He’s just not that into you

Here we go again folks. Yet another dating book where every heterosexual women is expected to float around minding her own business so her Mr. Right can find her and, yet again, it seems people are seriously into it.

He’s just not that into you is intended to educate “otherwise smart women” on how to tell when a guy just doesn’t like them enough. The book is written by Sex and the City ex-writers Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo, and is cleverly targeted at the modern woman who, just like the girls in the show, is taken to analyzing the “puzzling behaviour of men” over coffee and cocktails with her friends.

This bestseller has really caught on, spawning the He’s Just Not That Into You Revolution, courtesy of the Oprah Winfrey show, where excited audience members can be seen urging the self-appointed Voice of All Men Greg Behrendt to tell it to them straight about those guys who they suspect, deep down, just aren’t that into them. Greg confirms the truth, and the audience gets even more excited. Fans of the book can also now buy the more recent daily Wake Up Call selection of bite sized mantras. This was presumably rustled up for those of us who either can’t be bothered to read the whole thing or are so addicted to it that regular simplified doses are required to get us through the day.

Liz is there to convince you just how much you need Papa Greg

He’s just not that into you is co-written by Liz Tuccillo but, in all honesty, it appears to be Greg Behrendt’s show. Sadly, all Liz seems to do in the book is back him up, telling us how his advice has worked for her and sometimes humbly sharing “Why This One’s Hard.” She often makes light-hearted digs such as “I hate Greg” or calls him a know-all, while assuring the reader that she’s no stranger to those pesky delusions about why that guy hasn’t called. Liz is there to convince you just how much you need Papa Greg to speak the truth and guide you towards your destiny as Some Guy’s Perfect Woman (if you’d only stop chasing men who aren’t interested and let him come and find you). Apparently, Greg is the “older brother we should all have in our lives (and our heads).” Wow. Imagine that. Greg in your life as well as your head! You’d never put a foot wrong. One can only dream I guess.

Later in the book, Liz says she reckons every woman could use a man in her ear, reminding her how smart, valuable, worthy and gorgeous she is and adds that “the world out there feeds us a lot of messages telling us otherwise” (niftily making flattery sound like some kind of feminist solution). Apparently, caring Greg is yelling at us so loud because he hopes he can “drown out some of that other noise.” Personally, I’m not convinced. He might be full of supportive validation for his readers but it seems to me that he’s actually just yelling along with the usual cacophony of sexist voices (surprise, surprise, it just happens there are ads for Men Are From Mars, Women are From Venus and Fein and Schneider’s The Complete Rules at the back of the book).

A particularly grating thing about this book is the overbearing effort Greg puts into showering the reader with compliments. Read He’s just not that into you and not only are you foxy, smart and a whole heap of other pleasing adjectives but also deserving of everything you want (which, incidentally, Greg and Liz seem to assume includes marriage; chapter 7 is even called He’s Just Not That Into You If He Doesn’t Want To Marry You). The elusive “he” may not be into you but your pal Greg certainly is. If he weren’t taken himself, he’d be beating down your door, hot stuff.

The boys can take care of themselves and their girlfriends

There seems to be an assumption running through this book that we women are so selfish and vain that a bit of feel-good, self-esteem enhancing rhetoric is all it’ll take to persuade us to tow the party line. Make a woman feel like a super-duper prize and she’ll easily forget her own agency. After all, why should someone so lovely ever have to lift a finger to make a man feel special? As far as Greg’s concerned, the boys can take care of themselves and their girlfriends.

What bothers me here is that the woman who makes such demands on a man may be denying herself the opportunity to enjoy him fully. In a Times article last year, Liz Tuccillo spoke of a man at a party who talked to her all night and then gave the address of his website, asking for her opinion on it. Strangely, her first thought on this was “Web address? I deserve more than that.” Remember, ladies, it’s all about You, You, You. Forget that a man might actually want you to take an interest in his life or give your perspective. Forget passing the time of day or keeping in touch. You’re too busy fast-tracking your way to a commitment and if he can’t get with the programme, you’re moving on!

Greg may be full of compliments but he does his fair share of undermining too. Obviously the formula of the book dictates that the women seeking his advice must look at least slightly naive so, when advising, Greg finds lots of snappy little ways of showing them up (addressing a rather repetitive example as “Dear Really Really” was one that stuck in my mind). Greg is also particularly sly when he tells a certain Nikki (who – shock! Horror! – doesn’t think much of Greg’s advice and wants to ask guys out) that she can’t change men’s primordial impulses and then snidely adds “or maybe you’re the chosen one”.

Behrendt is an effective and cunning ambassador for the Mr. Right Will Pick You Because You’re Worth it cause

In keeping with this, chapter 12 is titled Don’t Listen to These Stories and rushes through what Greg calls some exceptions to the rule (i.e successful relationships that didn’t follow the man-pursues-woman formula). He tells the reader “I want you to think of yourself as the rule” and sternly berates her that it was thinking she was the exception that got her into such a mess in the first place. The message coming through loud and clear here, dear readers, is that, actually, we are banal after all. Ah, the rot sets in.

There’s certainly no denying that He’s just not that into you is a very clever book. Behrendt is an effective and cunning ambassador for the Mr. Right Will Pick You Because You’re Worth it cause, showing off his pro-woman credentials through harsh words about bad boys and men who treat their partners badly, but also persuading readers to resign themselves to the idea that the essential nature of men is universal. He rather niftily manages to do the latter, whilst also appearing to pay lip service to feminism, when he says:

“Men, for the most part, like to pursue women … We know women are capable of running governments, heading multinational corporations, and raising loving children – sometimes all at the same time. That, however, doesn’t make men different.”

What I think Greg’s saying here is that, sure, you can have some of the power that was traditionally men’s, but our status and nature is still absolute and unchanging. Chapter one, for example, starts with the line “Many women have said to me, ‘Greg, men run the world’…” then asks why these women think men would be incapable of asking them out, reminding us of how “men like to get what they want”.

I think he’s saying, yes, you can exhaust yourself trying to have it all if you like but you will never take away men’s apparent sexual supremacy. Feel free to change if you like (gorgeous!) but men won’t and if you insist on doing it your way (foxy!), he thinks you’ll find that leaves you high and dry. When Nikki says she doesn’t like to play games and dares to ask why she can’t call guys, Greg begins his answer with “Because we don’t like it…” Of course, what he’s really drumming in here is the crux of the books message to women: if you pursue him, he won’t be that into you. You’ll put him off.

Liz then sells this passive state to the reader by reflecting that:

“There is something great about knowing that my only job is to be as happy as I can be about my life, and feel as good as I can about myself, and to lead as full and eventful a life as I can, so that it doesn’t ever feel like I’m just waiting around for some guy to ask me out.”

So, let me get this straight: the main reason to have a “full and eventful life” is so it doesn’t feel like you’re waiting around for a guy? Now I get it! All every girl really needs to do is occupy herself with a life that’ll make her seem extra alluring and carefree to pursuers. But what if I do take Liz’s advice and forget about pursuing men? If I’m right in the middle of something important, I certainly won’t take too kindly to being rudely interrupted by some admirer who wants to whisk me away from it all. Likewise, if I decide I’m looking for a man that’s exactly what I’ll go and do and the men who just aren’t into that can consider themselves eliminated. Problem solved. Everyone’s happy.

It seems that the key to success in this book is to be desperate enough (for a man) to pretend with all your might that you aren’t.

It has to be said that not all people will see Tuccillo and Behrendt’s book as anti-feminist. A columnist from the Oregon Daily Emerald has said the book’s merits “with respect to women, and feminism in particular”, are huge and believes He’s just not that into you (as both a title and a concept) “assumes from the beginning that as a woman, you can easily deal with the fact that a man doesn’t desire you”.

Well, I’m all for that. However, I ‘d also add that such liberated thinking can hardly apply to a book that works from the premise that women will make every excuse precisely to avoid facing that truth and that we need Guru Greg to come along and sort us out.

Men are just as complex as women

There are 569 reviews of He’s just not that into you on amazon.com and it has to be pointed out that a fair few of the negatives are from men who, amongst other reservations and observations, are taken aback at the idea that they have to pursue a woman like a dog on heat to prove they’re “into them”. These guys rightly point out that the author is guilty of simplifying his own sex and that, indeed, that men are just as complex as women.

Two things the book constantly overlooks are that the thrill of the chase is not exclusive to men and the pleasure of being an object of desire is not exclusive to women. It expects the female reader to bury the natural urge to pay attention to a potential date and, instead, re-channel her desire to indulge her man into a willingness to let him take control.

Perhaps the central message of the book actually goes out to men. Any heterosexual man who takes the He’s just not that into you phenomenon seriously is surely forced into an active role (if he knows what’s good for him). Greg knows he can sneakily take those shy guys to one side while his female readers are having a nice relaxing time while they wait for Prince Charming. He’s telling them: “Listen up buddy: don’t expect the smart women to do the work for you anymore. They’ve read this book and they’re leaving it up to you so you’d better BE A MAN about it.”

This book seems to reduce everyone to extremely limited players within a very narrow territory. It is only targeted at heterosexual readers but I wonder what its implications for gay men are? (No doubt the writers would say that’s not their area but the mind boggles at how they’d approach the question and I suspect it would give a great insight into their agenda.) What are the implications of this book if you’re a lesbian? (Ditto for that one.) [Note from the author 08/06/2022: I failed to include bisexual, pansexual and non-binary people here at the time. Again, I guess the authors might say “This book isn’t for you” but it would be interesting to see how they’d answer if they didn’t.]

Liz and Greg are, of course, right that it’s not worth fretting over that guy who’s just not into you but we all know some guys take it upon themselves to doggedly pursue women who clearly aren’t interested. How about a She’s Just Not That Into You for heterosexual men who don’t take no for an answer?

It’s true that some men do undoubtedly prefer to think a liaison or relationship was all their idea and I guess if you’re that hot for such a guy you might be inclined to let it become his call. But can you really be bothered? In my opinion, you’d be better off just being yourself and calling him if that’s what you feel like doing and if he doesn’t like it, perhaps he’s too sexist for you anyway. I mean, maybe he’s not that into you but why not find out once and for all? Would a rejection really be so terrible? (That columnist from the Oregon Daily Emerald had a point.) And if you still don’t feel like it? Well, maybe you’re just not that into him either.

Holly Combe would like to categorically state that she doesn’t care enough to pretend she doesn’t care.


[Added 02/09/2021]: The low-res image shows the original cover of He’s just not that into you. This is light yellow with differently sized light pink dots and there is a drawing at the bottom of the image, depicting two light-brown-skinned women (or femme people) at a bar, conspiritorially chatting over cocktails. The writing above the picture states (top to bottom) ‘GREG BEHRENDT & LIZ TUCILLO’, ‘he’s just not that into you’, ‘the no-excuses truth to understanding guys’ and ‘FROM A WRITER AND A CONSULTANT OF Sex and the City’.