Friday, April 3, 2009

The Audacity of Hope

Hi there, I'm Hope. I can usually be found writing navel grazing posts about love (or you know, the lack thereof), relationships and singledom over at Hope Dies Last. When I asked Princess to suggest topics for my guest post she sent me a whole bunch. And I loved them all but as the day approached for me to send her my post, all the subjects I chose felt wrong. This was too depressing, that one was too boring, that one required a complete back story to understand.

Instead, I decided to write about a subject that is close to Princess’ heart.


That was far too broad. It needed to be narrowed. As I drummed my fingers on my desk, I remembered a very brave confession Princess had made recently.

I have not read any of the following: The Rules, He's Just not That Into You, anything by Dr. Phil, aka. the Devil, or, in fact, any self-help book ever. It is against my psychologist's pride

This post is in support of that one sentiment.

My background is in psychology; I have a Bachelor of Arts in Social Psychology and a Master of Science in Applied Psychology. I would have pursued a PhD was it not for the fact that I could not make up my mind about an area of research. That, plus you need to have cajones to continue studying for that length of time.

And I really don’t.

But I am also perpetually single. And like most perpetually single women in their 20s, my book shelf contains a number of books.

Why Men Love Bitches and the follow up to that Why Men Marry Bitches

He’s Just Not That Into You


I keep them as far away as my serious books as possible. Books like:

The Psychology of Criminal Conduct

Social Cognition

Abnormal Psychology

I keep them as far away as possible because my mind, trained to dissect every piece of research in order to find its weaknesses, wants to laugh at them. But my heart, my heart longs for simple answers, for tried and tested ways to find a man.

The thing is, though, that they haven’t been tried. And they haven’t been tested. Not in the psychological sense anyway. They haven’t been put through rigorous experiments. They don’t have control groups. They don’t account for individual differences. So how can they be generalized to the rest of the population?

Simple answer? They can’t.

These self-help books simply fill in a gap. They are almost like religions. There is no proof of God’s or Allah’s existence. Yet, millions and millions and millions of people believe. They believe because they need a simple answer that will comfort them.

And this is the same gap that titles of books like, “He’s Just Not That Into” fill.

Now they’re not all bad. In fact, overall, the message that they hold in their pages is something I can get on board with. In a nutshell, they all seem to be saying “Be who you are. Enjoy your life to its fullest. Be complete in yourself. Then? Love? It will come.”

It’s the details that I have a problem with. If he does not call within 4 days? He’s just not that into you. If he’s got a girlfriend? He’s just not that into you. Except we ALL know cases where he didn’t call within the allotted time and HE WAS INTO HER. We all know cases he did have a girlfriend. HE WAS INTO HER and it did work out.

It’s the comments that I get on my blog sometimes that irritate me. “Hope, you really need to read He’s Just Not That Into You. Because The Man Friend? HE’S JUST NOT THAT INTO YOU.”

I never reply to those comments. I don’t reply because I refuse to accept an argument that is based on an OVERHYPED book that has generalized human behavior into about 11 neat categories. Let’s not forget that the authors—Greg Berhendt and Liz Tuccillo—are American. I am not American. The men that I come into contact with are NOT American. There is such a thing as cultural differences, you know?

My point is that all those books should be taken with a very large grain (think mountain-size) of salt. People are different. Every situation is different. Sure, they have similarities and it’s probably NOT a good idea to expect a man with a girlfriend to be your soul mate, but what if he is?

Moreover, it’s like I once wrote on my own blog:

Perhaps, I do not pick up on those apparently obvious ‘he’s just not that into you’ signals. Perhaps, I choose to ignore them because of hope. Perhaps, I choose to ignore them because I am stubborn and proud. Because, why the hell should he not be into me?

So, my fellow Hijinkers, what do you think? Have you read these books? Do you like them? Dislike them? Have they helped you at all? Have I misunderstood them? Been too harsh? Lets talk about it.


Paula said...

I don't really "get" self-help books myself. Mainly because I can't take the advice in them seriously. The only one I have that's remotely "self-help-like" (although I doubt that's a word) is "The Rules" and I like that mainly as something to laugh at!

Great post though. :)

Hope said...

I haven't read The Rules but I'm always up for a laugh. I think that's the next one that will go on the hidden shelf on my bookcase! ;)

Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree with you more, particularly regarding the fact that these book are all located within a specific social cultural context. I would add 'eat pray love' to this genre of books. the thing that annoys me about these books (ok two things) is how very prescriptive that they are - as if there is only one way to be single or to be in love, or to feel love, and two, that these authors without anything at all to commend them, tell us, so very definitively, the "answers" - all for a healthy profit. I can't help thinking that there is something inherently exploitative about the "self help" genre. Great post Hope.

Princess of the Universe said...

I've read "He's Just Not that Into You" - it was actually pretty logical. But meh.

Like you, I have the same background, and I want to know what their control group was and what the p value was after they analyzed the data.

I did enjoy the movie though. That was good fun :)

Anonymous said...

I read He's Just Not That Into You. I was a fun and amusing read but I thought it to be overly simplistic--as if something as profound as love could be reduced to a mere set of rules.

I guess the only other self help type book I've read is Eat, Pray, Love, which I thought was terrific.

Psych Post Doc said...

Great post Hope.

Nope, haven't read any self-help books. Sometimes I have to physically restrain myself from correcting people with actual psychology research findings when they quote from them.

erin said...

I had to read The Rules for one of my psychology classes in college. How nuts is that?! Anyway, I thought it was generally horrible, except for one point it made: respect yourself, you deserve the best.

I tend to the feel the same way about all the other self-help books out there... He's Just Not That Into You? Bleeeech. Except for the point that you should (you guessed it) respect yourself because you rock.

myself said...

Erghhh, I've read a few of them, but I had issues with "he's just not that into you". Yes. I get the point of not wasting your time on someone that is not in the right head space to be in a relationship at the time, but it doesn't mean he's not into me.

Over simplistic, and the "Bitches" books are just simple game playing, and I don't play games.

Couldn't agree with you more.

Tough Girl 101 said...

I have not read them, but to be totally honest, I cannot conceive of an attitude so prevalent where women throw themselves at men no matter how crappy they are treated. No woman with her head screwed on straight would believe that, so most "self help" books just probably would not help me in the least. Just saying. They always help those who cannot examine their own lives, and that's my real opinion of self help.

Chelsea Talks Smack said...

Hi hope! I loved he's just not that intoyou,it chanded my perspective in a really good way. I was brutal with it fora bitbutultimately seeing things the way he put them made me up my standards.

golublog said...

I feel like alot of those books are common sense. If I guy really likes you he'll show it. But, I suppose for alot of the girls out there they need to be told that. I don't like how they treat every relationships is the same there's no rules when two people are compatible it just works I feel.

Michelle and the City said...

you said it best: "Perhaps, I choose to ignore them because I am stubborn and proud. Because, why the hell should he not be into me?”

i've read those books but don't follow them like gospel. however, i do try to follow the main premis of the book and not put up with CRAP from guys! instead of saying he's just not that into me, i say i deserve better :)

megsadventure said...

When I was in my late 20s, (now I'm 41) I had a bookshelf full of self help books. I also had a goal that my life would be good enough one day that my bookshelf would not have any self-help books.

While that is not 100% true it mostly is - life is good and I am happy with my life, today it is enough. However, those books gave me hope that it would one day be so. I am not saying any one of the books I had on my shelf helped me arrive where I am today, but they were certainly guideposts along my adventure.

To me self-help books are a short sweet packet of hope - and doesn't everyone need that?

Surfergrrl said...

I kind of like self help books but I do take them with a grain of salt as well. Although there are a few women I know whom I want to beat over the head with the book, "he's just not that into you." Some women seriously try WAY too hard to get a man, or spend hours overanalyzing everything that they say or do. If it's THAT hard, it probably isn't worth it, but sometimes women do not want to hear the most obvious of advice.

Anonymous said...

I have read each of those books. I am also an academic. And I'm a Black woman who grew up poor and still has strong links to the community from which I came.

So, while I like the idea of "he should work to prove to me that I should give him the time of day" idea...It butts up rather uncomfortably with the reality that -- more than any other group of people in America -- Black women die alone. These books offer no guidance whatsoever on the culturally-determined issues that are crucial to Black dating. And, well, if we want to examine all of this on the more ontological level, I think it's plain to see that these books model their dating approaches after a free concept. Gross. I'm supposed to engage my love life like an economic philosophy I find repugnant and inherently unjust?

I try to blog in a way that is helpful to other sistas who are searching for love, but I would be a fool to try to generalize to the population at large. But then again, we are always in a position where we are forced to recognize the particularity of our experience. White, middle class Americans are perfectly capable of regarding their own experiences as universal without a second thought. *Sigh*

Anonymous said...

My apologies. That should have read "free market concept of dating."

The Serial Monogamist said...

Self-help books exploit emotions in titles and throughout the text to form an addiction.

Babycakes said...

I read The Rules ten years ago and thought, yes, some of it makes sense and then promptly forgot it all and certainly did not follow them.
Then a few months ago I went to a talk by the authors in London and what they said really hit home. They had legitimate answers for all the scenarios and questions the audience threw at them.
I look back on my relationships and wish I had used the Rules because many of them simply weren't meant to be and I was guilty of prolonging them by initiating contact. I wish I had left well alone.

That's about one book anyway. Self help books are fun to read and you can generally take a few useful gems away from even the most rubbish books.

Elle said...

Agreed. People are different - it's impossible to pool them all together into one specific category. I've read some books and while it's interesting, I could never be that girl.

It's like Gigi said at the end of "He's Just Not That Into You" movie...she may get hurt and be vulnerable and act crazy sometimes, but at least she's living and she cares. She's herself and she believes that will bring her to where she needs to be.

And I think she's right.

Anonymous said...

i thought he's just not that into you was stupid. the movie was pretty cool, but i'm not on board with the concept much. great post!

Michael said...

Greg Behrendt, the co author of "Just Not That", is a terribly funny standup comic. I haven't read the book, though-my being married kind of cuts down on the dating.

I think there is more in common between men than there are differences between cultures.

I, too, had a very rigorous collegiate courseload-so I suffered through the same ritual. "What are you doing tonight?" "Studying." "What about tomorrow?" "Studying."

The problem I have with self help books of all sorts is the certainty with which they present their theses-"If you do x, then y will happen." They never answer what you do if you get q.

By the by-NPR here in the states had an interesting story about new revelations relating to the famous Kitty Genovese case-read more at

Anonymous said...

Never read it (them), never plan on it. Just doesn't strike me as enjoyable reading.

I've been around the block to know that there isn't an easy answer, but while life doesn't need to be complicated, it's rarely simple.

Besides, I can tell when a guy isn't into me, I need help figuring out when they ARE into me.

M said...

Hi! I LISTENED to the audio version of "He's Just Not That Into You", never read the book. Maybe it was the emphasis and inflection in the authors' speech, but I don't think I would have been convinced with a text version.

I was surprised at how much my perspective changed based on what they said - I don't think they place all the world's situations and relationships into neat categories, but rather those are just examples. I think their overall message is correct - that if there's any significant (i.e. noticeable!) amount of ambiguity in terms of him showing interest in you, then it is not a worthwhile situation to pursue. Definitely there are exceptions (and sometimes you don't know it's an exception until he suddenly turns around and acts awesomely in your favour), but the idea of preserving your dignity and sanity rather than risking it at only a hint of interest - that's a good plan, in my opinion. :)