You Deserve a Phone Call

All week long they were streaming in, frantic and hopeful, rushing up to bookstore counters across the city, only to

All week long they were streaming in, frantic and hopeful, rushing up to bookstore counters across the city, only to have their dreams dashed by the words “sold out.” Booksellers were overwhelmed last week by women searching for He’s Just Not That Into You, a slim, pinkish hardcover with an ominous-looking answering machine on the front jacket with a big, fat “0” in the message window. The book purports to be “The No-Excuses Truth to Understanding Guys,” and the truth can pretty much be summed up as: The man you’re dating doesn’t give a crap about you, so move on and stop trying to figure out what neurotic secret or unconscious fear is preventing him from covering your bed with rose petals. The book says there is no neurotic secret, except the one that women are telling themselves.

Chapter headings are along the lines of “He’s Just Not That Into You If He’s Not Asking You Out,” ” … If He’s Not Calling You,” ” … If He’s Not Having Sex With You,” ” … If He’s Having Sex With Someone Else,” ” … If He Only Wants To See You When He’s Drunk,” and so on. (Not to mention the helpful “He’s Just Not That Into You If He’s Breaking Up With You.”)

The book is ranked No. 1 on Amazon with a two-week waiting list, and it has plugged into a matrix of female angst and insecurity about the opposite sex. Moreover, the very fact that the book is impossible to find has, of course, made women want it all the more, like a Murakami handbag or, well, an unavailable man.

The book’s tough-love authors—Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo, both of whom worked on HBO’s Sex and the City —were featured on Oprah on Sept. 22, which catapulted the book from “selling very well,” in the words of the publisher, to causing a nationwide inventory-meltdown.

Bookstore employees from the big chains and independents such as Coliseum and BookCourt acknowledged that as soon as Ms. Winfrey flashes a book jacket on her show, women start calling to put it on hold—but they said the frenzy over this one was different.

“I can’t even remember what it’s called,” said an elderly male bookseller at the Park Avenue Borders, after the umpteenth female had approached him with pleading eyes. “They just keep asking for it. It’s giving me a headache.”

“They’re still coming in,” said an exhausted clerk at the Union Square Barnes and Noble, several days after the Oprah episode had aired. “It’s mostly young women, age 25 to 35. They don’t even know the name. They just come running in and say, ‘Do you have that He’s- whatever book?’ I almost want to tell them, ‘Look, all you need to know is the title.’”

Jill Warz, a curvy, blond 23-year-old, had plunged optimistically into the Barnes and Noble at Union Square last Saturday after hearing about the book on the Oprah previews.

“The title makes so much sense!” she said mournfully, after receiving word that He’s Just Not That Into You was sold out throughout Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens and wouldn’t be restocked until the following week. “We’ve been saying this to our friends for years, but we don’t want to believe it ourselves. It’s always different when it’s us. But it’s so true! ‘If he liked you, he would have called you.’

“It saves the petty dating—the girls pining for these guys who aren’t available. Which means it’s probably for me,” continued Ms. Warz. “My friend was dating this guy for three months. Then he just stopped calling. We made excuses; we said, ‘Maybe he’s just scared, or maybe he’s freaked out because his previous girlfriend had the same name as you ….’ But that wasn’t it.”

Did Ms. Warz have any stories of her own?

“I could tell my Australia story,” she said. “There are so many. They always leave. We go through this on a regular basis.”

The book is written mostly in Mr. Behrendt’s voice, which belongs to the growing trend of male writers who are outwardly straight (Mr. Behrendt, who lives in L.A., has a wife and daughter) but write in a sassy, catty mode that would make Quentin Crisp shudder. Throughout the book, Ms. Tuccillo, who is single and lives in New York, chimes in with the female point of view. The money line—”He’s just not that into you”—was coined by Mr. Behrendt during a Sex and the City story meeting and made its way into an episode of the show.

“You are all dating the same guy,” Mr. Behrendt and Ms. Tuccillo write early on in the book. “He’s that guy that’s so tired from work, so stressed about the project he’s working on. He’s just been through an awful breakup and it’s really hitting him hard. His parents’ divorce has scarred him and he has trust issues. Right now he has to focus on his career. He can’t get involved with anyone until he knows what his life is about …. He is a man made up entirely of your excuses.” By this point, just about every woman who has ever encountered the more brutish sex will be blushing ever so slightly.

“Are there men who are too busy or have been through something so horrible that makes it hard for them to get involved? Yes, but there are so few of them that they should be considered urban legends,” the book continues. “For as already suggested, a man would rather be trampled by elephants that are on fire than say that he’s just not that into you. That’s why we’ve written this book. We wanted to get the excuses out of the closet, so to speak.”

Mr. Behrendt goes on to respond to a series of “Dear Greg” letters from fictitious women outlining their relationship dilemmas (men who don’t call often, who don’t want to get married, who seem to need endless coaxing and patience). Mr. Behrendt writes things like, “The word ‘busy’ is a load of crap and is most often used by assholes,” “100% of guys polled said ‘a fear of intimacy’ has never stopped them from getting into a relationship” and “You deserve a fucking phone call.”

It’s hard to deny that the book has a disturbingly regressive quality to it—not just the quaint “Dear Abby” format, cutesy curly script and giant exclamation points, but also the advice given, which could be boiled down to: play hard to get, never initiate anything, never call a man, don’t put out and punish him if he misbehaves. It brings back memories, of course, of that man-trapping bestseller of 1996, The Rules: Time-Tested Secrets of Capturing the Heart of Mr. Right, written by (the now-divorced) Ellen Fein and her co-writer, Sherrie Schneider. The earlier book presented 1950’s-era wisdom as a means to finding a man; the 2004 version uses it to help weed out the duds.

Dr. Virginia Sadock, a clinical professor of psychiatry and the director of the human-sexuality program at the New York University Medical Center, acknowledged that the authors might be onto something, even if their credentials don’t particularly qualify them for doling out relationship advice.

“Nothing’s 100 percent,” said Dr. Sadock. “Some people are shy; some people call up again later on. However, to keep hoping for, or waiting for, or chasing after, somebody who’s giving you enough ‘no’ signals is not a very good idea for a woman. It happens to be a better idea for a man. Women do respond to persistence frequently, even if they don’t initially. Men don’t. I have no idea why, but that’s the way it is. My guess is that reliability is very important to women, and it’s one of the ways a man is proving that ‘I really do care about you, I really am interested in you, you can count on me.’”

“I was getting a massage last week, and the masseuse told me that a lot of the women in New York seem totally consumed with trying to get a man,” said Maggie Dowd, a 24-year-old investment banker who was sunning herself in Central Park recently, copies of People and Us Weekly scattered around her. “I don’t really read this type of book, but I want to read [ He’s Just Not That Into You]. I like that it’s written by a man.”

“It would be a good coffee-table book or commuting book,” said her friend, Maggie Maus, also 24. “Oh, we’ve had great luck with men! I’m being painfully sarcastic here …. I think girls make excuses for guys who treat them badly. Although if it’s too easy for the girl—like if a guy calls too much—that can be a turnoff, too.”

“I would never initiate contact with a man—but talk to me again when I’m 35 and more desperate,” said Ms. Dowd.

“I don’t feel like it’s the first book of its kind,” said Jessica Edwards, a pretty blond 24-year-old who was reading in another corner of the park. Her cute, dark-haired friend Amanda had only caught a few minutes of the Oprah episode in question (the show is rebroadcast nightly at 1 a.m.), but they’d been hearing the “He’s just not that into you” phrase floating around and had even witnessed a woman shouting it into her cell phone that same afternoon.

“I mean, how many girls are still justifying breakups?” said Amanda.

“It’s always this: What are guys thinking? What should we do?” said Ms. Edwards. “I mean, should we give this book to Laura? At this point, we are directly telling Laura: ‘He is not into you.’ He just doesn’t really call her. I mean, in the beginning we thought that maybe it was something, that he was just slow. When he didn’t call her, we’d say, `Oh, it’s not serious, he’s just busy …. ’”

“I think it’s over now,” said Amanda. “We found out he takes other girls to dinner, but he never took Laura to dinner. With her, it was just a bar thing.”

“Obviously, if someone only calls you once a year when they’re wasted, he’s not that into you,” said Amanda.

“When I first started dating my boyfriend, we had become friends,” said Ms. Edwards. “We went golfing one day, and after he dropped me off, I decided I desperately wanted to go to dinner with him. I called him four times! I kept leaving messages. I was crazy! I mean, I will call people.”

“She’s a caller,” said Amanda.

“I will call you 100 times,” said Ms. Edwards. “If you want to see him, call him. I’m not advocating my behavior; I think it’s a little overboard. But if he likes you, don’t you think he wants to hear from you? Those kinds of rules are stupid.”

Just then, two bare-chested men in jeans appeared on the horizon with a Frisbee.

“Oh! Cute boys over there!” said Ms. Edwards.

—Sheelah Kolhatkar


The latest fad in Williamsburg is hair-burning. Instead of cutting their locks with scissors, young hipsters set their hair on fire. “It’s much safer than it sounds,” explained my friend Raymond, who lives right on Bedford Avenue. Hair-burning is done over a sink, with a pitcher of water handy. “The worst part is the smell, actually,” Raymond averred, “but a vinegar rinse removes it.”

Whether one burns a few curls or the whole head of hair, the effect is striking. The ’dos I’ve seen range from Rod Stewart–y to Annie Lennox–ish, but more raw.

“There have been a few mishaps,” Raymond admitted. “If you try it, be careful. For example, blond hair burns extremely fast!”


The Dark Truth

On Cynthia Nixon

Can’t a woman lick a little pussy in this town without creating an uproar?

It’s O.K. to Punch These People in The Face

1. Anyone who talks about the Yankees–Red Sox game for more than five seconds.

2. Cinematographers.

3. The guy at work who keeps telling you to “check out” Fresh Direct.

4. iPod customizers.

5. Andy Borowitz.

You Deserve a Phone Call