After a magical first date, Susan was so sure that she would hear from Stephen again that she even boasted to friends that she'd met "the one."
Two agonizing weeks later, she was shocked that she never did.
"Maybe he got back together with his ex," one friend piped in. "Maybe he was too intimidated by you," another said. "Maybe you should call him," offered another. "Maybe he's gay," suggested yet another.
Or maybe ... he's just not that into you. Sure, these words sound harsh, but according to a best-selling new dating book, these six words can save women like Susan from a lifetime of heartache and stress.
Ever since talk show host Oprah Winfrey featured the book, He's Just Not That Into You, on an episode of the Oprah show, it's been flying off of book shelves and racing up the best-seller list. Its contents are discussed by single women and their dating friends everywhere. Written by former Sex and the City writer Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo, this book debunks many of the myths that women create about men and dating.
The bottom line is that men are not complicated and there are no mixed messages. If he doesn't ask you out, call you soon after a date, or want to come inside with you after a date, then he's just not that into you.
This new catchphrase actually started on an episode of Sex and the City when Miranda (played by actress Cynthia Nixon) tells her friends that her latest crush ended their last date with two kisses at her door but declined an invitation inside. His reason: He said he had an early morning appointment. Reasonable, said her friends, but then the only male at the table said ... "He's just not that into you."
The Truth Shall Set You Free?
"Coming up with reasons that he might not have called that are not critical of you is a natural defense mechanism," says New York City psychoanalyst Gail Saltz, MD, author of Becoming Real: Defeating the Stories We Tell Ourselves That Hold Us Back.
Such defenses serve a positive and a negative function, she says. "They can keep us from being overwhelmed by negative emotions, but if you are always in denial and your head is in the sand, that's not useful either because it keeps you holding onto a relationship where there is none," she tells WebMD.
"Hearing the words 'he's not that into you' are painful because it's like 'what's wrong with me?'" she says. But, Saltz notes, it's not always that simple. "Sometimes there is something going on that is not about you," she says. "The possibilities are endless and this book is popular because usually we don't like to talk about the possibility that you are not the one."
The growth and popularity of Internet dating services may have fueled the need for such advice.
"The Internet and the emailing that goes on before the first date creates the illusion that you know the person and when they don't call you back, it seems more mystifying, but you really don't know each other at all," Saltz says.
People in Glass Houses Shouldn't Throw Stones
Friends create, analyze, and reinforce the excuses and reasons that women come up with because it could just as easily be them with this dating dilemma. "Everyone identifies with the victim, so to speak, and hopes that when they are in these same shoes, their friends can also think of reasons that he has not called," she says.
But "if you have a friend who can't see the writing on the wall and as a result they are not out looking for next Mr. Right then [being honest] would be doing the person a favor," she says.
"It's all a matter of degree and there are also ways to wake someone up, but spare their feelings," she says. "Try saying 'you are terrific, he doesn't t know what he is missing,' because there are ways to be supportive, but still make it clear that they are hanging on to a pipe dream."
'He's Just Not That Into You' Excuses
Making excuses can be counterproductive outside of the dating world as well, she says.
"Hopefully your spouse should be able to say to you, 'I feel like we need to be having sex more often' without you saying, 'Of course, he wants more sex. He always wants sex. He is a sex maniac!'" she says. "You need to be able to hear the other person, consider what they are saying, and look at what you are doing to grow, change, and compromise," she says.
Or "if your boss is trying to tell you that you are not doing a good job and you walk around saying 'he has a problem' or 'she just doesn't like men,' it's not productive," she says. "You need to be able to hear criticism, obviously if it is constructive criticism, that's better."
Men's Take on Dating
"I can understand why women feel empowered by this book," says Terrence Real, founder of the Relational Recovery Institute in Cambridge, Mass., and author of several books on male emotional health including, How Can I get Through to You: Closing the Intimacy Gap Between Men and Women.
"The book is implicitly teaching women to have good psychological boundaries, meaning that if he's just not that into you, it's not your problem, it's his and you need to deal with the fact that for whatever the reason this guy is not interested in a relationship with you," he says.
"If you are on your hands and knees with a magnifying glass looking for a needle in a haystack as to why he stopped pursuing you, you're nuts. It just didn't click, which is fine," Real says. "Maybe he doesn't like redheads or maybe you have a broad face like his mother or maybe you don't have a broad face like his mother."
It may be an intimacy issue on his part, Real says.
"The kind of guy that has trouble with intimacy is love-avoidant," he says. "A man who has been wounded in his childhood by family and culture and can't distinguish between being close to someone and being eaten up alive is love-avoidant, " Real says.
"If there is a history of enmeshment with one of the parents, often the mother, in which the man was used as a hero child, performer, confidant, or the baby, then the relationship with a parent was one in which the child was there to service the parent's needs, not the other way around," he says. "That's what they feel will happen to them and are basically intimacy-phobic."
But, he cautions, don't throw out the baby with the bath water. "If you spent the whole date talking about yourself or not talking about yourself or were excessive and extreme in another way and bet it was a real-turn off, look at it and do better next time."
Originally published Nov. 1, 2004.
Medically updated July 2006.