No, I’m not going to see “He’s Just Not That Into You,” as I’ve detested the concept and the book since it first came out. But I don’t need to. I’ve read enough to learn the whole plot of the movie. And I actually skimmed the book (there aren’t many words in it) when it was on the giveaway table at the San Francisco Chronicle.
What’s amazing, actually, is that comedian Greg Behrendt (and co-author Liz Tuccillo) have managed to make millions with a book based on a six-word phrase that is so self-explanatory a book could only be redundant. And it is! I think women read it just to go, “No, really, is that all you have to say?” Yes, it is!
[[EDIT: To be fair, I should note that Liz Tuccillo is the co-author of "He's Just Not That Into You," and I'm told she penned most of the book. But my tirade is directed at Behrendt because he's always smarming about how he came up with the phrase when he was a "Sex and the City" consultant and posing as a relationship expert on TV.]]
(Seriously, are you going to listen to this guy?)
Here’s my problem with “He’s Just Not That Into You” — it’s a lie. It’s not just a lie; it’s a bald-face, hateful attack on single women — particularly those single women, like so many I know in urban centers, who’ve had a long chain of relationships that didn’t succeed or even really start.
One reason this bumper-sticker slogan is so appealing is that it’s so obvious, a.k.a. “common sense” — what I refer to as “bus-stop logic.” Say, if you pour your heart out to a random stranger at the bus stop, said random stranger would come out with the simplest, most surface conclusion. An example of this would be, say, if a straight woman ever had trouble dating a musician (take heed all you musician guys out there), it’s because “he wants a woman in every port.” Women want rich guys, and men want bimbos, so on, so forth.
Reasons people buy into it
Like every good lie, “He’s Just Not That Into You” has a half-truth to it, and that’s also why it’s been so hugely successful.
This is the part that’s true: Getting worked up about a potential lover to the point you’re anxious, desperate, needy, or overly eager will get you nowhere — and this applies to all genders and all sexual orientations. Worrying, panicking, overanalyzing, waiting for the phone to ring are a potent recipe for sabotaging any budding romance. And it is likely he’s not even worth the turmoil. I know, I myself have snuffed out many sparks projecting a future that didn’t exist onto some poor, unwitting fellow. And we all, men and women, do it. I would advise any woman feeling forlorn about her love life: Have confidence, calm down, stop worrying — about whether you’ll get married or if this or that dude likes you — and take a breather from the pursuit. It’s surprising how effortlessly things work out when you’re just busy being your awesome self. And, I, too, have to remind myself of that on a regular basis.
But this whole “He’s Not That Into You” phenomenon takes that premise, which would I would sell as “Don’t Worry, Don’t Care, as He’s Probably Not Worth the Fuss,” and gives it a nice misogynist packaging.
Why the book is sexist
For one, most obviously, the phrase starts with “he” and is most preoccupied, as most things in our culture, with what a man thinks and experiences. How “he” feels gets almost God-like importance: The Great Collective Male Mind has spoken.
For two, the book and movie suggests that single women are stupid, always barking up the wrong tree. But see, thing is, most straight women are very good at intuiting when guys want them. If you come from a less-progressive part of the country, you’ve been subtly socialized your whole life to pick up on nonverbal signs of interest in men. Because not even 60 years ago, getting married was very very important for women in our culture.
More than that, though, this power, which makes the patriarchy quake in its boots, would entirely undermine American consumer culture. If a woman feels desirable and powerful and able to assess a man’s interest, you can’t sell her skin-fixing creams, weight-loss programs, lip-plumping gloss, tanning beds, hair-removal devices, breast implants, self-help books (ahem!), so on, so forth. Million-dollar industries are built on women feeling insecure and women doubting their own finely honed instincts.
So “He’s Just Not That Into You” handily perpetuates the patriarchy’s stranglehold of consumerism by telling women: 1. You are not desired or loved (even though you’re desirable – because Behrendt has to give you a reason to keep reading). 2. You can’t trust your own judgment. Neat, huh?
For three, the movie and the book, at least, suggest that a woman cannot be happy unless she has a man who is hopelessly devoted to her, giving her all his time and attention, ready to pop the question. It plays into this notion that men always have the upper hand because women want marriage and commitment, and men want freedom and lots of sex. But a man in love? Oh like Prince Charming, he will read your mind and fulfill your every little wish, rub your feet, buy your tampons, hand-feed you chocolate.
Lastly, “He’s Just Not That Into You” commits the sin it’s accusing women of: Presuming to know what any given man is thinking in any given situation. Because you know, a comedian who has never been trained in psychology has superior knowledge and understanding of a relationship he’s not in, involving people he’s never met.
When guys who like you act like they don’t like you
What’s funny is that even the episode of “Sex and the City” blamed with starting this whole cult ends up poking holes in the premise, when Miranda invites a date in and he begs off of it. She demands that he admit he’s “not into her,” and he says, “I’m sorry, I would like to come in; it’s just that Indian food we had gave me diarrhea. Gotta go!”
One comment I’ve heard from guys I’ve dated, more than one, is “I’m so into you that it terrifies me.” But the logic of the book doesn’t have room for this complexity, as buys into this fake-love premise that if you are a special-enough, magical-enough woman a guy will fall so madly in love with you, he will automatically get over all his issues, all his bad relationships, all the terrible things women have done to him, right? Because guys never get hurt, don’t have fears, and they certainly don’t cry.
If he loves you, he’ll come back to you
My first real boyfriend here, on our second date, invited me up to his room to watch TV, and finally worked up the courage to say, “I like you sooo much. I like you more than any girl I’ve ever met in San Francisco.” I was feeling breathless and giddy because I was terribly insecure at that point in my 20s, and I’d never gotten a speech like this from a boy I liked sooo much. Then he concluded with, “That’s why I can’t see you anymore.” See, he was set to move far away in seven weeks.
I was inconsolable. I went home at 3 a.m. and couldn’t sleep. At 3:30 a.m., I realized Mom would be getting up, so I called Oklahoma and wailed on the phone. But it wasn’t my mom who finally calmed me down. It was Dad, who gave me the best nugget of romantic advice I’ve ever gotten: “If he loves you, he’ll come back to you.” Wouldn’t that be a much nicer book? Not to suggest anyone should sit waiting by the phone or tolerate overt jerk behavior. But again, don’t panic. What’s meant to be is meant to be. You can put your interest out there so much, then you just have to let go to find out if it will come back to you. The boy did, in fact, email me a few days later and ask me to watch a movie with him – and before we knew it we were swept up in a whirlwind of young love.
When life can’t be summed up in six words
There are, I’m sure, other reasons for my history of failed romances: At times, I’ve been confused by people-pleasers or guys who succeed in their career by making people feel special. Oftentimes, men have built up these elaborate fantasies about me and don’t know quite what to do when they’re confronted with the real me. I’ve been lured into traps set by players, and I’ve also managed to make myself off-putting to guys who would be interested by falling into a weird, overeager, insecure zone. I’ve encountered men too busy wrestling big, scary demons like mental illness and childhood abuse. But it’s not as though he was “meh” every single time. And no woman should ever have to feel like every tumultuous, unpredictable failed romance she had was simply met by a shrug on the other end.
If he loves you, he’ll come back to you, but sometimes it’s too late. That’s the other disappointing aspect to this “He’s Just Not That Into You” film. It doesn’t even stick to its own flimsy logic, as a least two of the women end up with men who weren’t that “into” them. What would make this an awesome movie is if a heroine just said, “You know forget this guy; I’m moving on.” Then she went on being her fabulous self, and eventually met a great, thoughtful man to date. Or even figured out she was just fine being alone. At the end, the previous lothario would come back and say, “I figured out I am really into you,” and she’d say, “Sorry, Charlie! You had your chance, and now I’ve had some time and perspective I see you really weren’t that great in the first place.”
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