Friday, October 21, 2016

The Truth: An Uncomfortable Book About Relationships (A Book Review)

"People want love, but after they get it, they become scared or bored or uncertain or resentful. And when they get pain instead of love, they don't leave. They cling to it more strongly than they would to pleasure. And so in life, the real obstacle keeping two lovers apart is not external. The battle to be fought is within." - Neil Strauss, The Truth, Page 408

Every few decades or even centuries, there comes a revolutionary in a given subject or genre. His or her words are as profound as his/her insights are deep and subtle, and his/her thoughts and ideas as prolific as his/her understanding of the subject matter is vast and penetrating. For our generation, in this time we are in now—our modern age—and the posterity which will look back on it and us, this profound, prolific, unabashedly honest and unrelentingly searching revolutionary is Neil Strauss, and the nonfictional subject matter and genre that I am now speaking of is love and sex. And the truth always has been and always will be—uncomfortable.

I remember when I read The Game back in January of 2009, where he documents his real-life story of being an AFC (an average, frustrated chump) penetrating a secret society of pickup artists; he has an incredible adventure in different parts of the world that he prolifically turned into the utterly fascinating, thrilling, enthralling and ground-breaking book that changed the entire landscape of dating and how men—no matter who they are—can attract beautiful women all around the world, in particularly the Western World. I put it to good use. And then a little over two years later, I read The Rules of the Game and did the 30-day Style Life Challenge. It made The Game and the art of seduction make so much more sense to me, and I harnessed even more of the tricks of the trade, which, in this second installment, were laid out throughout the 30-day challenge and at the end of the book. And, yeah, things got better for me with the opposite sex, and I remained forever grateful to Strauss (AKA Style) and all the PUA gurus on his wild ride for their help and insight that he then gave to the world in those two very entertaining books. And now we come to the next step and stage of his journey and truth-searching: how to settle down in a relationship that is right for you, if you do indeed want to start a family one day, as Strauss did in fact desire to do and has done.

So he started writing The Truth due to something that, to him, was quite catastrophic: losing Ingrid, a woman he cared for deeply, more than anyone, yet cheated on her. She found out, and the walls came tumbling down. He wanted to know, despite having slept with so many gorgeous women all around the world, how he could have jeopardized the incredible relationship that he had with a woman he was hoping to marry and have a child (or children) with one day. He wanted to know if monogamy was really possible, at least for him. He wanted to know if non-monogamy for the rest of his life would be better. He wanted to know about all the different variations of open relationships out there. He really wanted to live, seek the truth of the matter, learn more about himself in the process, and to strip away all the obnoxious societal layers of bullshit and get to the inexorable reality of things. And that's exactly what he did.

For me, to be able to do the book justice, I would have to be writing a very long paper here, but that's not what I'm doing. This is just a book review for my blog to give readers a taste of Strauss's new work and an idea as to why it's so good and so important.

The first thing he does, in searching for professional help on the matter, is go to a rehab clinic (for sex addiction), which he identifies as being the modern-day insane asylum, and it is. It's really scary. The place is filled with every type of so-called addict and dysfunctional type that there is to label, including sexual anorexics (people who avoid sexual activity at all cost), and labelling is what the so-called professionals there do best, not to mention shaming the so-called sex addicts with abysmal, pseudointellectual, modern-day feminist bullshit. He leaves treatment early but makes friends there. In fact, he becomes their hero, as he stands up to the noxious, asexual, mendacious, malevolent, misandrist, Joan. His short stay there, however, like so much of the rest of the book and the wild adventure and introspective ride he goes on, is very funny, very witty. It's really great. (There are some famous people involved in the story, as there are in all his books, and that adds to the entertainment value—not to mention all the freakin' orgies!) He does meet Loraine there, however, a woman who ends up helping him more than anyone, not just at the rehab clinic, but long after he leaves it and goes back to her.

To be fair, though, we learn a very important term from Joan: emotional incest. You see, Neil Strauss, like many of us—and this is so key—had a really fucked-up childhood and adolescence (brilliantly hinted at from the very beginning in a story that kicks off the book itself), one due to the neglect of his father and enmeshment of his mother. Hence psychoanalysis ends up being part of the backbone of the book and the motif and cornerstone that Strauss has to keep going back to in his introspection and truth-seeking. He is a victim of trauma, and it has always made it difficult for him to be in a stable relationship. "Emotional incest" is anti-nurturing and intrusive. An example of it is when a parent tells their child things that they should be sharing with their partner or with a therapist regarding a lover or ex. Strauss's mom used to bitch and moan to him about his father, even how bad he was in bed and that he could only get it hard twice in his entire life, once when conceiving Neil and the other when conceiving his brother—among other things she used to talk to him about at night by his bedside, his father clueless to the whole thing. But it was far worse than that. She really did make Strauss her surrogate boyfriend, wanting to control every aspect of his life growing up and even afterwards in adulthood, with constant criticism, putdowns and ridiculous, unfair, suffocating restrictions, especially in adolescence, which were met with unreasonable punishments if the rules weren't fully followed, while his younger brother got almost all the freedom in the world. To say it again, Strauss was enmeshed, one of the key terms used throughout the book, and he spent the rest of his life rebelling against that enmeshment, afraid of letting any woman get too close to him so as to not let her become his second mother who would smother him and take away all his freedom, another motif in the book. But in trying to find freedom, he keeps ending up in chains, especially since so many of the women he gets involved with, including Ingrid, have the same baggage—an abandoning or neglectful (and, in many cases, abusive) father and enmeshing mother.

"[P]eople are much scarier than any monster we can make up. It's not just the acts of horror they perpetrate on each other, but even when they spare the person's life, they still take their soul, their spirit, their happiness." - Page 60

The conclusion is this: No matter what kind of relationship, family, love life, etc. you're interested in having, you have to REALLY WANT IT, or it's just not going to work at all. The lives and stories of the people he meets and befriends in "rehab" prove that, along with everyone else he gest close to in the book. Strauss worked so hard on himself—read the book to know just how hard—to finally rid himself of all his past trauma and tainted emotions (including reaching a fascinating state of anhedonia that Loraine told him he had to reach) and figure out how to be the person he needs to be in order to have his nuclear family, and to make the love of his life as happy as she makes him; and the only way to achieve that, as Loraine tells him, is to learn how to be alone without being lonely, to feel whole on your own, without feeling like someone else has to be there to make you feel whole, because it's not fair to put that burden on somebody else, and it goes both ways. Two people have to be both mentally and emotionally stable and healthy for the relationship (be it monogamous or non-monogamous) to in turn be stable and healthy as well. It takes two to tango, and if one person had an abandoning or abusive father and a smothering/abusive mother, that person needs to do all they can to make sure their entire mind and physiology have been cleansed of that trauma so they can be fully in the present rather than in the abuses and heartache of a ceaseless past. For "relationships don't require sacrifices. They require growing up—and the ability to stop clinging to immature needs that are so tenacious, they keep the mature needs from getting met" (409).

But something needs to be kept in mind in all of this, something that Strauss himself states in the book: He's a man who has had enough sexual experiences and fulfilled fantasies to last three lifetimes. Plus, Ingrid, who became his wife (and you can find pictures of them online) is drop-dead gorgeous, just like so many of the hundreds or thousands of women he's slept with all around the world. This isn't Joe Blow, who's only slept with a handful of women, feels sexually unfulfilled and is now concerned about settling down with a mediocre-looking one after just finding out about game. No, this is Style, man—the king of all playerkind. He wrote the most successful book in history on pickup art, selling over three million copies, for God's sake. He's no longer the sexually frustrated man in his late twenties, entering the world of game for the first time. He's sown his wild oats, baby, and now, in middle age, wants to settle down. The book is fueled by his anxiety-ridden worry about never being able to do so, and, in the end, figures out that being fully honest with your partner is of utmost importance and that, now, Ingrid and the family he wants to start with her must come first . . . Now he decides this, after a shitton of playing, and playing, and playing. NOW, he really wants the full kitten caboodle, and NOW he makes it work. So good for him. But, as it should be more than clear at this point, nowhere in the book does he try to make it look easy—on the contrary! The book is "uncomfortable," as the subtitle says, because of how fucking hard making a relationship work is, no matter how much you're in love with the other person, not just because of temptation—but because if you're broken, so will the relationship be. Soul-searching is never easy and often very uncomfortable, and it's what is demanded of us all in this life if we are going to be happy, and especially if we are going to make someone else and the children we may have with them happy and well-adjusted as well. And if it's not what you really want, and only want to "settle down" because you think it's just what everyone else does and therefore you should to, it will never work for you and them, and you will never be happy. So be honest with yourself before bringing someone else, and even children, into your world of turmoil, inauthenticity and unrest. If you're going to take only one thing from this book, let it be this: Break the chain of inauthenticity and past abuses done to you and your parents and parents' parents, and so on and so forth right down the retroceding line of hell, and start things anew. The world can be a better place, and this very honest, brilliant book lays out why and how that journey starts from within all of us. You have to learn how to truly love yourself, before you can truly love anyone else.

One more thing I've gotta say: It's really remarkable to me how much what he goes through and realizes throughout all this is in my third book, Screw the Devil's Daiquiri, which has a sex-crazed protagonist with a great deal of trauma (PTSD, actually), who is seeing a shrink about his life and going through many of the same anxieties that Strauss has (or had). My book deals a great deal, through most of the characters, with the matter of being broken at the hands of those closest to us. I think any fan of one (be it mine or Strauss's), would be a fan of the other. There really is a parallelism between the two; this isn't just a shameless plug on my part. It's funny, whereas Neil Strauss is a nonfictional writer heavily influenced by fiction (like James Joyce's Ulysses, for example, one of his favourite novels), as he says in an interview I listened to recently on YouTube, I'm a novelist heavily influenced by nonfiction.

Anyway, thanks again, Mr. Strauss. Once again, you hit the ball right out of the park. Five stars!!

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