Zero Calls, And One Cruel Answer
Why Men Don't Phone: It's Not Him, It's You
By Roxanne Roberts
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 23, 2004; Page C01
It was a great date. He promised to call. He never called.
The average single woman will stare at the phone, willing it to ring. A long
list of possibilities noisily circle through her brain, like a hamster on an
exercise wheel: He lost my number. He's really busy. He's intimidated. I
talked too much. I drank too much. I slept with him. I didn't sleep with him. Ei-yi-yi
. . .
Blair Underwood and Cynthia Nixon in a
scene from "Sex and the City." Author Greg
Behrendt served as a consultant on HBO's hit show before
writing "He's Just Not That Into You." (Craig
Blankenhorn -- HBO Via AP)
No, no, no. None of the above. The answer, according to author Greg Behrendt,
is that he's not really interested. Doesn't matter why. No ego-soothing
platitudes. No pop psychology. No cute relationship tricks. He's just not
that into you. The truth will set you free, but first it will make you
The tough talk is tough love for women from Behrendt, who strips away all the
excuses for men (why he didn't call, isn't faithful, disappears, won't commit,
etc., etc.) in the new book, "He's Just Not That Into You: The No-Excuses
Truth to Understanding Guys," so that women will stop wasting their time on
the wrong guy.
The Los Angeles comedian was a bachelor for two decades before settling down. By
his own admission, he was guilty of plenty of bad dating behavior -- which made
him a perfect consultant to the hit HBO series "Sex and the City." For
the last three seasons, Behrendt advised the show's all-female writing staff and
Executive Producer Michael Patrick King, who is gay. Behrendt sat in on
scriptwriting sessions a couple of times a week, providing the "straight
"The biggest lie of all is 'It's not you' -- because you are the person I'm
in the relationship with. The truth is, 'It is you, and I'm not into
you,' " says Behrendt, 41, now a happily married father of a 2-year-old
About 18 months ago, Behrendt listened to the female writers ("All sharp,
all attractive, couldn't have more going for themselves," he says) discuss
a guy who had gone out with one of them, kissed her, then declined to come up to
her apartment because he had an early meeting. No call the next day, but he sent
an e-mail a week later.
The women all reassured her that she was fabulous and that he must be scared or
really busy. She asked Behrendt to weigh in. He knew no morning meeting will
keep an attracted man from a midnight mambo. "My first thought was, 'I
don't care if I'm flying the space shuttle tomorrow, I'm coming up.' "
He broke the news: The guy wasn't into her.
The writers gasped. "We were horrified," remembers Liz Tuccillo.
"It was like we were all punched in the stomach. Then we started
laughing." The cruel reality descended on the room. Each woman grilled
Behrendt about her own relationship, and each time he shot down all the
sympathetic excuses. The bottom line: If these men were truly interested, they
would call, be faithful, commit, and more. It was just common sense to him, but
a revelation -- like cracking an ancient, secret code -- to the women.
"He's just not that into you" was written in a sixth season script of
the show, the blunt answer to Miranda when she puzzled over the baffling
behavior of her new beau. But Tuccillo (never married and 41 years old) was so
taken with the idea that she also decided to write a book with Behrendt
detailing the many variations of "JNTIY" in relationships. "I had
so many years and years of making excuses for men," she says. Writing the
book with Behrendt forced her to break decades of bad habits.
To wit: While working on the manuscript, Tuccillo mentioned that a new guy
promised to call over the weekend. "It was Sunday night, and he hadn't
called. I was bummed out. On Monday night, he calls and I'm overjoyed. I tell
Greg, 'That guy called. I'm so happy.' And Greg's reaction was, 'But he didn't
call you when he said he was going to.' "
Tuccillo was annoyed -- at Behrendt. "You are such a drag, Greg," she
told him. "Give me a break. He was off by 24 hours." But ultimately,
Behrendt was right. "He's the big brother you wish you had. He's demanding
these men treat you the way you should be treated."
There's plenty of dating advice, God knows, and most of it is for women trying
to deconstruct the hearts of men. The premise, of course, is that men are
complicated, emotionally stunted creatures incapable of direct action. And so
women spend years obsessing with understanding girlfriends, wildly hoping that
deep down he's really in love and wants to be with them.
Even if he doesn't pick up the phone. Oh, wait -- even if he can't reach into
his pocket and dial his cell phone, which is otherwise glued to his adorable
ear. When you Google "Why didn't he call?" you get more than 1,500
hits in this vein:
"I went out on a date about two weeks ago with a guy who seemed EXTREMELY
interested in me and I in him. We had a great time and he wasn't afraid to
express to me what a great time he was having. . . . I was 100% when he said
good night and what a great time he had and that he would definitely call."
He didn't, of course, and about a week later the heartsick writer ran into him.
He said he had lost her number, and asked for it again. And then he (duh!)
didn't call. She was utterly baffled. People always want to know, "What
happened?" Nothing happened, says Nancy Kirsch, senior vice president of
It's Just Lunch international dating service. "Ultimately, chemistry is
impossible to predict. That's what it boils down to."
Sometimes, she has to break it gently to clients. "I hate to think that
someone thinks they did something wrong or something not right enough on a date.
That's just not the case." But women, she says, are much more prone to
second-guessing than men. "We want to try to figure it out. We want to fix
it." And they so want to believe men are telling the truth.
Behrendt believes men would rather chew off their arms than admit the truth. Why
do they lie? Not just lie, but kiss and compliment and generally mess with
women's heads rather than say, "I'm just not that into you"? He thinks
it's fear of confrontation. "I can't even tell you why. Men are afraid of
women being upset or yelling. In a fight with a guy, you know what it is: It
gets verbal, then it gets physical. With a women, you don't know where it's
going to go, and you know it can't and shouldn't get physical."
Relationship correspondent Jon Platner weighs the pros and cons of honesty in a
column on AskMen.com called How to Reject the Girl You Don't Want. He concludes
that honesty can make women defensive and confrontational. "She may also
ask you countless questions about what she did wrong, a situation you definitely
don't want to be stuck in," he writes. He prefers Option 2: Give her
gradual hints such as stop returning her calls, saying you just got out of a
relationship and are hesitant to leap into another one, or are too busy with
your career. Platner's strategy is that the woman will give up: "This is
ideal because it ends the relationship without you having to outright reject
her. But even if she's slow to get the hint and it still comes down to you
spelling it out, at least you will have softened the blow."
So it's better to lie? Or not call? Or just disappear? Well, yeah.
Behrendt admits he was one of those guys. He doesn't remember cheating on
girlfriends, but "other than that, you can mark me down as all of
them." That is, until he met his wife, Amiira, six years ago. He was
really, really into her from the very start.
"It was like being brought up from the minors to the majors," he says.
"She was just 'it.' I was able to envision a future with her almost
immediately." He says he worked hard to make Amiira part of his life: She
operated at a certain level, and he had to step up to that level. "I really
had to be a better man, all the way around, to be with her," he says.
"Other women in other relationships would suggest changes that I wasn't
willing to make."
When a guy is truly interested in a woman, he pursues her. That's the way it's
always been, he says, and equality hasn't changed it. And so Behrendt strips
away the excuses:
If a man is into you, he'll ask you out. (In fact, Behrendt believes no woman
should ask out a man who hasn't asked her out first.) He will call, no matter
now busy, because you'll be a bright spot in his day. He will want to have sex
with you, and will stop having sex with other women. He will want to be with you
when he's sober, not just to party. If he's really, really into you he'll want
to marry you. He's not into you if he's breaking up with you, or disappearing
with no explanation, or married to someone else, or abusive.
There are exceptions to every rule, he says, but he really wants you to ignore
them. You might be wonderful, but many wonderful women are in relationships with
men who don't call, don't bother, don't care. It's wiser, he says, to assume the
worst: You're the rule. He's not that into you, so get out and find someone who
"I'm hoping this starts a revolution that gets everyone to step up and
behave better," he says. "I want women to honor themselves, and I want
men to honor women."
Unlike Carrie, Tuccillo hasn't found her Mr. Big. "I'd love to say I met
the man of my dreams and he treats me like a queen -- but that's not the
case," she says. ". . . Obviously, I still feel bad if a guy rejects
me, but the hours I spent agonizing and strategizing and trying to figure them
out are gone. You can't help but feel stronger and more confident when that's
out of your life."