of it.

PI: Was your girlfriend understanding?
NS: She was like, 'Listen, you're looking up to these guys and they're all not very cool. And everything you're looking for you have already you just didn't realize it yet.' Which is kind of true. 

PI: Tell me about your new book, Everyone Loves You When You’re Dead.
NS: It's weird, I haven't really talked about it yet cause I'm so deep into it. I went back and had all my interviews re-transcribed. I told the transcriber [to note] every time a person coughed, every time they paused, every time they shuffled. To get everything, so I can really recreate that moment. The goal was to show who someone is unintentionally... Sometimes it might be Orlando Bloom being really insecure about this movie, or maybe it's something big like this New Orleans jazz musician I interviewed who tried to have me arrested. The interviews are really short, two or three pages, but in those two or three pages, which maybe only take you a minute to read, you really feel like you know the person better than you might after a 5,000 word article... I think the biggest sin you could commit is a boring interview in an anthology. Who wants to read a 5,000 word interview with Tom Cruise talking about a movie that came out five years ago?

PI: So you're going back to your roots.
NS: Writing is what I've done most of my life. The challenge is knowing that teaching seminars or workshops could be more lucrative, but knowing that what I want to do is write and that's what I love doing. This doesn't happen often to writers. I feel very lucky.  

PI: Let's turn the tables. How does a woman play the game?
NS: One challenge with women is, it's easy to get a guy but it's hard to get the guy you want. The guy you want is a guy who has quality, and it's probably not gonna be the guy that approaches you at a bar. A lot of the guys' obsession is up to the sex, and for a lot of women who talk to me it's after the sex. 'When do I do it? And how's he gonna feel about it afterward? And if I like him, how do I make sure he sees me again? And how do I know if he's being truthful or sincere or honest or not?'

PI: How long should a girl wait before sleeping with a guy?
NS: A girl waits until she knows the guy likes her for more than just sex. There was a pickup artist who met a girl, and within 15 minutes they were having sex in the bathroom. They're now married. But on the the other hand, I'm sure there are plenty of girls who have guys who want to sleep with them - they chase them and chase them for weeks or months - and once they get the sex it's over. So I don't think it's about time. It's about knowing that a guy likes you for more than just that.

PI: How does a girl 'keep' a guy?
NS: I see so many woman chasing the guys they love away by just being jealous, controlling... A guy wants to feel free, even in a relationship. Most guys - if they start feeling controlled or that their freedom is being constrained - they'll run. Also, some women have a pattern of choosing the wrong guys... Guys who are not capable of having relationships, who have their own internal demons or issues... And they're attracted to those guys because they're harder to get and a lot of women like the challenge. Some women and men - until they work on themselves - are not going to be capable of a long-term healthy monogamous relationship. Especially now, when a lot of people grown up in families where they didn't see a healthy relationship growing up so they don't know what one's supposed to be like. 

PI: Are you still playing The Game?
NS: The writer Joseph Campbell talks about going into the forest and having to go where there's no path cause it means that no one's walked it before. So you take that path and you fight all the demons and monsters and beasts - which are just all your own demons and subconscious - and at the end of your journey you get the grail, or illumination. And you leave the forest and go back into your ordinary life and you have this illumination to share with people. So, to go back into the forest would be idiotic. The quest is over. And you used what you learned to hopefully enrich your life and the people that are in it... I went to a four-year college for social skills and I graduated. I don't want to go back to school.



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