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Let’s say, hypothetically, that you met a beautiful girl or guy at a work event. Then run into them at a party or two. You get their number. Go on dates. Hang out. And – ta da – you’re in a relationship.
How do you prevent it from blowing up?
According to Neil Strauss, author of the heartrending and heartwarming new book “The Truth: An Uncomfortable Book About Relationships,” one of the most important things is to avoid parentalizing your new partner.
When we fall for somebody, Strauss says, it’s often because they embody the best and worst traits of our parents – so we’re trying to get our unmet childhood needs met by this new person. If dad was aloof, for example, then you might long for somebody who’s always available.
“Our first experience with love is with our parents,” Strauss tells Tech Insider. “That sets the template for how we see love and what we want out of love.”
You might know Strauss already – the Rolling Stone writer is also the author of “The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists,” a book that’s become something of a bible to awkward young men who would like to learn the curious arts of charming women.
In “The Truth,” Strauss relays the revelatory moment when he discovers, with the aid of some highly skilled therapists, that a lot of the way he treats women stems from the way his mother treated him. Instead of getting her relational needs met by her husband, she tried to find them in her son – which, Strauss realized, gave him the idea that monogamy was a smothering, soul-crushing artifact of society, and clearly not the way that he was meant to live.
Spoiler alert: much of “The Truth” is Strauss’s journey from thinking that monogamy is stifling to discovering that it’s nourishing for him, and the lever of the change – along with orgies, sex addiction therapy, and polyamory – is no longer parentalizing the women in his life.
Or at least not as much.
He sees it all the time now. A friend of his, he says, always ends up with people who are needy and wants someone to take care of them or “fix” them. Usually, he says, people develop a taste for that “type” because they had a parent who needed their children to take care of them, a dysfunction that psychologists call enmeshment.
Now when the parentalizing happens in his own life, he can catch it.
He told Tech Insider the following story:
The other day, his wife Ingrid texted him, saying that a film crew had showed up at their house in California, typing something along the lines of there’s a film crew, you’re already 15 minutes late, we’re all waiting here, that’s so rude.
“I thought, who is she to tell me I’m rude? Like I can live my life how I want – that’s so naggy,” Strauss says. “I started making up a whole story, because my mom always nagged, like she’s controlling, just let me live my life, and who are you to call me rude.”
Then he had a moment of self-awareness. He thought to himself, let’s look at the facts: there is a film crew, I made an appointment, I am 15 minutes late, and I did decide to go to the gym instead of being responsible.
So he texted her back, saying that what he did was rude.
And she replied, saying sorry, I’m stressed out.
“I didn’t make her into my mom and say ‘leave me alone, stop nagging, I can do what I want,” Strauss says. “That’s what an adolescent says to mom or dad.”
But, as any psychologist will tell you, it’s not always easy to recognize when you’re parentalizing. Even if you’ve read “The Truth” – which is phenomenal – it still requires doing a ton of detective work in understanding your own behavior.
It’s about patiently and rigorously asking questions of yourself.
“So recognizing, okay, why did I get so upset when my partner didn’t have time for me?” Strauss says. “Is it valid for them to be busy and state their own needs, or am I going to try to resent that and treat it like they should always be there for me, because my parent wasn’t always there for me?”