The man who wrote the bible on picking up women no longer believes in the pickup game

To win the game is, indeed, to leave it.
To win the game is, indeed, to leave it.
Image: Adam Freelander for Quartz
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Not many people recognize the name Neil Strauss.

Millions, however, know of “the guy who wrote The Game“—the self-proclaimed “transformational journalist” who wrote a reportage-style memoir on “the secret society of pickup artists.” The book became the bible of any AFC (average frustrated champ) hoping to become a PUA (pick-up artist) and perhaps even a PUG (pick-up guru).

Strauss, in the words of the LA Times is “a hero to men seeking women.”

But that’s not how he sees himself.

Now, he is someone who doesn’t fear commitment or intimacy as revealed in his latest book The Truth: An Uncomfortable Book about Relationships. The latest installation follows Strauss from cheating, to sex addiction therapy, to polyamory, to swinging, to setting up a love commune, to hiking Macchu Picchu with a sore, overused penis, to enlightenment and—finally—to monogamy and his own wedding.

The Truth is a well-written book, and a hard one to put down. Strauss is a master at what’s perhaps the greatest secret of writing about oneself (other than, well, being able to write): he has the confidence and bravery of holding nothing back. Not the graphic details, not the uncomfortable feelings.

But how does Strauss reconcile teaching men how to pick up women—through The Rules of The Game, featuring”10 more ways to disqualify” a woman (pdf, p. 81)—and running a lucrative business from what he’s learned as a pick-up artist with this new, grown-up self who values relationships and love?

The following is edited for clarity.

So after teaching millions of men how to “trick” women into liking them, you are now a convinced monogamist. What happens to The Game, that culture, and its rules?

I think there’s a cultural narrative, which is: guy who is a pick-up artist and now is a monogamist, and that’s a 180-degree turn. But that’s not quite the way I see it, which is more: there’s a lonely guy who is horrible with women, and always in the friend-zone and frustrated, who meets some people who show him how to meet women and sort of fix this social problem in his life and. Now he has another problem later in life, which is commitment and relationships. To me it’s just a linear line.

What about your personal “brand”?

There are this ideas in the culture about branding but it’s so stupid to brand yourself. You are a person, you’re growing and changing so a branding is almost like saying “this is who I am going to be” and defining yourself to a very narrow niche which forbids growth. That would be a nightmare for me, I can only hope that I continue to write books that continue to chronicle the authenticity of who I am in that moment.

You’ve described The Game as essentially manipulation (0:56), and said that this book, The Truth, is the opposite of that manipulation. Do you feel that way, that the lifestyle of The Game is a manipulative one?

The Game is different from the sort of seduction community that it chronicles. Even though it’s been used as a how-to, The Game really is just my story in and out of [the seduction community], the things I see as good, the things I see as bad, the things I got really caught up in and seduced by.

I was obviously a journalist, so that community existed before The Game. I just put it all in, so I wouldn’t change the book because it’s simply chronicling that experience. But now some the things that I might have thought were positive at the time I don’t see as positive.

In an interview recently (2:50), you joked about your contribution to the culture being “people wearing ridiculous clothes.” But there’s no doubt that you actually have contributed something to culture. What do you think that is?

I guess I have no idea as to what my contribution to the culture is.

I did realize when I published the game that it was like a forking path. One path was a weird blip on the pop culture radar where people go out wearing ridiculous clothes saying scripted canned lines and routines. The other was a way to get into self-improvement and growth and feel good about it and, though it’s something very subjective, “masculine.”

But I’ve seen some people get into [the game] and it just speaks to their dark side, they become worse human beings than they already were.

Do you feel responsible for that?

I think you can’t control how people respond to your book.

All I know is what I read in the media and what I know as a person.  As a person, people come up to me and say this book changed my life, or I’m married now and this really helped me, I was really lost. So what I hear anecdotally is positive things. What I read in the media is negative things.

The simple answer is: every time you put out something in the culture, whether it’s a tweet or a book, you are opening yourself up, it’s no longer in your control and you have to let go of that. If we worried about that stuff I think the Bible shouldn’t be in print, judging by the amount of people how’ve been killed because of it.

Do you believe that a man can have a trusting relationship even though it is a sacrifice of his own nature? In the words of a geneticist you speak to in the book: “a woman can never be perfect enough for a man not to want to cheat on her”?

Absolutely not. The geneticist I talk to in the book was really talking about himself.

It comes from a certain parental upbringing that I shared also. I think if anyone feels trapped in a relationship, it’s because they felt trapped in their relationship with mom or dad, whatever gender they are attracted to, growing up. So to me the real point of the book is that we have these beliefs and constructs in our heads that keep us from happiness—monogamy and non monogamy, men and women. All those things are complete illusions but because growing up we are programmed by the love and experiences from our parents we walk around seeing the world from this box, and it’s not the world.

For somebody who grew up taking care of a parent, versus the parent taking care of you, you start to give yourself worth through taking care of needy people. One tends to get in relationships with needy people, they care for them, but then they become resentful and cheat—it’s a selfish dynamic.

In the book, when you open up to Ingrid—your now wife—about your explorations of sexuality, you mention that your promiscuous lifestyle was part of your healing. Sounds Osho-like: do you really need to lose yourself to find yourself?

People always ask me what’s the advice I would give to a 20-year old, and the advice is: no piece of advice I can give, or very few, is really going to change you. Otherwise all those little memes and inspirational thoughts would really change people but they don’t. You have to learn from your own experience, because a lot of the stuff is wired emotionally, not intellectually.

For sure in The Game and The Truth, I go through the dark side to come out. It’s almost like a myth:you go through the forest, you go through the darkest part, and you fight the demons and at the end you get a treasure.

Both your books—certainly, The Game, but The Truth as well—are rather misogynistic. Has your image of women changed at all?

I don’t think that I ever had a negative view of women at all, but I think in The Game it was certainly very objectifying. The whole premise of the game is objectification if you think about it. I think my self esteem was so low that I was trying to get my self esteem from other people’s bodies. The opposite sex was a way for me to feel better about myself versus just seeing everyone as individual and human being.

In The Truth I began with the idea that I was somehow trapped in the expectations—and it didn’t have to be women it can be any relationship, if I was gay it would be men—and I think in the end I let go of that. To me it’s a journey to finding love and connection that and not being afraid of connection and love.

What about the way you see other men? Has it changed at all since you wrote The Game?

If anything changed maybe is I made a lot of distinctions about men and women and what’s evolutionary and what’s not. Now I don’t see those distinctions being true, I think most of those things are completely cultural. In the seduction community the game chronicled, there are a lot of really unhealthy beliefs about that: the whole premise of getting into the seduction world really puts a divide between you and the gender you are trying to seduce.

Certainly The Game exposed the seduction community to the world, whatever that means, whether that’s been a good thing or a bad thing, we have no idea. Definitely it was not the intention. The intention was I just found this interesting community and had a journey through it and had no idea the effect it could have.

You have a little son. Would you want him to read The Game?

The real idea is that, hopefully, I will raise him with enough self esteem that he won’t need to read the game. Because The Game is really to me a book about male insecurity, more than anything else.

And some of The Truth is an attempt to raise myself, because I wasn’t raised maybe by my parents or by the culture, and that’s what each book is. And I think in our culture if we’re sick we go to the hospital, we go to school to learn but we do nothing for our emotional health.

To me The Truth was sort of like a late emotional upbringing. The message is giving tools with which you can look at yourself that you don’t sabotage your life, your career, your relationship, your own happiness.

That’s what I hope it is. We’ll see.