7 posts tagged he's just not that into you
I know it’s all a bit February 2009, but my CLEO article debunking He’s Just Not That Into You hit the stands yesterday…
Why we’re NOT that into HJNTIY (He’s Just Not That Into You)
Are we all as desperate and mad as the film - and book - suggests? Rachel Hills questions the phenomenon.
Published in CLEO, April 2009.
1. It paints women as desperate and neurotic.
Let’s get the most obvious one out of the way first. Anyone who’s seen Ginnifer Goodwin chasing down that smarmy investment banker in the movie trailer will know exactly what I’m talking about.
The women in HJNTIY are needy, anxious and completely obsessed with men - even when the men they’re obsessed with are going about their lives quite happily without thinking of the girls at all. They may be played by some of the most gorgeous actresses in Hollywood, but it’s all too easy to believe that the men they meet might just not be that into them: they’re really annoying. In Goodwin’s case, kind of insane.
“But HJNTIY is funny!” I hear you protest. And you know what? It is. I laughed all through the movie - mostly because almost everyone I know has engaged in some (hopefully watered down) Goodwin-esque behaviour at some point. But is it any wonder we can relate to this behaviour when books and movies such as this one are constantly stirring the insecurity pot?
2. Men, meanwhile, are superhuman.
I will give the film this: its male characters are just as messed up and fallible as its female ones. Not so in the book. Author Greg Behrendt writes in the first chapter: Men find it very satisfying to get what they want. If we want you, we will find you. In Behrendt’s world, men are hyper-macho, super-confident machines who can decide if they to be with you within 15 seconds of meeting you, and who call the relationship shots accordingly.
That’s true of some men - we’ve all met them. But while HJNTIY claims to be about finding a great guy who’s worthy of being in a relationship with you, super-decisive, super-confident men tend to be either a) players whose main interest is the chase; or b) in love more with the idea of love than they are in love with you. Good guys tend not to roll over you with a bulldozer in their rush to ask you out, preferring to - it’s crazy, I know - actually get to know you a little first. They might even have doubts and insecurities of their own.
Besides which, if men are calling the shots, where does that leave you?
3. It doesn’t care who you’re into.
Sitting eagerly by the bar with a cocktail in hand, waiting for Prince Charming, a guy who - let’s face it - may never arrive. My own biggest beef with HJNTIY is that it doesn’t give women any room to take our destiny into our own hands. Behrendt writes: I know it sounds old school, but when men like women, they ask them out. (Justin Long says pretty much the same thing in the film). If he’s not asking you out, ergo, he probably doesn’t like you. Some tradition are born of nature and last through time for a reason, apparently. Behrendt and his co-author Liz Tuccillo did an “unscientific” poll of their friends that proved it.
Well, I did an equally unscientific poll of my own sexy, twentysomething male friends, and they thought it was ridiculous. Good flirtation is like a dance: you step forward, your partner steps forward, you rest your hand on his arm… and it escalates from there. We’re not suggesting you take five steps forward if the person you’re interested in isn’t responding (if that’s the case, they probably aren’t into you), but there’s nothing wrong with making the first move. But you already know that.
4. Life’s not a romantic comedy.
Some of the arguments in HJNTIY are just common sense. If a guy’s in a relationship with someone else, he’s probably not good relationship material. If he humiliates you, makes fun of you in front of your friends or is high all the time… not such a catch. But the standards the book sets for what a guy who is “into you” should be doing are kind of unrealistic. You might even say they’re exactly the kind of thing that creates needy, confused women such as Goodwin‘s Gigi.
In the book, Greg tells of a female bartender he flirted with one night who, when he asked for her phone number, refused to give it to him and told him to look her up in the phone book if he really wanted to speak to her. He did - the next day. That’s what a guy who’s really into you “should look like”, Greg says. But my unscientific poll of sexy twentysomething men revealed that guys who are into you are more likely to do stuff like add you on Facebook, go out of their way to talk to you when they next see you out, or maybe ask you out for coffee in a couple of weeks ( in HJNTIY land, leaving it a couple of weeks is a big no-no). And really, how often do you get that excited about someone you’ve only met once?
5. Nothing is ever truly black and white.
Tuccillo even says as much in the book. We’ve all had moments where we probably needed to be force fed a bitter spoonful of HJNTIY, but most of the time, life is more fluid than that.
Perhaps the way to approach HJNTIY - the book, the movie, the philosophy - is in moderation. Not every rule it sets should be adhered to strictly - especially the ones that give the man a complete upper hand.
Even the movie breaks the book’s most offensive rules: the guys don’t always chase after the girls they like, and marriage isn’t the be-all, end-all of life. And if all else fails, it helps to remember that this is a concept coined by a comedian. Don’t let it rule your life - or your approach to dating.
There were no big surprises (especially given Jezebel’s liveblog last week), but it wasn’t as bad as I expected it be. Judged solely on its merits as a romantic comedy, it was even amusing and enjoyable.
I’m still with Dodai on this bit, though:
"How can you trash a movie you haven’t even seen?" someone asked. I explained that I was insulted by the premise, and the trailer.
Not to mention the very notion that women need self-help books, but men should just go ahead behaving as usual. Then there’s the idea that all of these big-name stars would glom on to a film in which women are portrayed as idiots.
And for my part, here are the radio talking points I jotted down when I got home last night:
- You’ve got to laugh, because a lot of the situations in the film are relatable - and as I wrote in my article, it’s true that a lot of people do feel and act like the characters in He’s Just Not That Into You. But I also think it’s important to ask why people behave that way.
And while I think what a lot of women found appealing about the book was that it freed them from wasting their time worrying and analysing if a guy wasn’t calling them or asking them out or doing whatever they wanted him to do - because it just meant he didn’t like them - I also think the reverse is true. That the book plays to and exacerbates these worries, so that if whoever he is doesn’t call say, the day after you meet, you start to worry ”oh my god! is he just not that into me?” when in fact it’s quite normal not to be into someone you’ve just met.
And the ironic thing is that it’s these very anxieties that actually turn relationships bad and make men - and women - not into each other.
- What I thought was interesting about the film was that it actually went against a lot of the things book says: for instance, if he’s not marrying you he’s just not that into you, if he’s not asking you out, he’s just not that into you - in the film, both of these points are proved (well, as much as a romantic comedy can prove anything) to be untrue.
Jennifer Aniston, who’s in the film, did an interview with Jay Leno the other day, where she was asked about some of these philosophies, and she said much the same thing: that sometimes, guys do get shy about asking women out, that you don’t need to call someone right away to prove “into”-ness. And I know Jennifer Aniston is kind of the poster-girl for He’s Just Not That Into You, given Brangelina and all, but based on interviews etc, the woman does seem to have a pretty rational attitude when it comes to these things.
- Really, the worst thing about the film, and what ultimately makes it disposible, is the title. Something along the lines of Relationships are Complicated and Sometimes They Go Pear-Shaped But Sometimes They Work Out Too, and You Can Be Happy Either Way would probably reflect the plot better, but of course, that wouldn’t sell tickets like He’s Just Not That Into You.
February 8, 2009
He’s Just Not That Into You may have tapped into the Zeitgeist, but it’s time to move on.
Illustration: Simon Rankin
I NEVER really liked Greg Behrendt. You might recall him as the Sex and the City writer-turned-author who, a few years ago, was all over TV informing lovelorn ladies with no-nonsense charm that He’s Just Not That Into You. Simple advice (too simplistic, many argued), but that was its charm.
Now Behrendt — or his philosophy, at least — is back, this time on the big screen. If you’ve been to the movies recently, you’ve probably seen the trailer. If you’re internet-savvy, you may even have stumbled upon the cutesy US advertisements full of such wisdom as “hanging out is not dating” and “break-up sex still means you’re broken up”.
The film features a cast of A-list actresses — Scarlett Johansson, Jennifer Aniston and Drew Barrymore — who, despite the fact that most men would jump at the chance to date (or hang out with) them, are hung up on relationships that are a lost cause. Actually, using the word “relationship” here might be being kind.
They’re also incredibly insecure. Ginnifer Goodwin chases after an obviously uninterested man in a bar, while Barrymore is humiliated when a guy she likes leaves a flirty message for another woman on her answering machine at work.
It’s a pretty dismal view of both sexes: men are either childlike and confused or heartless players, while women are uniformly needy and neurotic. But it’s hardly a unique view, either. Similar portrayals are everywhere — across the romantic comedy genre, in magazines targeted at both sexes, and in the advice espoused by self-proclaimed “relationships experts”.
And I’ll be honest: they’re not entirely baseless. Pretty much every woman I know has turned into an anxious puddle over some man who didn’t call (or who didn’t call when he said he would, or who didn’t do exactly what she would have liked him to do at the exact time she would have liked him to do it, which would have proved that he really did like her) at one point or another — myself included.
But women don’t occasionally turn into anxious puddles because that’s Just What Women Do, or because we happen to be individually neurotic, messed up people. I’d like to suggest it’s more political than that.
It’s broadly accepted these days that we live in a society that places a lot of emphasis on the way women look, and that this has negative consequences — eating disorders, compulsive dieting, preventative Botox and poor self-esteem among them. Whether it’s designed to or not, the nagging suspicion that without youthful skin and taut abs we are nothing acts as a form of oppression, keeping us insecure and absorbed in a battle we can never win.
It’s not such a stretch to apply the same logic to a phenomenon like He’s Just Not That Into You. A self-help book doesn’t get picked up as a major feature film if it doesn’t capture something of the Zeitgeist, after all. And this one does.
To be female is to be subjected to a constant barrage of relationship advice which, even if it’s not intended to breed insecurity, often has that effect. “Has he called yet? If he really loved you, he’d … Better get married before you’re 30 and become a dried-up old hag … Did you hear about the man drought? If only you’d played more hard to get …”
I’m not just talking about movies and magazine articles: these messages are reinforced by friends, family, well-meaning colleagues — you name it. Perhaps the reason Behrendt’s book was so successful was because it reaffirmed what a lot women already suspected: that we weren’t doing the right things and that no matter how great we were (He’s Just Not That Into You always went to lengths to reassure readers of how “foxy” they were), the people we liked most didn’t like us back. At least, not the way we wanted them to.
Cumulatively, these messages serve to erode our confidence. Is it any wonder that when we’ve had it rammed home that if a man is interested he’ll chase and chase, that men only want women for sex and the thrill of what they can’t have, a lot of women freak out at the first sign that he might not be chasing — no matter how unwarranted it may be?
But while we “get” the link between beauty culture and self-destructive behaviour, there’s a conceptual wall stopping us from making the same links when it comes to our personal lives. And even when we do make the links, the voices to the contrary are loud and omnipresent, trumpeting ideology as though it is fact. It takes strength to stand in opposition to what everyone around you takes to be self-evident, and even more strength to stick to your intellectual convictions in your most private, unsettled moments.
Awareness is the first step, but if we truly want to break out of this destructive mindset, we need to band together.
We can start by calling out those who purvey these messages, but we also need to stop being carriers of them ourselves. We need to develop an alternative framework: one that acknowledges that relationships are complicated regardless of gender, and that doesn’t rely on men being distant and sex-crazed, or women being insecure and needy.
Films like He’s Just Not That Into You are light entertainment, the cinematic equivalent of fairy floss. But like fairy floss, too much of them will only make you sick.
Rachel Hills is a freelance writer.
My 2009 one will be much better, of course. Me being four years older and all.