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The New Rules

Where He's Not Just That Into You gets it right--and where it's as warped as any other Trixie dating handbook.

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When you turn to your friends for relationship advice, who really wants to hear the cold hard truth? I know I don't--I want to be reassured of my sex appeal and supported in the pursuit of whatever or whoever I'm after. According to Sex and the City consultant Greg Behrendt and executive story editor Liz Tuccillo, authors of the newish book He's Just Not That Into You, this means I've got my head up my ass.

The book, now in its 13th printing, is number one on the New York Times hardcover-advice best-seller list, and it's already been featured on Oprah twice. It's written in he-said-she-said style: Behrendt dispenses tough love to women with familiar relationship woes and Tuccillo follows up with been-there stories and affirmations. It's not us, it's them, she's there to say, but it's still time to move on.

On Thursday, December 16, they hosted an event in Nordstrom's ladies' department. Young guys in black served appletinis, water with lime wedges, and white wine; another catering employee tended a hot chocolate and creme de menthe bar where you could top off your drink with whipped cream, cinnamon sticks, marshmallows, or mint leaves. Female employees wore specially made T-shirts bearing the book's informal slogan, don't waste the pretty, with long strands of fake pearls and trendy tweed blazers. The shirts caused such a clamor that by the end of the evening the store was taking orders for them.

The book was free with a purchase of $150. "It's like one pair of Seven jeans," manager Greg Holland said before introducing Behrendt and Tuccillo. "Come on--forget about it!" When he commanded us to give them a warm Michigan Avenue welcome, they hustled out onto the platform wearing headsets and everyone went wild like it was an infomercial.

While he was working on Sex and the City, Behrendt told the crowd, the women he worked with "would talk about their love lives over and over again, and for the first couple years I was complicit." Secretly he'd be thinking, Done that, yeah, done that too. Finally he couldn't hold back any longer. When a coworker wondered aloud why a guy hadn't called after what she thought was a fabulous date, he told her, "He's just not that into you."

"Mayhem ensued," said Tuccillo. "Everyone was shrieking, screaming, and laughing." For the rest of the day they played Stump Greg, throwing him dating scenarios to evaluate as an honest male. "'You mean if a guy doesn't call it means he doesn't like you?'" said Tuccillo. "It seemed to be a completely revolutionary idea."

Stump Greg turned into a game the crew indulged in any time they had a break, and his catchphrase became the premise for an episode of the show. Behrendt and Tuccillo also wrote a screenplay for a whole movie, which they say will come out sometime in 2006.

Behrendt and Tuccillo opened up the floor at Nordstrom for questions and comments. A psychotherapist told them she thought the book was so brilliant she'd bought it for all her single friends and recommended it to half her clients. Another woman said she'd put it on her coffee table at home, where it scared her man into being good.

When I got home and finally read it, I felt sad and angry for all the time I've spent putting up with bullshit--the paltry excuses and outright lies I've interpreted as confusion, the mean-spirited jabs and full-on emotional abuse I've dismissed as insecurity--and embarrassed that it took a course in remedial pop culture to show me the light. Why do women spend so much time deciphering men's fucked-up behavior? We're not our grandmas, who often had no choice but to stay with their husbands because they couldn't support themselves in a man's world. "It's fantastically clarifying," Tuccillo said at Nordstrom. "Once you have Greg's voice in your head, you can't let it go."

But I have some issues with the proposed remedy. At the first sign of wrongdoing, for instance, we're supposed to put our panties back on and immediately purge his number from our cellies instead of waiting around for him to fuck up again. Which seems to me like the same mentality that wants to give all murderers the death penalty.

Behrendt and Tuccillo urge us to reset the standards, dating only guys who do what they say they're going to do, call as often as we want them to, are better than better than nothing, don't cheat, tell us they love us when they're sober, don't break up with us and come crawling back on a regular basis, don't need reminding that we're great, aren't already married, and don't yell. Sounds great. But we're also supposed to wait for them to call us and never, ever pursue them. Huh? Didn't I read something like that eight years ago in that prissy, unempowering, and out-of-touch book The Rules?

To Tuccillo's credit, this at least bothers her a little: "We're just supposed to put on our little dresses and do our hair and bat our eyes and hope they choose us," she writes. "Why don't you just tie my corset too tight so I can faint in front of some man who'll scoop me out of the way just before the horse-drawn carriage runs over me?" The hardest thing for women to do is nothing--we like to scheme and plan, she admits. But too bad for us, because men don't like that.

Jared, one of the few guys in the audience at Nordstrom, informed the authors that he disagreed. Behrendt told him he was just lazy. Being the aggressor "is about a man stepping up and not letting women do all the hard work," he said.

Later, Jared got in the autograph line right behind me. "Really," I said, "what are you doing here?" He told me he was getting a copy signed for his ex-girlfriend in Brazil, though he assured me he was way over her, explaining how he'd gone out of his way that day to check his e-mail at the Apple store downtown because he thought he might hear back from an amazing woman he'd gone out with the night before.

I asked what he thought of the book and he said it all seemed simple and obvious to him, or at least what he'd read so far. His friend Liz added, "It's nice [these women] can find some answers, but it doesn't apply to everything. They treat it like gospel."

Jared also poked fun at women who believe a man who says he can't be monogamous. "But I have respect for women," he said, then offered me his cell number. Too bad I learned in the first chapter that under no circumstances am I to call him.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Andrea Beno.

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