If it wasn’t clear yesterday, I’ll say it now: I had a severe case of ‘fan-girl’ syndrome descending upon me as we pulled into Neil Strauss’ driveway – not the best way to enter any situation, let alone one where I’m supposed to be composed and in charge. Megan was busy assessing space and filming aspects in her usual “Just another Tuesday” way while I pondered the fact that I admired Neil Strauss’* writing more by the second, was freaked out that he might use pickup artist stylings on me and I wouldn’t notice, and was bursting with questions about dating, social theory, and for personal reasons what it meant to him to tell tales of his intimate life of the past while push forward with relationships in the future.
We set up, and I allowed myself to sponge off Megs calm, collected demeanor, only letting my nerves show by organizing all of our belongings into a grid formation (my nerves either equal extreme OCD tendencies or nail biting, and chewing on my cuticles seemed like the wrong way to go). We checked and double checked everything from mics to appearances to camera batteries, and then sat back and enjoyed something we actually rarely get to do: making very idle chitchat not related to dating. Topics from the addictive nature of Say Yes to the Dress to why Yankee Doodle called the feather in his cap “macaroni” were pursued and by the time Neil Strass walked up the stairs, I was in a more mellow state.
If you’re not familiar with what Neil Strauss looks like, here’s the breakdown: he’s not terribly tall – a few inches over me – and has an incredible sense of style and what looks good on him. Plus, from the bottoms of his shoes to the top of his head he oozes the sort of coolness you thought was only possible to be affected by in high school. Seriously. he was clearly the most seemingly rad person in any given room. He was dressed in his usual fashion-forward attire, what was probably a sweater or shirt over a collared button down, well fit jeans and just a touch of flair (aka, accessories). Despite the potential for being too cool for school though, he was incredibly hospitable: welcoming, playing host, and asking questions about the dating project.
Funny enough, I didn’t need pages of notes and questions to talk to Neil Strauss. Just like dating, the key to interviews is to be both interested and interesting, engaged and engaging really – with a purpose though instead of for making an intimate connection – and Neil Strauss excelled at all these things. Simply having a conversation with a point worked rather well, and we leapt from topics like dating (which Neil Strauss does not believe in) to my personal life to writing.
Interestingly, Neil Strauss does not believe in dates. A planned meal out? Ugh. Where’s the reality in that? Run an errand with someone, make it quick with no forced time constraints (dinner means at least an hour of your time if not two, going to the drug store for a birthday card for your BFF means fifteen minutes). As he put it, “You only get so many nights in your lifetime – why waste them on people you don’t even know?” In other words, he believes in maximizing your time to get something out of a meetup as well as just meeting someone.
Before moving into my personal life, it was fun to listen to Neil Strauss answer some of questions about his book, The Game, including agreeing with one of my takeaways on the book – which was that it’s more about a way for men to form and keep close relationships with each other than necessarily about the women they chase. The Game also, in my opinion, was ahead of its time in terms of human sexuality. One of the biggest memos to why The Game works is the belief that women want sex just as much as men do, but we exist in a culture where this simply is not appropriate to admit or consider.** Neil Strauss points this out in 2005 – and then in 2011 anthropologist Christopher Ryan turns human sexuality studies on their head saying the exact same thing in Sex at Dawn (to much criticism).*** Most fascinating was how Neil Strauss talked about his past pickup artist ways: he consistently referred to his “Game days” in a way that evoked the past. In his own words, he’s evolved from that place in his life and is fascinated by other complexities of human interaction…which he demo’d by talking about me.****
Not to give too much away for what’s on the horizon for Neil Strauss, but what piques his interest now is a pretty deep understanding of psychology and analyzation. So we wound up talking about what inspired fifty first dates, one in every state, the relationships that have come before and the relationships I’ve experienced since. With a quick apology in advance, Neil Strauss pointed out that the common denominator in all my failed relationships is me (which hasn’t gone unnoticed by me, and I found it interesting that he picked up on where my personal weakness in my confidence was so quickly). In the moment, I let that comment make me feel badly. I let that comment let me see my flaws through a magnifying glass while Neil Strauss went on to analyze the information I gave him about relationships of my close family and how that spun into where I’m at right now. And he wasn’t wrong on any level, but I think I let him play his critical thinking skills out without having the same intellectually charged rebuttal.
In retrospect to that last paragraph: sure what Neil Strauss told me was true. But the truth is, anyone who has been in more than one failed relationship is indeed their own common denominator. Everyone who’s ever had failed relationships can say that about themselves – Neil Strauss included. And everyone is affected by the family and close relationships in one way or another. What matters more is what you do with all that info. Do you hide under the bed and decide that you’re whacked-out to deserve a life? Or do you fight past it? Do you figure out how to communicate with those who dealt you blows to let them know there is a healthy way to exist and they could get on that train? Or do you cut ties and walk away? Whatever you choose, so long as you do something about it all rather than stay static, I think you’re on the right path.
Neil Strauss and I did spend a good deal of time talking about meeting people, making connections, staying true to yourself, being authentic and finding out who you are and who everyone else is, too. He was unabashedly critical of certain parts of 50/50, which I appreciated and enjoyed discussing. As I’ve said before, Neil Strauss is a formidable thinker whose ability to converse logically and rapid fire might only be matched by my brother, and while in some respects I got a platter of thinkology handed to me, I’d like to believe I held my own a little too.
Our interview wrapped up and after changing into slightly less fancy clothes (me), a sweet red dress (Megan), and a modified suit (Neil Strauss) we mingled with a number of current and former porn stars, listened to Neil Strauss, Jordan Harbinger of The Art of Charm and a musician complain about their Wikipedia pages being incorrect, were thoroughly fascinated with Jordan’s recent project that tours people to North Korea safely, and found it amusing when a former porn star told me in the same breath that she’d have slept with at least three guys while going on first dates and that she simultaneously wasn’t proud of her adult industry past and needn’t use sex to get her places anymore (her husband also told me I’d emasculated the men I’d dated by not sleeping with them while saying that no porn star is proud of their background). Hm. A porn star and her husband shamed me for not being “slutty” then turned around said being slutty is bad?
People are curious, and the people who gather at Neil Strauss’ home are curiouser.
*Much like the names Jordan Catalono or Chris Lucas, I am completely incapable of calling Neil Strauss by anything other than his first and last name. Don’t judge me too harshly on this one.
**There is a really long rant about female desire to be had here but I’ll spare you all and just say some points are noted on this article over at Nerve.
***Oooo, there’s a podcast with Neil Strass and Christopher Ryan in conversation on this topic!
****It’s easy to criticize The Game (and I’m guessing Neil Strauss is a tad tired of being badgered about it) though if you sit down to read the entire thing you’ll see the merit in what he’s experiencing, his critical commentary on himself and his friends, and his thought process. Admittedly, it’s impossible to tell if all of The Game is just part of the game in that respect, but even if it is, it works.