- Ask you out
- Call or text you back
- Be single or otherwise available
- Be willing to date you “officially”
- Want to have sex with you
- Want to see you while sober
- Not dismiss the idea of marriage, if that’s something you want
- Not cheat on you
- Not break up with you
- Not ghost you
- Not be mean, nasty, or abusive
Before “he’s just not that into you” was a New York Times bestseller or a truly terrible 2009 movie starring an astonishing number of A-list celebrities, it was simply something that one co-worker said to another. As the story goes, one of the women on staff at Sex and the City asked her workplace pals for their opinion on a dating situation; the women all jumped in to reassure her that the guy must be scared to be in a relationship, or was intimidated by her. They asked Greg Behrendt, a comedian who was a consultant on three seasons of Sex and the City, what he thought. His considered but firm reply: “Listen, it sounds like he’s just not that into you.”“We were shocked, appalled, amused, horrified, and, above all, intrigued. We sensed immediately that this man might be speaking the truth,” Liz Tuccillo, the executive story editor of Sex and the City who co-authored the book with Behrendt, writes in its intro. “Soon, we went around the room, Greg, the all-knowing Buddha, listening to story after mixed-message story. We had excuses for all these men, from broken dialing fingers to difficult childhoods. In the end, one by one, they were shot down by Greg’s powerful bullet… A collective epiphany burst forth in the room, and for me in particular. All these years I’d been complaining about men and their mixed messages; now I saw they weren’t mixed messages at all. I was the one that was mixed up. Because the fact was, these men had simply not been that into me.”
You could be forgiven for missing some of these golden truths; upon rereading, I realized that much of the book’s best bits are gummed up with a tone that is so painfully early-aughts, I felt, at times, like I was being lectured by the reanimated corpse of an Ed Hardy T-shirt. Even though I was a lady who was there to listen, I cringed at the “LISTEN UP, LADIES!” tone.I knew the book was gendered—it’s right there in the title!—but I didn’t realize that imagining a 2020 refresh wouldn’t be as simple as changing the pronouns; it would require fully gutting it to remove its Rules-esque apriorisms. Throughout the text, Behrendt is adamant:
Love is something most of us want very badly in our lives, sometimes more than we even want to admit. And when we get close to getting it, when we are reminded of how great it feels to have it, even if it’s for a moment, even if it’s just a whiff of it, we may forget everything we believe in. … The minute you start feeling those familiar pangs of sadness and longing and obsessing, please pull the plug. If you take nothing away from this book, please remember that nothing is worse than longing for someone who doesn’t want you. Even loneliness is better, because with loneliness you at least have hope and possibility and imagination. But being in a situation where you start to feel hurt and small and rejected, even though it may be a nice little break from the tedium of no dates and no stories to tell your friends, will rob you of your newfound confidence and self-esteem. And nothing is really worth that.
It’s a shame that the authors buried good points about self-respect and expecting your partner to actually like you in bullshit evolutionary psychology language that makes the book easier to dismiss wholesale, and that fundamentally ignores the existence of queer people.I get that most dating books are meant to demystify the opposite sex; their heterocentricity is the point. But He’s Just Not That Into You is, at its core, a book about respecting other people’s boundaries and the subtle ways they communicate no. The fact that the book’s advice is understood to be strictly for straight women is particularly disappointing given the fact that it’s so often straight men who can’t accept that the women they want to date are not interested. Since 2004, the conversation about nice guys, sexual violence, consent, and harassment has become fairly mainstream. The real-world consequences of men who can’t or won’t take no for an answer are pervasive, terrifying, and sometimes lethal.That’s not to say that women can’t be creepy or entitled or toxic—they absolutely can. The authors don’t engage much with that idea; for the most part, the book’s advice is framed as, “Acting this way is beneath you,” instead of, “Acting this way is not cool and maybe even a huge red flag.” (Though, to be fair, "Nikki," the intentionally extreme Goofus-esque character who pops up throughout the book, is finally admonished toward the end of the book with a fairly lighthearted, “That's the best way to elicit the 'what did I ever see in that psycho bitch?' response,” and a reminder to “always be classy; never be crazy.")
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 if the chase is a long one… I know it’s an infuriating concept—that 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.