He’s Just Not That Into You – A Readalong

Look at me, getting on this super quick like that.

Okay, the book was published seven years ago but I just announced my intention to blog about it, like, two weeks ago, so that’s super quick.

First, some general background. This book is by two writers on the staff of Sex and the City. Greg Behrendt advising some of the women on the staff that the men they were obsessing over that the gentlemen in question were just not into them inspired an episode in which Carrie’s boyfriend Ron Livingstone advises the girls – well, advises Miranda, because Miranda is the closest thing to a feminist we have on the show, and therefore the least attractive – that some guy is just not into her. Miranda finds this eye-opening (as did the writers, apparently) and it works out great – until she thinks a guy is not into her when really he’s having a bad reaction to the Indian food they just had. Likewise, the absolutely mind-numbingly awful movie they made of He’s Just Not That Into You (and I say that with all the love in my heart for Ginnifer Goodwin and a soft spot for Justin Long, too), the guy is just not that into her, and acts like he’s just not that into her, and does all the things in the book that indicate that he’s just not that into her, until poof, he is. So both times they use this premise in fiction, it’s not at all a good premise. I realize that’s how romantic comedies work, but I just need to point that out.

Okay, let’s take this chapter by chapter, shall we?

Chapter One – He’s Just Not That Into You If He’s Not Asking You Out

I do feel the need to start with a caveat – I met the guy I’m married to – I met and immediately started dating and have never been non-monogamous in my relationship with the guy I’m married to – when I was eighteen. And, unless we’re counting the three days in sleep away camp I spent with Mike Braunstein when I was fourteen, he was really the only person I could ever have described as my “boyfriend.” So I have not personally gone through the experience of dating as it is described in this book. I have never, not once in my life, been “asked out,” on an actual date, by someone who wasn’t already in a long-term relationship with me. (I’m not sure I’ve really been “asked out” by someone who was already in a long-term relationship with me.)

But I live in the world; I have friends; I have met people before. Not only that, but I am fully capable of understanding that not all people experience the world exactly the way I do, and that not all people of a given gender experience the world exactly the same way as each other. So that puts me one step ahead of Mr. Greg Behrendt.

I don’t know how guys stand this. After presenting us with three examples of women making excuses for why men aren’t asking them out – they don’t want to ruin the friendship, they’re intimidated, they want to take things slow – he hits on the “But can’t I just call him?” theme. And here’s what he says about that:

Men, for the most part, like to pursue women. We like not knowing if we can catch you. We feel rewarded when we do. Especially when the chase is a long one. … men like to chase and you have to let us chase you. I know. It’s insulting. It’s frustrating. It’s unfortunately the truth.

Now, I’ve met guys. A lot of them. Some of them do really seem to like the chase. Some seem to like it to the exclusion of having an actual girlfriend. This is one of the reasons women don’t like hearing, “Oh, men like the chase, just let them chase you!” Because somewhere, some time, we’ve all done this. We’ve held ourselves at a distance, either on purpose or because we genuinely weren’t sure, we’ve finally decided that the guy chasing us must be a worthwhile person of excellent taste, we’ve finally allowed ourselves to be “caught” – and we’ve found ourselves less interesting to him than a garden slug the next day. Even I, with my embarrassing lack of experience, have gone through this.

But men are, in fact, human. They don’t all like the same things. They don’t all like the chase. Some of them, in fact, experience this very human emotion known as “insecurity.” So when a guy like this is interacting with a woman who doesn’t flirt overtly with him, isn’t available for dates, and never calls unprompted, he assumes she . . . doesn’t like him. Shockingly. So he doesn’t pursue because he’s not interested in courting rejection.

And following this advice puts women in this weird position where we can’t act like we like you if we like you, because then you’ll be put off, but if we genuinely don’t like you but are not total bitches, then we’re acting precisely in the way that inspires these chase-oriented guys to, well, chase. You know, we smile, we laugh at your jokes, but we don’t call you or give you our phone numbers or date you. So you chase. Then we have to become actual bitches to put you off, which many women hate doing, and which has been known to inspire violence from men. Not all men. Not even many men. But it’s hard to know which ones are which until you’re alone in a back alley with one.

And he’s awfully dismissive of some perfectly good reasons why men might not ask a given woman out. The “He’s intimidated by me” “excuse” is illustrated with a (fictive?) letter from a woman saying someone in her employ – a gardener? – is attractive to her but not making a move despite her flirting. Now, one possibility is he’s not interested, sure. But Behrendt insists that “a guy will ask out a woman of higher status if he’s into her.” Might not the employee be uncertain about the flirting the woman is doing, and nervous about holding on to his job if he’s wrong?

The same thing is going on with the “ruining the friendship” thing. Behrendt insists that no man ever has worried about ruining the friendship with a sexual relationship. I’m sure that’s not true, but even if it were, people (yes, men and women, both) don’t usually worry that making a move on a friend because they think the move will be accepted and the friendship will be ruined. They worry that the move will be rejected and the friendship would be ruined. We’re not picking a friendship over sex. We’re picking a friendship over the possibility of no sex and no friendship. (And we’re also keeping Schrodinger’s cat in the box, allowing ourselves to permanently exist with the possibility that our crush object might secretly like us rather than opening the box and finding out. But that’s a separate issue.)

I mean, sure, if you make a move on your guy friend and he says, “I don’t want to ruin the friendship,” then, yeah, he’s telling you, “I’m not attracted to you.” Or at least, “I’m not interested in pursuing a thing with you.” But if you have a male friend and he’s not making a move, it could be that he’s not interested OR it could be that he is interested but thinks that if he makes mention of his interest, you’ll think he’s a creep and not be his friend any more.

The “take it slow” thing is illustrated by a woman writing about a man going through a divorce, blah blah blah. Again, Behrendt rejects the notion that men ever feel anything other than “desire to have sex” and “satisfaction that they’ve just had sex.” It is not possible that a man could be attracted to you but have other things going on emotionally that are making him gun-shy at the moment. Because men are not human, they’re men. Really, there’s a whole subset of the third wave feminist movement devoted to screaming about the way women are portrayed in the media (and I am a proud member of this subset). Why aren’t more guys there, screaming about how men are portrayed in the media? I don’t get it. (Okay, there are some guys. Scream louder, guys!)

Darlings, this is what the point ought to be. Maybe the gentleman is “into you” but is in an emotional place where he cannot fully devote himself to the worship of your wonderfulness. This does not make him a bad man. Nor does it make him a man worthy of your thoughts, your emotions, your time. Whether or not he is into you, you are not required to be into him.

Thanks, Soph. We need to be reminded of that.

Behrendt ends the chapter with two stories under the heading “This is what it should look like.” One is about him asking for a girl’s number in a bar. She won’t give it to him but gives him her name, which is not a terribly uncommon name. So he calls all the girls in the phone book with that name until he finds her. Another is about a friend of his who met this girl at a party, lost track of her, but then hunted her down. These are supposed to be the good stories. Not at all the, “He seems sweet but he might just be a stalker” stories. Because when you meet a guy for ten minutes and don’t give him your phone number or a way to find you easily, he should definitely assume that means you want him. Right?

Chapter Two – He’s Just Not That Into You if He’s Not Calling You

This chapter is a special bailiwick of mine because I f-ing hate the telephone. I have always hated the telephone. It was actually a problem for me in high school, until I learned to just be a girl and have phone conversations. Then I went to college, lived with my friends, and reverted to my old, hating-the-telephone ways. I will consent to phone conversations with people far away from me because I love them and it’s the only way to keep in contact. But if we live near (or with) each other, the only phone conversations I want to have are ones in which we make arrangements to meet or make amendments to those arrangements. This does get on Jason’s nerves, because he will sometimes call me on his way home from work, which is fine with me if it’s just a “I’m on my way home from work!” call, or a “I’m stopping at Target, do we need anything?” call, but then sometimes he wants to actually talk about his day and I’m like, “Won’t you be home in twenty minutes? Can’t you tell me this then?” If I were a single adult who dated, and you were the guy I dated, I would be mildly annoyed if you called me up in the middle of the day just to say hi. I mean, if I liked you, I’d take the call, and I’d try to chat pleasantly, but mostly I’d be thinking, “Aren’t we seeing each other tomorrow? What do you need to talk to me now for? Couldn’t you send me an e-mail instead?” So I have little sympathy for the women who are in this chapter whining about the men who don’t call them, and little sympathy for Behrendt’s assertion that men, just like women, love talking to the people they care about on the telephone. Because I don’t. I really don’t. I like e-chats and e-mails and talking in person. I hate the phone.

That aside, there’s some more stuff in here that’s, “Even if he’s into you, are you into him with him behaving this way?” – like, if he says he’ll call and he doesn’t, and especially if he does that thing where he says, “Oh, someone’s at the door, call you back in five,” and doesn’t, aren’t you annoyed? At some point, don’t you say, “Whatever, I’m not dealing with his bullshit no matter how ‘into me’ he is?” Why isn’t the question, “Am I that into him?”!

And there’s some more stuff that’s “This is how you expect a guy to act after a few dates? Really?” One “letter” in this chapter is from a woman who went on a few dates with a guy, then he forgot to call her when he went out of town to tend to his sick mother. And, from the letter, I mean, he didn’t show up to the date, she called to find out where he was, and he said, “Oh, shit, I’m driving to Connecticut to deal with my sick mother.” So it’s not like days went by and he forgot to call. And look, not calling to cancel a date was rude. But . . . you’ve been out on a few dates. His mother was sick. Do you expect head-over-heels, you-are-the-world already?

He also ends by saying, “100% of men polled said they’ve never been too busy to call a woman they were really into.” Okay. 100% of your friends agree with you. That’s fabulous. Also, people suck at self-reporting. Ask all of their girlfriends and wives if they have ever forgotten to call and see what the result is there.

(As a note, I don’t think my husband has ever forgotten to call, although keep in mind that we spent the first four years of our relationship in college, where ‘calling’ was less of a thing than ‘coming over.’ But ask him about my phone manners and he’ll give you an earful. Seriously, I suck at phone-related things. And I apologize to anyone I’ve hurt by this. I know there are a lot of you.)

Chapter Three – He’s Just Not That Into You if He’s Not Dating You

Now, again, my experience here is limited by the fact that my only relationship started in college. Behrendt wants to claim that “‘hanging out’ is not dating” but we did nothing but hang out. Well, and make out. More making out than hanging out those first few months, if you want to know the truth. And I’m going to assume that hunting for empty dorm rooms also does not, by Greg Behrendt’s standards, count as a date.

That aside, this chapter is mostly right on, even if it doesn’t address things in a very woman-friendly way. It does assume that, as a woman, you want a relationship, and men, unless they’re “really into you,” don’t. And I’m willing to accept the possibility that there are women out there who are genuinely fine with casual sex, genuinely fine with being each other’s booty call, genuinely fine with a friends-with-benefits situation.

Certainly any of these situations can be quite pleasant.

We’re married, Sophia.

I know, I know. But darlings, there is something to be said for a man who will make you come and not at all expect you to do his laundry.

But if you do want a real relationship and he doesn’t, don’t be with him. He’s not going to come around after the ninth bonk. He’s not going to realize how into you he is when his father is dying and even though he’s only ever called you for sex before he’s now calling you for emotional support unless you’re fictional characters in a rom-com. If he wants a casual thing and you want a relationship, leave. It’ll suck. It’ll be lonely. It’ll be sex-free, which is difficult. But not as difficult as hanging around someone with whom you are in love, who doesn’t love you but is willing to use you.

And seriously, ladies, listen to what a man is telling you at the beginning. “I don’t have the time for a relationship right now.” “I can’t really be anyone’s boyfriend.” “I’m really emotionally unhealthy and toxic.” If you hear a man say this to you, as my lawyer parents are fond of saying, “Be guided accordingly.”

Chapter Four – He’s Just Not That Into You If He’s Not Having Sex with You

Darlings, honestly. Forget whether or not he’s into you. If he is not pleasuring you, what on Earth do you want with him?

Yeah. This chapter is pretty much right on, too.

Chapter Five – He’s Just Not That Into You If He’s Having Sex with Someone Else

Um, yup.

Unless you have agreed to be polyamorous.

And by “agreed,” I mean, you both are into the idea of being each other’s main but not only squeeze. Not you pretend to be okay with him sleeping with other women so that he stays with you even though you die inside a little each time you see lipstick on his collar.

(Who leaves lipstick on a collar? Who kisses a shirt? Why is that a thing?)

Chapter Six – He’s Just Not That Into You if He Only Wants to See You When He’s Drunk

Now this is the chapter I had a real problem with. Because the title sounds reasonable. If he’s only drunk-dialing, that’s not a relationship. But the actual letters go deeper than that. The actual letters go into casual drug or alcohol use that has nothing to do with the relationship, and into addiction. And Behrendt seems to be working on the premise that if a guy were “really into you,” he’d be able to quit his addiction. It’s only because he doesn’t love you enough that he can’t.

Here’s the “This is what it should look like” section of this chapter:

I know a successful businessman who used to get stoned every single night, and sometimes in the morning too. He dated women who didn’t like it, and he would try to cut down while he was dating them. One day he met the women [sic – I assume] of his dreams and she would have none of it. He stopped cold turkey and now spends his days completely sober and very happy with it.

You guys, this attitude is effed up. It’s the exact opposite of what any AA-related material or actual psychological research would tell you about addiction. A genuinely addicted person doesn’t just love their drink more than they love you; they’re addicted to it. It’s an illness. They need help and love, not “If you really loved me, you’d quit!” shit. And the people who do love alcoholics, etc., also need support and love, not “He must not really love you/Your love must not be good enough for him” nonsense.

I’m willing to believe Liz Tuccillo’s stoned businessman story. It happens to some people. Especially with pot, which, unlike alcohol and many other drugs, is psychologically but not physically addictive. Which is not to say that psychological addiction is easy to break, but it’s a hell of a lot easier than physical addiction. Just ask someone trying to get off heroin.

And I’m not saying, ladies, if he’s addicted to something, and y’all just met, love him and support him and help him on the path to sobriety. You just met him; if you don’t want to pick up that kind of baggage, which can be strenuous, don’t. Remember Sophia’s and my cardinal rule – You don’t have to be into him just because he’s into you. But if you are already in a relationship, romantic or otherwise, with a person addicted to some form of alcohol or drug, please know that it’s not your fault. It’s not that the person doesn’t love you; it’s not that your love or your self is not good enough to cure that person by the magic of your awesomeness. It’s that the person is addicted.

This chapter really pissed me off. It’s serious social irresponsibility in the guise of a lighthearted dating advice book. Step off, Greg and Liz, and leave the real issues to the professionals.

Chapter Seven – He’s Just Not That Into You if He Doesn’t Want to Marry You

Look, if you are a person who wants to be married, and he says or has said that he never wants to get married, don’t be with him.

If you are a person who wants to get married and you’ve moved in together without even talking about a timeline for marriage, like, “Let’s move in together and if we don’t want to kill each other in a year, let’s get married,” it’s time to have that talk. (I know people don’t like having those talks because they want proposals to be surprising and romantic and all, but marriage is serious. Grow up. Talk about it.) If the talk ends with him saying, “I don’t want to get married,” then this is not the relationship for you and I hope you live in a market where finding a new apartment is relatively painless, i.e., not New York or San Francisco.

If you are a person who wants to get married and he says he isn’t “ready,” figure out when you need him to be ready by, tell him when that is, and stick to it.

But. I do not buy the premise that marriage is the be-all and end-all for all people, men or women. I do not buy that a guy who says he doesn’t want to get married necessarily just doesn’t want to marry you. That’s probably the case sometimes. But not all the time. And for all the anecdotes that Greg and Liz and their fictive letter writers can offer of men who just weren’t into you enough to get married, I can think of at least three relationships I know about off the top of my head that were or are long-term, committed, and monogamous, without being legally binding. If I wanted to, I could probably think of several more where one or both partners wasn’t “ready”, and then they were! So if that kind of arrangement is fine with you, don’t go creating problems where there are none.

And yes, I see that, once again, 100% of Greg Behrendt’s friends, who are presumably of similar age, socio-economic background, and general attitudes towards life, agree that of course they’d marry a woman they thought was the love of their life. So that’s a reliable statistic.

Chapter Eight – He’s Just Not That Into You if He’s Breaking Up With You

Look, break-ups suck. You don’t need Greg and Liz to beat up on you for not being over it, already.

Yeah, it’s not a good idea to keep having sex with him. And yeah, you should be classy, not crazy, about the break-up, as they advise.

But still. There’s no need to be mean about it.

Chapter Nine – He’s Just Not That Into You if He’s Disappeared On You

This is the same thing as the last chapter. I don’t know what it’s doing here.

Chapter Ten – He’s Just Not That Into You if He’s Married (and Other Insane Variations of Being Unavailable)

So, once again, people, this is the time when we don’t ask ourselves, “Is he that into me?” but “Am I into him enough to put up with this shit?”

If he’s married? No. That’s a lot of shit. Step away.

If he’s in the process of a divorce and really f-ing bitter and in the middle of the shitstorm that comes with the divorce? Well, look, it’s a lot of shit. It might be a storm that goes away, or all that anger and self-centeredness might be his actual personality. Date cautiously and only if you really, really think there’s a gem in there. (And if you find that he’s handling his divorce with emotional maturity, self-control, and kindness, well, that’s probably the best sign you’ll ever get that he’s a keeper.)

Chapter Eleven – He’s Just Not That Into You if He’s a Selfish Jerk, a Bully, or a Really Big Freak

No, no, no! You’re just not that into him if he’s a selfish jerk, a bully, or a really big freak. (Unless his freakishness and yours are compatible.)

I took a short-stories class in college. In it, we read “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,” by Raymond Carver. Truthfully, I don’t remember the story that well, though I do remember that I liked it at the time. Vaguely, it was about a group of friends talk about love and it comes out that one of them is being very seriously physically abused by her fella. Now, the story was written pre-1990s, so it doesn’t deal with the issues the way we, the liberal arts college students of the early aughts, were accustomed to. So a big discussion broke out in class about whether this woman’s fella really loved her. Half the class (mostly the guys) said yes and half the class (mostly the girls) said no. I said yes and was hollered at for a little while, and I was confused at first, until the discussion turned and I finally realized what the problem was and how to address it. “I’m saying he might really love her,” I said, “but I’m not saying she should love or stay with him! He’s still a horribly dangerous asshole and she should get the fuck out!” (Yeah, I might have said ‘fuck’ in class. Brandeis was that kind of school.) It was a light bulb moment for everyone, including me. We had all been operating under the assumption that a woman is supposed to love a man who loves her, because he loves her. This book rests on that assumption, too, that the first question is, “Is he into me?” and not “Am I into him?”

Ladies, the first question should always be “Am I into him?” And you’re allowed to say “No,” even if he is, in fact, into you. And that’s pretty much my problem with the whole book – that it asks the wrong question at the outset. I don’t think you should spend a lot of time making excuses for guys who are treating you badly. I just think you should worry more about who you’re into, and less about who’s into you.

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