Letters

Readers discuss Rebecca Traister's "He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not" and come up with a few relationship mantras of their own.


Salon Staff
December 8, 2004 1:00PM (UTC)

[Read the story.]

Why is dumping someone who doesn't deliver everything, all the time, and on schedule, the only solution?

We as a culture have lost sight of personal responsibility, character development, and Carl Jung's "necessary suffering" as rites of passage into and through adulthood. Many of us believe that other people should solve our problems for us. This fantasy leads the contemporary neurotic to run from one relationship to the next in a search for satisfaction from without -- with the logical unhappy results.

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But when we're willing to take responsibility for our own maturation and to continue to clear the mind of fear and resentment, we don't have to worry about blaming our partners for unsatisfactory presentations of their regard. If we focus on the development of our own character and, to the best of our ability, live by universal principles, we naturally attract those that are on the same path -- and adult relationships naturally follow. When we're living in this mode, rigid, harsh, "one size fits all" behavioral commandments are unnecessary.

-- Daniel O'Brien

Having recently ended a relationship with a guy who was very much into me, but who had a lifestyle and priorities that made a future together unviable, I am inclined to find fault with the message of "He's Just Not That Into You." Sure, there is the guy who treats all his girlfriends badly until he finds that one woman with whom he finally seems to be the considerate, committed boyfriend all those past girls wished he would be.

But is it your fault that he wasn't that into you? Maybe he's a workaholic and he found a woman who doesn't mind that he spends 80 hours a week at the office. Maybe he's still immature but found someone who finds it endearing. Maybe when he was with you he was doing the best he could, but his way of being into you just wasn't enough for you. It's not you that's the problem -- or even him, for that matter. Instead, Maybe You're Just Not That Compatible.

-- Jessica M.

Rebecca Traister has some valid criticisms about the six-word mantra that has become so pervasive and popular recently, "He's Just Not That into You." It is true that the phrase is so simple that it doesn't allow for nuance, complexity, or context, as each situation and each individual are unique.

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But what Traister doesn't mention as one of the book's aims, which Behrendt and Tuccillo do mention, is that by creating a climate in which women demand to be treated with respect (rather than strung along by men), this tells all the men out there who are indeed interested in certain women but too shy/busy/cowardly to show it that if they don't improve their behavior, it will get them nowhere. The "He's Just Not That Into You" philosophy places the ball squarely in the woman's court and demands more of men. That is a good thing. It's progress.

-- Susan Ayoob

As a gay man with a lot of heart-troubled female friends, I say thank God for this book. I am going to buy it in bulk this Christmas and insist that my friends read it before calling me in tears.

I wonder, however, whether this book just raises the bar for perfection a little higher -- advising that if a man isn't a prince in shining armor, then he is a write-off immediately. I am all for having high standards, but sometimes a little compromise gives time for deeper emotions to flourish.

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-- PT Black

One thing Rebecca missed is the self-selecting nature of the audience for this book. If you're looking for a reason to dump your guy, you'll find it, here or elsewhere. Besides, what happened to guys who have their own lives and priorities? I have a life I'm pretty happy with. I'm willing to make adjustments for the right person, but come on. The bottom line is, it sounds like the difference between a guy who "is that into you" and a stalker is that you like the former, and not the latter. Get a grip.

-- John Stoner

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That book reminds me of when it's cold outside, and you're a little drunk, and you need to catch a bus. You wait and wait for the bus, but it never comes. Eventually you give up and start walking, just because you need something to do. You know, in your head, it's more logical to stay back there at the bus stop, and that, despite the forward motion you are making, you're actually making your stay in the cold even longer by walking away from the bus stop. But you do it anyway, because you need to do something, and sure, there is a chance that the bus will never come.

Heaven forbid someone takes more than a week to make up their mind about someone else in this day and age. We must be into people right away now? Always? I think I missed that memo.

Following the advice in this book will have women spinning their heels, skipping from guy to guy, programmed by design to miss out on any guy who's thoughtful enough to wait until he knows how he really feels before acting on it.

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-- Rick Webb

You know that male mantra "I just don't know what women want"? Drives me crazy. You've been asking for hundreds of years, bozo -- haven't you figured out that there are about a million different answers?

It just depresses me to see women engaging in the same facile computation: "Within a couple hundred pages, ladies, you too can navigate the depths of the relationship dynamic!"

Look, there is no one relationship dynamic. No blueprint, no template, no set of rules to follow. It's messy and varied and frustrating and nauseating -- and really fucking fun. I've been married for five years now to a guy I slept with on the first date, and whom I chased shamelessly through a seriously clichéd bout of commitment phobia. I hate to think what would have happened if I'd listened harder to some trendy book than the anxious thumping of my own heart.

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-- Meg Rhem

Overall, I think this HJNTIY craze will have a positive effect. As a single man at 30, I see lots of women, under pressure to be in a couple by both biology and culture, trying desperately to make things work that don't, and it drives me crazy because, as one might predict, I firmly believe I'd do a better job.

However, the parallels to "the Rules" make me uncomfortable. Very little seems to be said about communication here. A lot of guys are just lousy communicators, or clumsy with women's feelings. That's still an issue, but it should be addressed in the exact opposite way of HJNTIY. The assumption of a lack of interest might empower a woman to kiss off when there might be merit to working through something by talking about it.

I also see so much in the media these days about perceived respect or a lack thereof. It was "lack of respect" that sent Ron Artest into the stands, and daytime TV is full of women (and men) proclaiming they've been wronged and won't put up with the lack of respect when we know they intend to do precisely that. Not everything is a commentary on someone's interest in or respect for you. People do stupid things in relationships. Perhaps a worthy response would be INAAY -- It's Not All About You.

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-- David Good

For bitchy, lazy women like me who put relationships somewhere behind watching "Regency House Party," not calling and not worrying about what's going on in some guy's mind is preferable to acting like a junior high idiot who traces the boy's name into her notebook, over and over again. I'm sorry, I have 50 other things I'd rather do than waste mental space on whether a guy likes me. For instance, I'd rather just wonder about the next time I'm having sex. There is nothing complex in deconstructing something that doesn't exist. And there is nothing wrong in saying, basically, "You want me? Come get me. Cuz, otherwise, I'm busy."

-- Delia Coleman

While I haven't read the book myself (I'm in a great relationship with a man who is way into me), several of my girlfriends have. On the surface, it's great advice: If you're looking for a relationship, you shouldn't date those who are emotionally unavailable. Yes, it can be empowering to figure out that you have a pattern like this, but ultimately it does little to solve the problem.

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Unfortunately, the thing most people (men and women alike) don't want to look at is their own role in making these choices. There are plenty of emotionally available men out there, so why is it women keep dating those who "just aren't into them"? That's the hard part, and the one that people don't deal with. Much easier to accept a breezy platitude, cut your losses, and go on to the next (predictably) unavailable man.

If women really want to get into good, healthy relationships, they should look at themselves and make a change, instead of blaming and pointing fingers at men.

-- Fiona Essa

I am a man, haven't read the book, but was disturbed by your column about it. I felt in discussing the merits of the HJNTIY concept, you missed a very critical point -- men don't heavily analyze social relations in the way women seem to. Sometimes we don't call for reasons that totally have nothing to do with a woman we are interested in. For example, was it a Sunday? If the woman doesn't realize I watch football on Sunday, then she must not be that into me...

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I myself used to subscribe to that sort of thinking. On our second date, my future wife declined to kiss me when I dropped her off after a nice evening out. I thought we'd hit it off, so I drove away thinking that clearly, she wasn't interested in me, and that this wasn't going anywhere, and I decided to wait and see if she called me. Thankfully, she did, but she wouldn't have if she had been in a HJNTIY frame of mind. As it turns out, she liked me so much that she didn't want our first kiss to be in my crappy truck. How could I have known that?

Don't get me wrong, I completely agree that people should mostly be judged by their actions, because talk is cheap. But to think you can understand what another person is thinking and what they want by a superficial analysis is to discredit the complexity of the human mind. Like any other oversimplification, HJNTIY throws the baby out with the bathwater.

-- Chris Schneider

I am a gay man who is still grieving over the loss of a two-year relationship last May. Leave it to a gay man to have to borrow advice geared toward women. I felt rather emasculated when my sister told me I should stop complaining and analyzing my loss and just read the book HJNTIY. She said, "You have that problem that plagues a lot of women and need to realize that he is just not that into you."

Well, it was the longest relationship I had ever been in, and he was more into me than anyone else I had ever been with. It didn't take a genius to see that he ran away from the relationship because he couldn't handle conflict, was too dependent on me, and was still healing from childhood abuse and neglect. That piece of advice did little to make me feel better or set me free. After an intense and intimate relationship, I found it rather patronizing and trite. A better title would have been "When Hope Becomes Denial" or "When It's Time to Move On" -- but even those titles lack the quick-fix appeal of a phrase with biting precision. Many people love us and are into us but that doesn't mean they can have a relationship with us. Loving someone is the easy part. Making a commitment to someone is something much more advanced. I don't need to believe that he wasn't into me to move on.

-- Don

The problem I have with this book and the women I know who seem to find it so insightful is that it assumes that if a guy is really into you, he will move heaven and earth to be with you. The problem is, that isn't always true. Pursuing women that you care about is enjoyable only if they want to be pursued. The rest of the time it is a painful and humiliating experience. There are times in every man's life when trying to pursue a relationship with a woman is terrifying, and the more you care, the more terrifying it becomes. Men get hurt too.

If you sit and wait for men to call and refuse to call them or initiate any contact, many men are going to draw one obvious conclusion. They will simply assume that you don't like them. No matter how into a woman you are, it is not worth pursuing someone who doesn't like you.

According to the authors, women should not risk humiliation; that's the man's role. But romantic relationships don't come with any guarantees. No romantic relationship is going to work for the long term unless two people are willing to take risks. This book seems to assume that women are not adults capable of making their own decisions about when to take risks. They have to wait and let the man make the decisions.

-- David Kirkham

While owning up that sometimes the HJNTIY theory is correct, I share Rebecca Traister's misgivings. I am disturbed most, though, by the blithe attitude that if he is "really into you," he will overcome any obstacle -- including his own problems, like fear of intimacy or commitment, or his own issues with anxiety or depression. It's true that in order to overcome any problem, he would need to be willing to move forward toward healing. However, to suggest that if he is really that into you, he can magically move past his own fears and insecurities sounds a whole lot to me like saying that if a depressed person wants to, they can just pull themselves up by the bootstraps and move on. It's faulty thinking. If he is really that into you, then yes, he would be willing to change -- but he will not become perfect or healed overnight. And yeah, he might not call you back right away. Does that really mean you should give up on him?

-- Jessica Green

Far from being a passive message, HJNTIY really is about an active response, not a passive one on the part of both genders. Rather than wait for the magical day when our inattentive paramour rises from his lethargy and calls/says I love you/proposes, women should go on with their lives and fill their days with things (and people) that actively and positively contribute to their well being. HJNTIY puts the onus on men to take an active role too: If you really are into a woman, you have to actually do something to keep her. (By the way, there are plenty of situations where this dynamic plays out with the genders reversed.)

We've lived too long in a paradigm where men put forth minimal effort, copping that emotionally unavailable Clint Eastwood vibe -- or worse yet, the emotionally confused Woody Allen shtick. Women spend hours analyzing these paltry offerings as if they were the Dead Sea Scrolls, hoping by sheer force of will to turn diffidence into desire. With so much self-involved bullshit going on, and with everyone trying to make it someone else's job to further the relationship or make them happy, is it any wonder no one is satisfied?

What's so wrong with asking both sexes to take some responsibility for themselves and their happiness? The "too cool to care" concept is so tired, and angst and self-torment (while perfectly acceptable for performance artists and grunge rockers) is a lame way to live your life. Kudos to HJNTIY for calling everyone's bluff.

-- Liz Emrich

What world do Behrendt and Tuccillo inhabit? Their advice is great, but why do they think it's only relevant for women? I can't tell you how many times I've tried to find reasons why my relationship was fine and dandy, when in fact the woman was showing all the warning signs of an uninterested partner.

There's enough misunderstanding between the sexes as it is. Books like this may offer sound advice to those suffering, but at the price of perpetuating insulting, sexist stereotypes. I know plenty of sensitive, caring men, and yet somehow Behrendt and Tuccillo don't seem to realize that we can also wait by the phone, suffer and cry, just like women.

-- Derek Zinger

Rebecca Traister's piece is nice to see, at least from this guy's perspective. That book presupposes that love is always on an even keel, or that guys who chase women like crazy aren't crazy. And that their "love" will be any more enduring than some guy who really is busy, maybe temporarily forgetful, or just navigating getting into a relationship. Sure, some men are creeps. Some women are, too. But most of us are just stumbling through life, wanting partners who are compatible in bed and over dinner or putting together a life. Books like "He's Just Not That Into You" are premised on an instant-gratification consumerist mindset. If it doesn't fit, toss it.

Thinking you should "toss" someone because they don't comfort you when you're lost ... or, in turn, thinking you should (or can) just "toss" someone when they're needy, is delusional. Because on some level, if you're semiconscious, you're going to realize that to live in such a universe, you're as subject to such flimsy judgments as you dish out, and that even your existing relationships are only as strong as your ability to consistently play that strong-role part. That's kind of unrealistic in a world that is uninsurable against surprise, hurt, or anything else.

-- Jonathan Field


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