Neil Strauss | The Truth (Episode 452)

Neil Strauss tells The Truth about past transgressions in his latest book, but it’s more than just a head-cleaning confession — it’s an exploration of options most people probably haven’t considered.

“Nobody’s making you do anything. You have complete freedom of choice at all times. You just have to accept the consequences of that choice.” -Neil Strauss

The Cheat Sheet:

  • We may look up to — and even envy — the rich and famous without realizing that fame just amplifies the flaws people already have. (05:59)
  • We’re not going on the line to say this is true in all cases, but many relationships get stronger after a tell-all confession. (08:18)
  • What should you do first when you love your partner but you have a sexual desire for someone else? (12:11)
  • How do people in non-traditional, non-monogamous relationships separate love and sex? (13:59)
  • Two different people can be doing the exact same thing — one for healthy reasons; the other for unhealthy reasons. But how? (24:28)
  • And so much more…

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Neil Strauss considers himself a storyteller first, and a writer second (but always Neil Strauss, in spite of a motion picture company’s best attempt to buy the exclusive rights to his name as a character for an adaptation of his New York Times bestselling book The Game). He’s been on the show before, and we’ve even gone to North Korea and back together.

He’s here for episode 452 of The Art of Charm to talk about his new book The Truth: An Uncomfortable Book About Relationships. It’s a personal story of Neil dealing with the consequences of his own actions; as he says, “I am not the hero in this tale. I am the villain.” Enjoy!

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More About This Show

If living an interesting life is ideal grist for good storytelling, then Neil Strauss will be well provided for the rest of his. He’s been a music critic and journalist for The New York Times and Rolling Stone. He’s partied with shock rocker Marilyn Manson. He’s learned to make love like a porn star with Jenna Jameson. He’s gotten makeup tips from Motley Crue. And if it’s really the end of the world as we know it, he’s about as prepared to feel fine about it as anyone.

While Neil will probably be best remembered for writing The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists (whether he likes it or not), he might have just outdone himself with his latest effort, The Truth: An Uncomfortable Book About Relationships.

To give us a clue about the bumpy ride ahead, it begins with a dedication page directed toward Neil’s wife: “Ingrid, please don’t read this.” The next page, like the frantic, frazzled Grover throughout The Monster at the End of This Book, urges: “Seriously, don’t turn any more pages after this one.”

For Neil, The Truth is a confession of sorts that details, as Neil tells it, “every horrible thing [he’s] ever done,” complete with terrible, resentful thoughts he’s had — about everyone, including Ingrid. But as painful as any confession is, there’s a sense of relief that accompanies coming clean. Knowing this, it shouldn’t be such a crushing spoiler to tell you that The Truth ends with a final, personal note from Neil: “Ingrid, I actually hope you do read this book, because I want you to know the real me.”

“Once she read it,” says Neil, “we definitely had a lot of discussions and it definitely was a couple days of discomfort for her, but afterward, our relationship got to a whole new place. And the lesson was that if you don’t compartmentalize things in your life, whether it’s your desire for other women, your worries about the relationship or the future — whatever they may be, and you share them in sort of a compassionate way with your partner, you will have a much better relationship. You can actually be in a relationship now. So once she read all that stuff, she’s like, ‘Oh, that’s it? Now I’ve got nothing to worry about, because I know everything and you don’t have to hide anything.'”

A confession is freeing for both parties: the person telling all no longer has to feel like they’re hiding anything; the person who receives the confession is empowered to make a decision to stay or go based on what’s revealed to them. But the option to such a confession is lying and withholding information, which Neil says is ultimately a form of control.

Still, being honest up front is more desirable than having to make such a confession — especially if your transgressions are more difficult to forgive after the fact. Take the sadly common phenomenon of cheating in a relationship that the parties involved have defined as monogamous. Taking pause to consider how your partner may react before you do something you can’t take back might be just the thing to pull you away from what may serve you better as a fantasy.

Neil tells us: “A friend of mine said, ‘If you’re in a relationship that’s monogamous and you want to sleep with someone else, resolve to yourself that you’re going to tell your partner first if you choose to do it. And then you have a choice. You might think first before you even do it. And if you’re going to do it, you’re going to think, well, is it worth it to me to harm my relationship for this experience?'”

Going beyond the personal confessions Neil shares with his wife (and now, the rest of the world), The Truth also explores our changing culture and what happens when people take honesty to a whole new level and agree to have non-monogamous relationships. It weighs the pros and cons and deals with how people who choose to be in these relationships separate the ideas of love and sex.

At one point, Neil did move in with three women; while a lot of men may think a polyamorous relationship with three women would be heaven on Earth, Neil cautions: “If you can’t have one relationship, don’t try to have three at the same time!”

Still, while this polyamorous scenario didn’t pan out for a number of reasons and Neil eventually went on to marry Ingrid, the experience did give him some unique perspectives on the changing nature of relationships in the 21st century. “I think deciding all the rules for a relationship and then never changing them for 50 or 60 years may not make sense,” says Neil. “It becomes dogma rather than a relationship. So Ingrid and I kind of went into the marriage saying that we’re just going to do whatever is healthy…there are three entities to me in it, which is her, myself, and the relationship. And so something that’s healthy for all three, that means it’s a good thing to do.”

It also means recognizing that each party is always free to do as they will — the deal being that it’s discussed openly first rather than taking place in the shadows of lying and withholding. “Nobody’s making you do anything,” says Neil. “You have complete freedom of choice at all times. You just have to accept the consequences of that choice.”

THANKS, NEIL STRAUSS!

Resources from this episode:

The Truth: An Uncomfortable Book About Relationships by Neil Strauss
Other books by Neil Strauss
Neil Strauss’ Salon article about the Ashley Madison hack
The Art of Charm bootcamps

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-The Art of Charm Toolbox
-Best of The Art of Charm Podcast

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Jordan Harbinger - author of 703 posts on The Art of Charm

Jordan Harbinger has spent several years abroad in Europe and the developing world, including South America, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East, and speaks several languages. He has also worked for various governments and NGOs overseas, traveled through war zones, and been kidnapped -- twice. He’ll tell you the only reason he’s still alive and kicking is because of his ability to talk his way into (and out of) just about any type of situation. Here at The Art of Charm, Jordan shares that experience, and the system borne as a result, with students and clients.

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in Lifestyle, Podcast, Relationships