Actually, the fancy of most men, young or old, ranging in age from let us say 13 to 93, turns to love whether it’s spring or winter, summer or fall. Indeed, the fancy of most men probably turns to love — or at least, lust — about every five minutes of every day of every year of his waking life, excluding perhaps during those unfortunate years when he has not yet left the bassinet on his own power (and even here a Freudian might disagree).
In He’s Just Not That Into You: The No-Excuse Truth to Understanding Guys (ISBN 0-689-87474-X, $19.95), Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo (both of whom were associated with the television show Sex and the City) attempt to explain to women, particularly to young, single women, the code-words and code-behavior that men use when they no longer wish to see those women — the brush-offs, the failure to return calls, the desire to postpone a marriage until they are “financially stable,” the lovers taken outside the relationship. Answering letters from such young women in different formats and styles, Behrendt and Tuccillo essentially act as generation X’s version of Dr. Laura with their hard-hitting questions and their succinct, no-nonsense answers.
Though written in a somewhat chaotic manner — why is it that two television writers can’t be better organized than this? — He's Just Not That Into You does follow a basic format. Each chapter begins with a proposition: “He’s just not that into you if he doesn’t want to marry you,” or “He’s just not that into you if he’s not asking you out,” and so on, followed by a short statement from Behrendt, then by letters from distraught women with commentary and responses by Behrendt and Tuccillo. This advice is what we might expect from these writers: funny at times, semi-intelligent, and crude both in its sexual sense and in its application to human personhood.
There are major problems with He’s Just Not That Into You. First, both authors tend to put women on pedestals while denigrating men. On the back cover of the book, for example, Tuccillo writes that “...it’s good for us all to remember that we don’t need to scheme or plot, beg anyone to ask us out. We’re fantastic.” Behrendt keeps telling the reader, whom he assumes to be female and available, that she “deserves” a certain kind of man, that she shouldn’t settle for less than what she deserves. Near the end of the book, one reader writes, “Greg, do you really think there are that many men out there who are capable of being as loving as you think I deserve?” To this question, Greg responds: “Yes. I do. I do. I do. Otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this book.”
But why does she “deserve” such a man? Are there no women who don’t deserve the men they get, who actually help ruin them? Behrendt places his women on a pedestal higher than any built by the Victorians. Women are beautiful while men, as Behrendt might put it, generally suck. (If we ask most women what they think of females and Behrendt’s view of females, we might likely get a darker, more jaundiced take on feminine virtue.)
A second problem with He’s Just Not That Into You is the essential soullessness of the book’s attitude toward sex, lust, and love. The authors seem concerned with getting couples together in marriage or at least into a permanent relationship without telling us why such an arrangement is a good thing. They don’t seem to know why people marry or why, as they suggest, so many women want to marry. They devise a code near the end of the book, which they call Standard Suggestions, tips for women on who to date.
“I will not go out with a man who hasn’t asked me first,” “I will not be with a man who’s afraid to talk about our future,” and “I will not date a man who is married” are some of the wiser points they offer while at the same time contending that “he’s just not that into you if he’s not having sex with you.”
If Behrendt and Tuccillo had written “he’s just not that into you if he doesn’t want to have sex with you,” that would have been well and good. But to associate having sex and being “into” someone here not only misses the boat, it misses the entire harbor.
As evidenced in Lauren Winner's Real Sex: The Naked Truth About Chastity (ISBN 1-58743-069-X, $17.99), there is a deeper and ultimately more vibrant view of sex and love than is put forth in He's Just Not That Into You. Like many other young women these days, Winner went through her own private version of the sexual revolution before coming around to the idea that any true sexual identity had to begin with respect both for herself, including her own flesh, and respect for those around her.
Following writer Wendell Berry’s brilliant argument that sex is essentially communal — that is, that there is a logic that links sex to marriage, marriage to household, household to family, and family to community — while emphasizing that sex should be personal rather than public as it is today, Winner at one point writes that “the problem is not that we talk about sex. The problem is how we talk about sex.” Winner addresses what she calls “lies about sex,” myths and distortions perpetuated both by secular society as well as by traditional Christianity. She then discusses in practical terms the difficulty of remaining chaste in a society which has so devalued chastity.
In the last 10 years, more women and men, not only Orthodox Jews, Christians, or Muslims, but non-believers as well, seem drawn to the idea of reserving the gifts of sexuality and soul for that person for whom he or she is especially intended. That way seems difficult to many of us, and failure is doubtless a companion at times, but the vision of Winner and others like her remains attractive to all seeking the noble and the true.
He’s Just Not That Into You: The No-Excuse Truth to Understanding Guys by Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo. Simon Spotlight Entertainment, 2004. 176 pages.
Real Sex: The Naked Truth About Chastity by Lauren Winner. Brazos Press, 2005. 175 pages.