So, I was chatting online with a friend last night, and we got on the topic of her current romantic situation. After giving her a bit of (what I think was some) sound advice (which is hilarious when you consider my own romantic history – it’s always easier to give advice than to take it), I finally came around to the big thing that was really bothering me, and I remembered that I’d written something for an old blog to that effect. So, I’m reprinting it below, because I still stand by every word. Please keep in mind that I wrote this in 2009 just before the film version of He’s Just Not That Into You came out. I’ve since seen the movie, and it’s pretty cute (and not nearly as annoying as the book). I’ve also since bought Kate Nash’s Made of Bricks, and I currently have a boyfriend, both of which are awesome.
Back in 2004, when Sex and the City was in its heyday and anything said to be like or inspired by it flew off the shelves, a book called He’s Just Not That Into You hit stores and became an instant smash. (Not so coincidentally one of the book’s authors, Greg Behrendt, was a consultant on Sex and the City, and took inspiration from the episode “Pick-A-Little, Talk-A-Little”) When the book came out, several of my friends told me about it, claiming that it was a book I had to read. After much prodding, I finally picked it up at a bookstore and read the first chapter in the store’s cafe.
I hated it instantly.
Proponents of the book would probably say that it rubbed me the wrong way because it “touched a nerve”, “hit too close to home”, or “showed me a truth I didn’t want to acknowledge.” But, um….no. I didn’t have a problem with the advice not to continue pursuing or making excuses for a man who is not returning phone calls or asking you out when they’re clearly not interested. That, I got. Hell, I had given a lot of my guy friends the same advice! I have male friends who have sent e-mails back and forth with a girl, the girl would continually find reasons not to go out, and they’d continue in pursuit convinced she was “playing hard to get”. Eventually, I’d say “You know what? If a girl is interested, she will go out with you. I don’t care that she has work the next day. I don’t care that her favorite TV show is on. I don’t care that she has a paper to write. She will make time.”
So, I agreed with the basic message. It was something I knew without needing a book to teach it to me. “Letting Someone Down Easy” with an excuse is something boys and girls learn in the beginning of their dating lives. Yet there was something else about this book that upset me fundamentally. There was something about this book that felt like nails on a chalkboard and made me want to punch cute kittens in the face. When I heard that a movie version of the book was being released, all the old irrational anger resurfaced. Why do I hate this book so much? I thought. Why does the very thought of this movie being made make me want to start hitting things?
Now that the film release of He’s Just Not That Into You is upon us, I think I’ve put my finger on it:
I’m Just Not Into Marriage As the Be-All, End-All
The underlying attitude of every piece of advice in this book is that if a relationship isn’t leading to marriage, it’s a waste of time. And that’s what rubs me the wrong way. Marriage has become the thing that women want almost at the expense of the person they’re marrying. So many women want the wedding so badly, they forget that there’s a person attached to the arm holding out the box with the ring in it. Men become “marriage material.” Think about it. Marriage material – the stuff from which you can create a solid marriage. Not a best friend, not an amazing lover, but material. So not only does this book smack of faux-feminism – women should be chased and get the men they deserve because they’re worth it, but are still only as valuable as the men they can attract – but men are objectified, too. People stop being people and start being commodities, and all the while women are told to stop spending time with men who “won’t commit,” (Commit to what? To spending regular time together and having fun?) because they have to keep their eyes on the prize, and the prize is….marriage.
Behrendt would probably say it has to do with nature. In response to women thinking about asking their crush out, he says “Some traditions are born of nature and last through time for a reason.” I beg to differ.
Today’s norms and social mores having to do with courtship or marriage have nothing to do with nature and everything to do with economics. Guys paying for dates to show they can provide for a woman? Economics. Men chasing women to assert that they are “hunters”? Economics. Women racing to get married by a certain time to ensure that they can have children? Yes, even that has to do with economics. Life will find a way, and the human race will reproduce one way or another…so, why is it so important that a woman be married to a child’s father? Once human beings began creating villages, towns, cities, countries, civilizations, both an economic system and a patriarchal society developed. Having children became the way to ensure a family’s social and economic status. Marrying a virgin of child-bearing age became a priority, because having a child with a virgin ensured that property would be passed down through a reliable lineage that no other man could lay claim to. A woman getting married and having a child ensured that both she and her child would be well cared for. Yet, feelings, desires, indeed anything that would constitute nature, weren’t serious considerations. At best, love was icing on the economically-driven cake.
Now, let’s have a look at nature. We always think of nature in terms of hunters and gatherers, and when we translate this to discuss human beings, we have the rigid view of men being the hunters and women being the gatherers. What about lions? Lionesses are the ones that go out and hunt and bring food back to the pride. What about wolves? Male and female wolves hunt side by side and either female or male subordinate wolves can stay behind to watch over cubs. The same goes for primates, our closest relatives in the wild. Then there’s the fact that in nature, it is the males who have colorful plumage and need to be attractive to the females as they wait for them to call. (Explain to me why I need to put on make up and wear heels again?)
Marriage has nothing to do with nature. Yet today, women kill themselves in pursuit of it and are made to feel like they are “wasting their time” if they don’t obtain it immediately. Is a 10 year relationship in which the couple isn’t married, but lives together, sharing their lives (and possibly children), being there for each other day in and day out more of a waste of time than a two year marriage? Is a solid, 2-year relationship that peters out naturally as the two people decide they don’t want to be together anymore a bigger waste of time than a 20-year marriage that was rushed into because a woman’s biological clock was ticking only for her to discover that she didn’t really want to share her life with this man at all?
Every relationship is valuable. Every relationship has something to offer and teach us, but we’ve come to spend so much time focusing on the end goal that we don’t see what’s right in front of us: an amazing friendship, companionship, wonderful sex, having someone to whom we are important, and vice-versa. Whether it lasts a year, or fifty years; whether there’s a piece of paper saying that you are legally wed, or you spend those fifty years together simply because you never stopped wanting to, it’s a treasure. Books like He’s Just Not That Into You have us goal-oriented to the point of our own detriment.
Books and films like this have also acted to sabotage women in pursuit of the very things they advocate. Several guys I’ve begun relationships with end them, because they’re not in the “headspace” to date seriously and they don’t want to “waste my time.” I call this “Pre-Emptive Commitment Phobia.” They’re so afraid that a woman will be upset at them for not wanting to commit to a “serious” relationship, that they end it before it has a chance to begin. Meanwhile, I don’t care about ending up together forever! I was perfectly willing to just spend time together for a while, get to know each other, and have some fun. And this isn’t just limited to heterosexual couples! I have gay and lesbian friends who have had the same pre-emptive commitment phobia affect their relationships, and they can’t even legally marry everywhere! Now, we’re deprived of companionship because a couple of stupid books and films have society convinced that everyone, deep-down, wants each relationship to be the relationship that leads to marriage, and that anything else is failure. They don’t, and it isn’t.
I’m Just Not Into the Never-Ending Economic Cycle
The ultimate proof that marriage has more to do with economics than nature is the fact that a book like He’s Just Not That Into You even exists. I never feel as lonely, or as bad about being single as I do when I’m in a group of people talking about relationships. As I go about my day to day life, I’m not agonizing over the boyfriend I don’t have, or the kids I’d better think about popping out soon. I’m thinking about my life. Now.
Then, I get together with a group of friends and we start spouting the very things found in these books or films, and suddenly I’m neurotic about what I should be wanting. Is there something wrong with me? Maybe I DO need to hurry up and find someone! Maybe I SHOULDN’T be wasting my time. Maybe I need to take this more SERIOUSLY. Suddenly, there is unhappiness and agitation where there wasn’t any before. Suddenly, I’m neurotic. Not because I feel lonely or lacking, but because I’m freaked out by other people being so worried about me and my future. Surely, there must be something to it. Otherwise people wouldn’t be saying all this!
Yet, all there is to it is books and films like these. Books and films that showcase a single path toward happiness, make people feel inadequate if they aren’t on that path, and offer methods of “self-help” in order to help them get on it. Methods one has to buy.
BOOKS LIKE THESE MAKE PEOPLE NEED BOOKS LIKE THESE!
Not to mention the fact that the wedding industry is a huge racket even people on a modest budget feel compelled to take part in. When women hear that a female friend of theirs has gotten engaged, we’re trained to ask “Let me see the ring!” first. As if the ring’s size or stone were the true determinants of whether or not this guy and this wedding is a good idea. Even the least expensive bridal gowns cost several hundred dollars. Whether you rent a venue, or have your wedding in your backyard, there are still catering, flowers, photographs, and music to be considered. That’s without factoring in a bridal party, for whom things need to be purchased. The wedding business is a multi-billion dollar industry. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that society fights so hard to make weddings important. A lot of people would be unemployed if they weren’t. There would also be significantly fewer books sold.
Believe It Or Not, I AM Into Marriage
I think it might be time to reconsider exactly what marriage means.
I’ll save my feelings about gay marriage, polygyny, and polyandry for another time (though my thinking about and mentioning them at all should give you an indication of how I feel about them), but we have a 50% divorce rate these days for a reason. I think a large part of it is that we live at a time when we’ve learned to be truer to our individual selves. We’ve come to expect a certain level of personal happiness in addition to wanting to care for the greater good. However, we bring that desire for personal happiness into a firmly-established institution that is primarily concerned with economics. Is it any wonder, then, that money is the largest cause of discord in most marriages? Fights over who paid for what, who is providing for whom? People are taught to marry by a certain time and are taught to take finances into consideration, but they aren’t taught that it’s acceptable to wait until you find someone who truly makes you happy. Marriage as it is now is about contributing to society, not about two people connecting to each other. It’s about what you should want, and not about what you might actually want. If people actually do connect, they’re lucky.
Despite all that, I would like to be married someday. There are several couples in my life that make marriage look good and whose marriages, if I ever find someone I want to marry, I’d want to emulate. There is something beautiful to me about choosing someone forever, promising them that you will be there for them no matter what, and knowing that they offer you the same in return. I understand the impulse not only to want to make that promise to each other, but share the power of that promise with your loved ones. I’m not someone who is sour on the entire institution. I just think that the institution should evolve as much as human beings have.
I want marriage, but I don’t need marriage. There’s a difference.
So, I won’t be seeing He’s Just Not That Into You. I never bought (or bought into) the book, and I don’t want to be disappointed by the sight of actresses I enjoy and respect enacting that tripe. It’s a shame, then, that one of my favorite songs of the moment is Beyonce’s Single Ladies:
If you liked it, then you should’ve put a ring on it
If you liked it then you should’ve put a ring on it….
DAMMIT, that song is catchy! Ah well. I downloaded it illegally, so I didn’t pay money for it. Sorry, Beyonce. If you want to pay for a great song that has a truly positive message about relationships, check out Kate Nash’s Merry Happy:
Chatting on the phone
can’t take back those hours
but I won’t regret
’cause you can grow flowers
from where dirt used to be
And more importantly:
I can be alone, yeah
I can watch a sunset on my own
I can be alone, yeah
I can watch a sunset on my own
I can be alone…
Her album, I plan on buying.