The Enablers

A month before I met the man I eventually married, I was seeing a guy I’ll call Flake. We met online, and in our first conversation I realized we had known each other as teenagers, which only heightened my excitement. After a few phone conversations, we made a dinner date. It was giddy and thrilling for both of us: Within minutes, we were staring at each other moony-eyed, and within a few more we were holding hands under the table. It ended with a long kiss on my stoop and his promise to call the next day.

So it came as something of a surprise that from there, things only went downhill. He called not the next day but three days later, and after that it seemed he never could stick to a plan. As I was beginning to lose hope, he invited me to spend the weekend with him in the country, but when we were in bed together (clothed), he said he wanted to take things slowly. When we got back to the city, he asked me to split the cost of the rental car.

A few days before our next date, he called to say he’d thrown his back out and could either postpone or come on Vicodin. Increasingly at bay, I chose the Vicodin. We sat at an outdoor café on Smith Street, and I was my witty self while he drooled at me for all the wrong reasons. He wound up losing my cell-phone number twice, and finally left the country for two months without calling to say good-bye.

Whether he was a commitment-phobe, had an STD, was seeing someone else, or thought I came on too strong, I’ll never know. But when I remember all the hours I spent dissecting him with friends and sobbing alone, I want to kick myself in the mouth with a pair of cleats. How could I have been moronic enough to think a relationship that began with a string of mini-abandonments and crossed wires would end under a chuppah?

The answer to that is probably longer than Roots, but it was something I was thinking about as I read the best-selling self-help book He’s Just Not That Into You, which urges women to dump guys as soon as they start acting wishy-washy. The book, by Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo, a consultant and writer on Sex and the City, flew off the shelves after the authors appeared on Oprah; there are now over 1.2 million copies in print.

If The Rules was a guide to getting a man, any man, HJNTIY is a guide to ditching a jerk, which may say something about today’s dating climate. The distressing chapter titles—“He’s Just Not That Into You If He’s Not Calling You,” “He’s Just Not That Into You If He’s Having Sex With Someone Else,” “He’s Just Not That Into You If He’s Breaking Up With You”—read as a series of warning billboards for mothers of single women who worry their kids are making bad choices.

So why has this book taken off? Is it all the fault of distant fathers? Are today’s single guys hopelessly insensitive cads, or are single women entering an era of such catastrophically low self-esteem that they have no ability to call a spade a spade? Or is it just the SATC brand name?

The dads might have something to do with it, and there wouldn’t be a market for a book like this if there weren’t guys who sent mixed messages, or women who didn’t respect themselves enough to give a guy the boot. But—and this is not to let the men off the hook—I think that, when it comes right down to it, the real blame goes to the female friends.

When I was (not) dating Flake, I spent a lot of time with a new friend I’ll call Enabler. I’d go over to her apartment, sit on the couch, and do the Desolate Single Girl Monologue: “He said he’d call on Wednesday, but now it’s Thursday morning, so do I call before noon or wait until after he’s left work?” Instead of telling me I needed serious therapy or that I was no longer welcome in her apartment, she indulged me. She strategized with me, made excuses for him, told me nothing was wrong, and called to ask for updates. And I lapped it up. Even when I said “I’m probably boring you,” she never kicked me out the door. This is not to say I wasn’t complicit in my own pathetic behavior, but that maybe some tough love would have helped me give up a little sooner.

Some confidantes think they’re being kind: They stay tight-lipped out of a fear of causing a friend pain. But usually the confidante bites her tongue for a much more selfish reason: She tries speaking the truth, and then the piner gets defensive and mean. Worried she might lose a friend, the confidante opts for silence, or, worse, appeasement. So perhaps what Behrendt and Tuccillo are providing, more than useful advice, is a straw man. No longer do women have to risk losing friends over dating arguments. They can just give them the book and say, “You might get something out of this.” If, in fact, it sparks a mini-revolution, it will be because of all the women giving it to friends as gifts, not the ones buying it for themselves.

Still, there’s something sad about the fact that Sex and the City spawned a bestselling single-girl self-help book, even a smart one. If the series was about anything, it was about finding your own way in matters of the heart. Had a fictitious guru written a book like this on the show, I can only imagine the four girls watching the Oprah episode, laughing their butts off, guzzling their big, pink drinks.

The Enablers