Sunday, March 1, 2009

I’m just not that into bullshit gimmicks – your 15 minutes are up

In 2004, you may remember that a thin little book written by a couple of no-namers shot to fame practically overnight when God herself (Oprah Winfrey) decided to showcase the book on the Oprah Winfrey show. The reason you’ll remember this is because 5 years later, 2 million copies sold and a February 2009 release for the film, we’re still talking about He’s Just Not That Into You.

Seriously. Still.

Before I say anything else, I have to admit that while I’ve read excerpts of the book, I haven’t read it cover to cover (mostly because about 3 pages in, I realized the size of Greg Behrendt’s ego was too big to voluntarily force down my own throat). So I don’t mean to come off as one of those lazy extremist pundits who criticize without doing their homework, but with 11 chapters all beginning with “He’s just not that into you if…” and all of 165 pages of passive-aggressively telling women over and over that while they’re “superfoxy” (all of them?) they are also, in fact, stupid and desperate, I think I can safely assume that I get the gist.

I also want to give credit where credit’s due – I saw the film this past weekend (with a group of girlfriends, of course – because this is what girls do?), and it wasn’t quite the sexist, offensive piece of tripe I’d expected; quite frankly I think the Hollywood screenwriters saw the writing on the wall and transformed the narrow-minded book into a (slightly) more honest portrayal of dating today – from both a male and female perspective – before Behrendt and Liz Tucillo had the chance to be exposed as what they essentially come across as in the book - 1950’s-style admen asking women to get back to the kitchen. As I read in one review, playing to women’s insecurities might work in the self-help aisle; you need a little more flair and little more depth to make it work on the big screen.

So, while writers Behrendt and Tucillo are busy rolling around in their giant pools of money, I couldn’t resist the urge to offer up my own 2 cents before this incredibly long spat of 15 minutes are finally, actually up (though I won’t hold my breath; in our originality-deprived market, I wouldn’t be surprised if “Nope…he’s STILL just not that into you” hits theatres next year (would you be shocked?).

All I really want to say is very simple (though what I have to say isn’t a six-word marketable catch-phrase, so it may not be as popular). Dating is a giant pool of grey; it isn’t black and white, and it isn’t a mash-up of right and wrong. It may be full of games but it isn’t full of rules – at least not ones anyone should feel pressured to live by. And most importantly, dating need not be the kind of gender-war Behrendt and Tucillo make it out to be. This book doesn’t empower women to find the right man; it divides men and women – making men out to be the machine, and the women the ones reading the manual on how-to-use. Are we really that out-of-touch with each other?

How is this not obvious to all those women who see this book as their dating Bible; the one single portal into men’s brains?

“The guy I went out with last week isn’t calling.”
“He’s just not that into you.”

Am I the only one responding with, “duh?”

So, because one guy was honest with a woman, told her the truth instead of sugar-coating the problem and dancing around it (which, admittedly, many women do with their girlfriends – and I don’t think it’s that women don’t get it, I think it’s that we’re afraid of being harsh), we think this guy is brilliant?

A simpleton guy made a simple observation, got a response, and capitalized on it. He took one example of women not reading men's signals, and exploited all relationships everywhere by saying his ONE rule applies to ALL situations. He took women’s insecurities, naivety, and anxiety and sold it back to them, with a big, fat, in-your-face “you are a loser” title on it. He’s not that into you. He’s into something better. And he, my dear, calls the shots.

Personally, I don’t think Behrendt was trying to be all that malicious; while I think he could have been laughing all the way to the bank, I don’t think he was. I don’t think he realized the fools he had taken women to be; I just don’t think he’s that bright. I think he was one guy with one experience; I think all the rules and all the stories come directly out of his dating life. Women read it and recognized it because we’ve all dated that certain type before. The commitment-phobic alpha male bad boy – or whatever you want to call him. Chances are we have wasted time on someone who “just wasn’t that into us.” And maybe he did want to pursue us, and maybe he did get turned off when we became the female aggressor. But where’s the part in the book that says, but if THAT kind of behaviour turns YOU off, maybe you don’t want an alpha male at all? Why this generalization that all men are the same? Aren’t men offended by this?

Look, there are some truths in the book, and some advice to heed – like, women far too often will make excuses for a terrible man and a terrible relationship, and those women do deserve better. What’s problematic is the book’s backwards logic that tells you “it’s just the way men are; learn to read the signs.” Bad behaviour is given a green light. Men will be men. Hearts will be broken and lives will be disrupted. And there’s nothing you can do about it. He won’t get in trouble, so you may as well accept it and move on to the next guy. “There there, little girl. Don’t look for us; we’ll find you when we’re ready to be good.” And we’re SURPRISED when SO many beautiful, intelligent, interesting women DO settle for bad behaviour from men? We’ve just argued that it’s a case of boys being boys! If we’ve accepted it, why would there be any recourse? And if ALL men are capable of this, as the writers seem to argue, then what’s the point in dumping Slum Guy A when Slum Guy B is a carbon copy?

At the beginning of the movie, I confessed to my girlfriends that I didn’t really want to see this movie, to which one of my friends responded “you don’t want to see this? What kind of girl are you?!”

However serious my dear friend was, what I find the most alarming in all of this, is the expectation that if you’re of a certain age, female, and straight, then you must sip Cosmo’s, quiz each other on whether you’re a Carrie or a Samantha, shop at Banana Republic together and never let the conversation topics get any heavier than relationships, beauty or clothes. Not that there’s anything wrong with any of that – it’s just so limiting. It reminds me of being a little girl with my She-ra lunch box and my aversion to pink; when all the little girls in my class got together they wanted to make friendship bracelets and braid each other’s hair. I didn’t get it. And maybe it comes down to my childhood anxieties about never being a girly-girl and therefore never really fitting in, but I think that grown women have a bit more to them than this.

Truthfully, I’d like to see women up in arms about this book, and by extension, the movie; instead it has been taken for pop-wisdom. And I think it comes back to the fact that men and women feel awfully confused about the opposite sex. Which is kind of funny, because I really don’t think we’re all that different. But there sure are lot of books, movies, articles and popular ideas out there that would tell us that we are. And there are a lot of people making a lot of money off of it, too.

One of the few diversions from the book in the movie is a male character obsessed with a girl who’s been leading him on, but who’s clearly “not that into him.” Chances are, if the average woman reflects on her dating history, she’ll find a guy or two (or more) who were into her when she wasn’t interested. And chances are, she didn’t treat each of them with the greatest respect, either. We all go through phases of growing up and learning how to treat people and how we want to be treated when it comes to relationships. It comes down to emotional maturity, and self-esteem. Some people are mature enough to tell you they’re just not into you; some aren’t. Some people have the self-esteem to not take it personally when they don’t get a second date, some turn to ___ (fill in your guilty vice here).

The point is, you don’t need to turn to a cheap gimmicky book to get the answers on love. And if you’re whole life’s happiness is wrapped up in the idea of finding your paramour, then you don’t need advice on dating, you need advice on living! Enjoy your life. The rest will come.