Why The World’s #1 Pickup Artist Left The Game Behind - Neil Strauss

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Summary Notes


Neil Strauss, a New York Times bestselling author, discusses his journey of understanding relationships, from exploring the world of pickup artists in his book "The Game" to grappling with the complexities of long-term partnerships. He reflects on the challenges of dating versus the deeper struggles of maintaining relationships, emphasizing the profound emotional turmoil that often accompanies the latter. Strauss candidly shares his personal evolution, which led him from solving the "problem" of courtship to confronting his own relationship patterns and ultimately achieving an "amazing divorce," where he maintains a close friendship and co-parenting relationship with his ex-wife. He even reveals their unconventional decision to have another child together post-divorce, illustrating his continuous growth and the nuanced dynamics of modern relationships.

Summary Notes

Personal Evolution in Relationships

  • B discusses the personal and public story arcs of his perspective on relationships.
  • Initially struggled with dating, leading to research and writing about pickup artists.
  • Transitioned from solving dating to understanding complex relationship issues.
  • Relationships posed greater challenges than dating due to emotional trauma and difficulty in leaving.
  • Authored books on his journey through dating, relationships, and divorce.
  • Currently has a positive co-parenting relationship and an "amazing divorce" with his ex-wife.
  • They are having another child together despite not being romantically involved.

"The first place I got stuck in my life was just dating... the game was probably the most infamous one, was me trying to figure out dating... Dating was a lot easier to solve than the next problem, which is relationships."

The quote explains the progression from tackling dating issues to the more complex challenges of relationships.

"People complain about their dating issues when it comes to relationships... They really struggle, grieve, go into locked boxes of stress and trauma and confusion that almost no one else can enter."

This quote underlines the depth of emotional turmoil that relationships can cause compared to dating.

"So the game was the easy book. But figuring out the relationship part... that was like the next step."

B reflects on the difficulty of writing about relationships after covering the topic of dating.

Unconventional Co-Parenting and Creating a Family

  • B and his ex-wife have a strong co-parenting relationship.
  • They decided to have another child together despite not being romantically involved.
  • Their decision is based on their successful co-parenting and friendship.
  • They used a home insemination method to conceive their child.

"I think like we're great co-parents and I think we get along wonderfully and ready to sort of take that journey together in a new way."

This quote highlights their positive co-parenting dynamic and decision to have another child together.

"But let me talk about the divorce for 1 second because again, I'm always fascinated by what is happening in my life now versus what already happened."

B is introspective about his divorce and how it impacts his current life and decisions.

"So we thought, yeah, let's have a child their regular way... We actually celebrate our d anniversary."

B discusses the unique situation of celebrating a "d anniversary" with his ex-wife, marking the successful navigation of their divorce.

Reflections on Identity and Public Perception

  • B finds it easy to let go of past identities, but the public may hold onto them.
  • He emphasizes the importance of evolving and not getting stuck in the past.
  • B criticizes the notion of branding oneself and the pressure to maintain a static identity.

"It's a tragedy to get stuck in a version of who I was and what I thought was right 20 years ago or whatever it is, and then keep marketing that."

B disapproves of clinging to past identities and believes in personal growth and change.

"Those who are married to the spirit of their generation are doomed to become widows in the next."

B cites Leonard Cohen, illustrating the danger of not evolving with the times.

"Your audience only expects what you've done before. Cause they don't know what you're gonna do next, so they just. They don't know that."

B explains that the audience's expectations are based on past work, but it's important to surprise them with new directions.

Courtship, Relationships, and Cultural Dynamics

  • B discusses the evolution of courtship and relationships, including the impact of dating apps.
  • He reflects on the paradox of choice and how having too many options can lead to dissatisfaction.
  • B criticizes the "looks, money, status" (LMS) approach to dating and emphasizes the importance of high-status behaviors and self-perception.

"I think that there's a learning process, and maybe you learn... Just tell me what to say, how to angle my body... And then once I learned it, then I could let it go."

B acknowledges the initial need for guidance in social interactions, which can later be internalized and discarded.

"People don't know what they want, so they want are the things behind that."

B suggests that people often desire the underlying qualities associated with looks, money, and status, rather than the superficial aspects themselves.

Self-Esteem and Personal Ads

  • Personal ads often specify a desire for tall partners, which can affect self-esteem.
  • The underlying desire is not necessarily for height but for safety and competence.
  • Money is equated with security and competence.

"And it took me a long time to realize that it wasn't height that they were looking for. What they were looking for was safety. I want to feel when maybe, let's just say, what does money represent? Money represents at some degree of security, competence. And competence. That was the word I was looking for, exactly. Competence."

  • This quote explains that the emphasis on height in personal ads is actually a proxy for the desire for safety and competence, which are qualities that can be embodied by anyone, regardless of their height.

Disenchantment with Superficial Success

  • There's a disconnect between the external image of success and internal feelings of worthiness.
  • The illusion of success can be created without genuine foundations.
  • This can lead to a split in self-perception and authenticity.

"Yeah, I think that's where the disenchantment came from, which was not feeling like you had the actual foundation, realizing that you could create the glitzy sort of mystique. Like, you do not need to see how much money I have. And then going, oh, I can get what I want by pretending to play this game. And deep down, I still don't feel like I'm worthy of it."

  • This quote highlights the internal conflict that arises when someone projects an image of success without actually feeling successful or worthy internally.

Locus of Control and Personal Responsibility

  • External locus of control blames outside factors for personal circumstances.
  • Internal locus of control focuses on personal improvement and responsibility.
  • Embracing an internal locus of control leads to happiness and self-growth.

"And I'm probably going to get these wrong, so apologies if I do. So the idea is, are the things that are happening to me the fault of others outside myself? Which is a nice thing to believe. Right? Or b, the way I am and the way I think you are is that this is going on. How can I do better? How can I change? How can I be better? How can I understand? How can I be empathic and like, it's a lot more work, but, man, you're a lot happier."

  • This quote delineates the difference between blaming external circumstances for one's situation (external locus of control) and taking responsibility for personal growth and improvement (internal locus of control).

The Cynicism Safety Blanket

  • Cynicism can be a defense mechanism to avoid the pain of failure.
  • It prevents trying and hence shields from the discomfort of potential failure.

"Yeah. I think the benefit from the cynics perspective, the benefit of never trying, is never having to feel the pain of failure."

  • The quote captures the idea that cynicism can be a protective strategy that keeps individuals from experiencing the pain associated with failure by simply not trying.

Comparison and Personal Growth

  • Negative thinking about others' success is counterproductive.
  • Focusing on learning from others' successes is more beneficial.
  • There's a choice between trying to improve oneself or attempting to bring others down.

"And so I noticed myself, if I ever start to, and I don't even do this anymore because I stopped it, if I ever start thinking something negatively about someone who's successful and start comparing their work to mine and why mine, I just stop instantly and I just think, what can I learn from that for myself?"

  • This quote emphasizes the importance of shifting focus from negative comparison to learning from others as a means of personal growth.

Men's Emotional and Relational Development

  • The speaker has observed men's development over 20 years in various capacities.
  • Men's friendships, mental health, masculinity, and role models are evolving.
  • There's a societal conversation about the current state of men and their challenges.

"So, given the fact that for best part of 20 years now, you've been, in one form or another, observing men's development emotionally, relationally, spiritually, psychologically, therapeutically, what do you make of the current state of men's friendships, mental health, masculinity, role models?"

  • The quote sets the stage for a discussion on the speaker's observations and insights into the development of men's emotional and relational well-being over two decades.

The Cultural Narrative and Individual Experience

  • Men feel they are being blamed for historical patriarchy and dismissed for their current struggles.
  • This leads to feelings of embitterment and a refusal to engage with societal expectations.
  • There's a divide between the loud online voices and the actual beliefs of the culture.

"I think that men are being made to pay for the sins of a patriarchy that they no longer feel like they're a part of at the moment. They're being told how privileged they are and how fortunate they are to have all of these different advantages."

  • The quote reflects the perspective that men are feeling alienated and unfairly held accountable for a patriarchal system they don't identify with, leading to a sense of resentment.

The Internet as Reality and the Need for Community

  • Young people's experiences are increasingly shaped by the internet, which becomes their reality.
  • There is a need for countervailing narratives and real-world experiences.
  • Small, supportive communities can provide valuable feedback and grounding.

"Well, I think the problem that a lot of people, especially young people at the moment, are facing is that their experience is the Internet. Their world is the Internet."

  • This quote points out the significant influence the internet has on young people's perceptions of reality and the necessity for experiences beyond the digital realm.

Victimhood and Perpetration

  • Adopting a victim narrative can lead to perpetration and hate.
  • Every conflict often has all sides viewing themselves as victims.
  • It's important to avoid a victim story and focus on personal agency.

"All perpetrators perpetrate from the victim position. I mean, look at every war going on. And the main thing is there's a victim. I'm not saying that whatever's right or wrong, but all sides are the victim. Right?"

  • The quote suggests that the perception of being a victim is commonly used to justify harmful actions and that it's a widespread phenomenon across various conflicts.

Identity and Agency

  • There's a tension between prescribed identities and personal agency.
  • People are searching for guidelines on how to exist in the modern world.
  • Role models and archetypes are lacking in providing direction for personal development.

"I don't want anyone to tell me what my identity is, what it should be, how I should be within that identity. I probably identify myself on other factors more then I think a lot of."

  • This quote expresses the desire for personal agency in defining one's identity rather than being confined by external expectations or societal norms.

The Future of Body Dysmorphia and Gender Roles

  • Predicts an increase in male body dysmorphia and a crisis of femininity.
  • Society is sowing seeds of fragility and aesthetic anxiety.
  • There is a disconnect between cultural expectations and individual experiences.

"I think that we're feeding the seeds of an unbelievably fragile, narcissistic generation of women and an unbelievably aesthetically anxious generation of men."

  • The quote anticipates a shift in societal issues, with an increase in body image concerns among men and a crisis in femininity among women due to cultural influences.

Timeless Human Nature and Historical Perspectives

  • Human nature and societal problems have a timeless quality.
  • Historical literature reveals that people have always grappled with similar issues.
  • There is continuity in the human experience across generations and cultures.

"Whether I'm reading about a monk in Japan, Kenko. I forget what century he was from at least four or five centuries ago to reading Mozart's letters with his dad, to reading Socrates, to reading camus. These things you're talking about, maybe the language was different, but everyone was still dealing with that."

  • The quote illustrates that despite the passage of time and changes in society, the core human experiences and challenges remain consistent, as seen through historical texts.

Gaming Love and Connection in Relationships

  • Questioning whether love and connection can be gamed like courtship.
  • The distinction between attraction and genuine connection.
  • The lack of discussion around the phenomenology of love and relationships.

"Do you think that it's possible to game love or connection in a relationship in the same way as you were able to do it with courtship?"

  • This quote raises the question of whether the strategies used to initiate relationships can also be applied to maintain love and connection within them.

Therapeutic Processes and Personal Growth

  • The Meadows treatment center in Arizona offers a program called the Survivors Program, likened to an exorcism of childhood wounds.
  • The process facilitates self-discovery by shedding the baggage of one's upbringing.
  • The regular environment can trigger old patterns, but therapy provides a target for improvement.
  • The Hoffman process is also praised but differs in being group work versus the one-on-one work at Meadows.
  • Success in therapy is attributed to the genuine intention of both the therapist and the individual to get better, provided it's not a cult.

"And it's like an exorcism of your childhood wounds. You sit there in a chair like this, and I literally felt like an exorcism."

  • The therapy is described as a profound and transformative experience that allows individuals to confront and release deep-seated childhood trauma.

"People love the Hoffman process. I think the Hoffman process is very amazing as well."

  • The Hoffman process is acknowledged as an effective group therapy option, though distinct from the one-on-one therapy at Meadows.

"I think anything you do where the person and yourself both have the intention of really getting better, and it's not a cult is going to work for you."

  • The effectiveness of therapy is linked to the shared commitment of the therapist and the client to achieve genuine improvement, emphasizing the importance of avoiding cult-like programs.

Identifying Cults

  • Cults are characterized by the need to recruit others as part of the treatment.
  • Self-improvement programs can become cult-like, using indoctrination techniques to control participants.
  • There's a distinction between healthy self-improvement communities and cults.

"Here's how you know it's a cult. It's a culture. If part of the treatment involves you signing up other people for the work, simple rule of thumb."

  • Cults often require members to recruit others, which is a red flag distinguishing them from legitimate self-improvement programs.

"They create these loops within the self-improvement teachings that they then pull the strings on months or years later that get you to follow it like a robot."

  • Cults manipulate members through indoctrination, creating a cycle of dependence and control that can be hard to break free from.

Childhood as Induction

  • Childhood is compared to a hypnotic induction or cult, where individuals are indoctrinated with their parents' beliefs.
  • Post-induction therapy aims to unbrainwash individuals from the first 17 years of their lives.

"Your childhood is a hypnotic induction, or you're being indoctrinated into a cult."

  • Childhood experiences are seen as formative and potentially indoctrinating, setting the stage for later beliefs and behaviors that therapy seeks to address.

Therapy Modalities

  • Intensive workshops provide emotionally purging experiences.
  • Maintenance involves weekly accountability to maintain changes made during intensive experiences.
  • Group therapy is recommended for affordability and effectiveness.
  • Group therapy provides peer perspective, which can be more convincing than a single therapist's viewpoint.

"Intensive workshop, like, you know, just one or two a year where you're just emotionally kind of where you're going through some sort of emotionally purging experience."

  • Intensive workshops are a key component of personal growth, allowing for deep emotional work in a condensed time frame.

"Some sort of weekly accountability so you can just keep being reminded of what direction your boat should be pointed in."

  • Regular check-ins and accountability are crucial for maintaining the progress made in therapy.

"But if it's you and four other peers who I recommend, and they're all saying, I'm wrong, I don't think you guys are right. But you're all saying it, so there must be something there for me to explore."

  • The power of group therapy lies in the collective feedback from peers, which can provide a compelling case for personal reflection and change.

Tools for Crisis Moments

  • Reparenting involves self-dialogue to manage reactions triggered by partners.
  • Recognizing physical signs of anxiety allows for intervention before escalation.
  • Simple tricks, like changing posture, can help shift into a new moment and mindset.

"So the third thing is tools to use in the moment. So, meaning that, let's say I learned that I was suffocated by the overwhelming parent."

  • Tools for dealing with crisis moments help individuals cope with immediate emotional responses, often rooted in childhood experiences.

"I'll just, whatever I'm at, I'll just pause, and I'll take a break for 1 second."

  • Taking a brief pause is a practical tool to prevent reactive behaviors and regain composure during stressful interactions.

"I think to my head, I'll just switch my position, and I'll think, new moment. And over here, there's a new moment over here, and I'll be a new person."

  • Physical movement and mental reframing can help create a psychological reset, facilitating a more constructive response in challenging situations.

Nonviolent Communication (NVC)

  • NVC is a communication method that avoids criticism, judgment, and control.
  • It focuses on understanding and honoring what's alive in someone else.
  • NVC can transform tense moments into peaceful resolutions and improve relationships.

"It's a system of communication that, as he would say, violence is when we are trying to criticize, judge, control, make right and wrong, punishment, reward or diagnosis."

  • NVC aims to eliminate violent communication, which is defined as any form of communication that seeks to dominate or manipulate others.

"So NBC would be saying, it sounds like you're upset. You're like, yeah, I'm upset. It sounds like maybe you need more connection."

  • NVC involves empathetic listening and responding to the underlying needs and feelings of others, fostering a more collaborative and understanding dialogue.

Enmeshment and Personal Reflection

  • Enmeshment is when a parent's needs overshadow the child's, leading to a lack of boundaries.
  • Reflecting on one's upbringing and parental relationships can reveal patterns that affect adult behavior.
  • Therapy can help unravel these patterns and promote personal growth.

"So besides narcissism, there could be a super anxious or super depressed parent would also sort of be enmeshing, because then their needs come before your own sometimes."

  • Enmeshment can occur with any type of parent who prioritizes their needs over the child's, impacting the child's development and future relationships.

"You seem to have something where you're, I don't know, like perceive you as having two parts of yourself that you're wrestling with."

  • Personal reflection in therapy can lead to the discovery of conflicting aspects within oneself, such as the balance between emotional sensitivity and a desire for control.

Personal Control and Safety

  • Individuals with strict dietary philosophies may have grown up in environments that felt out of control.
  • Controlling specific aspects of life, like diet, can provide a sense of safety.

"I think a lot of people who have super strict diet philosophies, in a lot of cases maybe grew up in a household that was a little bit out of control."

  • Explains the possible psychological roots of strict dietary habits, suggesting they might stem from chaotic childhood environments.

Seeking Validation and Success

  • The desire for success and validation can be a way of feeling needed by the world.
  • This need can be similar to being wanted but serves a slightly different psychological function.

"One of the areas that it is more of a big deal is with regards to success and validation and sort of being requited by the world around me, offering something so that I am needed."

  • Discusses the psychological need for validation and the importance of feeling needed, which can be linked to a person's sense of success.

The Illusion of Control

  • Attempting to control external responses is a losing game as it's inherently out of one's control.
  • Seeking control can paradoxically lead to giving away personal agency.

"It's kind of a losing game. In fact, it's an out of control game because how people respond to you is out of your control, of course."

  • Highlights the futility of trying to control how others respond, emphasizing the loss of personal agency in the process.

Family Dynamics and Emotional Space

  • In some households, there may be a lack of space for individual needs, leading to self-suppression.
  • Individuals may sacrifice their own happiness to maintain peace and avoid burdening others.

"I think I subjugate my requirements and my desires in order to keep the peace, in order to make everybody else okay."

  • Describes a personal tendency to prioritize others' needs over one's own to maintain harmony in the family.

Enmeshment vs. Abandonment

  • Enmeshment is a concept where a child's role is to meet the parent's needs, which is the opposite of abandonment.
  • Abandonment can be physical or emotional, while enmeshment involves the child becoming a caretaker for the parent's emotional state.

"Enmeshment is when the child's role is to meet the parents needs."

  • Defines enmeshment and contrasts it with abandonment, explaining how it affects the child's role within the family dynamic.

Consequences of Enmeshment

  • Enmeshment can lead to choosing partners who are "projects" or need fixing.
  • This pattern can result in resentment and dysfunctional relationships when the individual cannot fix their partner.

"People who are enmeshed... they date projects. They date people they can help and fix."

  • Describes the tendency of individuals with a history of enmeshment to seek out relationships where they can fulfill a caretaking role.

Unpicking Enmeshment

  • Steps to overcome enmeshment include self-awareness, therapeutic release, reparenting, and forgiveness.
  • Recognizing and addressing enmeshment patterns in adulthood is crucial for personal growth and healthy relationships.

"First, you need the self awareness... Then we just beat ourselves up afterward. Right. So the next step is what we talked about earlier, some sort of release."

  • Outlines the initial steps to address enmeshment, emphasizing the importance of self-awareness and emotional release.

Patterns and Pre-Verbal Influences

  • Pre-verbal or forgotten experiences can subconsciously influence behavior.
  • Understanding and addressing these deep-seated patterns is part of personal development.

"There's these patterns, maybe even pre verbal, maybe even things that you can't remember that are marionetting you from beyond the infant grave."

  • Discusses how deeply ingrained and possibly pre-verbal experiences can control one's behavior without conscious awareness.

Authenticity and Self-Expression

  • The concept of authenticity is complex and may not be a helpful goal due to its ever-changing nature.
  • Focusing on creative versus destructive behaviors can provide a clearer path for personal development.

"How are you ever going to find your authentic self? How are you going to know which part of you is authentic?"

  • Questions the pursuit of an "authentic self" and suggests focusing on constructive behaviors instead.

Decision-Making and Regret Minimization

  • Considering what one's future self would want can guide present decisions.
  • This approach helps to minimize regret and promotes thoughtful decision-making.

"What would you tomorrow want you today to do?"

  • Presents a method for making decisions that align with one's future interests and minimize potential regrets.

The Role of Doubt and Cynicism

  • A healthy sense of doubt can contribute to freedom, but it should not devolve into cynicism.
  • Embracing uncertainty while remaining empathetic and open to learning is key.

"I think uncertainty is another form of freedom, too."

  • Advocates for embracing uncertainty as a liberating force while avoiding the trap of cynicism.

Parental Influence on Self-Compassion

  • Self-compassion can be cultivated by speaking to oneself as the nurturing parent one needed, rather than repeating any critical voices from one's upbringing.
  • Changing internal dialogue is a step towards self-compassion and healing.

"So self compassion is talking to yourself like the parent you needed and not the parent you had."

  • Emphasizes the importance of self-compassion and suggests reframing self-talk to be more nurturing and supportive.

The Price of High Achievement

  • High achievers often pay a significant personal price for their accomplishments.
  • Understanding the sacrifices made by admired figures can provide insight into the complexities of success.

"I'm obsessed with that question about the price that people that we admire pay to be the person that we admire."

  • Reflects on the often unseen personal costs endured by highly successful individuals.

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