Decoding "He's Just Not That into You"
- Thursday, February 26, 2009
On a Friday night in early February I drove out to meet a girlfriend for a movie, bringing my teenage daughter Claire along for the event. Running late, we circled the parking lot like vultures until we finally found a space.
Why the unusual crowd, I wondered as we speed-walked to the front of the theater to buy tickets. When we rounded the corner, I stopped cold. A line of nearly 100 people stretched from the ticket window down the length of the sidewalk. The movie we had come to see had been out for a couple of weeks, so what was all the fuss about? It didn’t take long to find out. That night a new film was debuting, and I realized in one sweeping glance down the sidewalk that the buzz generated by the book of the same name had carried over to the box office. And why shouldn’t it? After all, we can’t get enough of trying to figure out the opposite sex. The movie’s title: He’s Just Not That into You.
Billed as the ultimate date movie, the film promised an entertaining two hours delving into the lives of contemporary singles struggling to find love—and often “getting rejected by seven different technologies” in the process, as one character (played by Drew Barrymore) laments. But the movie also looked upbeat, funny, a romantic comedy that all of us could relate to with wry humor. Certain we wouldn’t make our intended show, I texted my friend and told her Claire and I would have to opt for another movie—and we chose a later showing of the one everybody else had apparently come to see.
A few years ago I actually read the book He’s Just Not That into You by Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo at the urging of a friend. Considered a “tough love” manual for decoding guy behavior and speech, the book was helpful, if not always hopeful, and the trailer for the movie version hinted at a playful, tongue-in-cheek look at men's and women’s hits and misses in the dating game. Claire and I found seats and settled in for an enjoyable night at the movies, but as the story unfolded something very different happened. It started in the pit of my stomach, a slight nauseated feeling not unlike the sensation of having been punched in the gut and unable to catch your breath. As the characters loved and laughed and cried their way through complicated relationships, I sat frozen in my seat, trying not to process what I was feeling. But later that night, back at home, I allowed myself to put a name to my unusual reaction to the movie. I will call it simply familiarity.
In the film’s storyline, one of the hip male characters befriends a woman and gives her free advice on how to decode what men say and do to arrive at what they really mean—which, sad to say, is often the opposite. Repeatedly, the woman is dismayed to hear that so many of the casual and outwardly encouraging messages men send (like the notorious “Hey, I’ll give you a call sometime”) actually mean HE’S JUST NOT THAT INTO YOU. The irony is that the male character himself later misreads his own signals (breaking all his rules) and realizes he’s falling for someone.
The reason why this movie hit me so hard is because it sums up in one word what I find so patently wrong with our modern singles culture: namely, insincerity. Trying to read cues from the opposite sex for signs of interest is one thing, and probably as old as the human race, but outwardly saying one thing when you mean another is a form of deceit. No good thing can come of it, so I wonder: why do men and women do this so often? Men are often lauded for being up-front and meaning what they say, while women are considered the more subjective gender, layering their true intent in an onion-skin of hidden meanings. Yet ironically, in the movie, the whole premise is that men say and do one thing while really telling a woman “I’m just not that into you.” The women, in contrast, scramble to decode this male-speak with sometimes comical, sometimes heartbreaking results.
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