"We are not measured by the trials we meet -- only by those we overcome."
- - Spencer W. Kimball
February 12, 2009
Women deserve honesty: Don't act like the TV singles
by Orson Scott Card

The TV series Sex and the City was one of the best written and best acted shows in the history of television.

It was also a moral nightmare. The writers thought they were merely reflecting the world of unmarried women as they found it, but in fact they were spreading throughout America the attitudes and practices of a narrow slice of well-to-do, non-church-going singles in New York City.

It showed a culture in which "dating" meant "having sex," and "engaged" meant "living together." It is hard to imagine a moral climate more different from what we expect of single Saints.

Yet there is a generation of single women in the Church who came of age with Sex and the City looking over their shoulder, and those who are still single heading into their thirties face most of the same frustrations and dilemmas as the women of that TV show.

Because, oddly enough, however deplorable Sex and the City might have been -- both as messenger and sower of a society in moral collapse -- it contained in it the seeds of a revival of the older morality. You know -- the one we have been trying to hard not to lose.

That's because our moral standards aren't an arbitrary edict from a deity who just wants to make life harder and less fun. The opposite is true: God gives us moral standards because, in and of themselves, they work to make a better society and better lives for everyone who follows them.

So it stands to reason that rational, observant, compassionate people -- even in the midst of corruption -- are going to discover moral rules all over again.

Sex and the City was written by single women who were living the life they wrote about; they also brought in the occasional male writer as a consultant, to make sure the men depicted in the show were not just the wish-fulfilment -- or the nightmares -- of the women writers.

So, as they often did, the writers were sitting around commiserating with the one who was going through torment over a man that day. He hadn't called when he said he would, or he was having "intimacy issues," or one of the other standard complaints.

And Greg Behrendt, the male consultant, spoke up and said, "The situation's perfectly clear. He's just not that into you."

It was as if somebody had flashed on a light in a dark room. As Behrendt explained, "Guys who are in love with a woman don't act like this. He just doesn't want to say it outright; maybe he doesn't even know it himself. But if he loved you or even cared about you, he'd never act like this."

But guys aren't all the same, Greg, they answered him. You can't speak for all of them.

"Oh yes I can," he said. "We're all different, but when a guy acts like the one you're talking about, one thing is certain: He's just not that into you."

The result was a book by that title: He's Just Not That Into You, written by Behrendt and one of the staff writers from the show, Liz Tuccillo.

The book is indecorous by LDS standards (but quite mild compared with the show they both wrote for). There are a few bad words, and the writers take for granted the moral universe of Sex and the City -- which, partly as a result of the show's popularity, is now the reality for most urban singles in America.

But the book is a useful handbook for single women to interpret the meaning of the words and actions of the men in their lives.

Not surprisingly, it's also a wakeup call for single men, telling them: When you act like this, you are being dishonest and cruel, and the women you pretend are your "friends" are going through needless suffering and wasting years of their lives because of you.

Because, men, you can't seem to tell the truth; and, when you do, you can't follow through with it.

I say "you" to these men because I'm not single any more. But when I was, I was as bad as any of you -- despite the best intentions in the world.

Here's a partial list of these crimes of the heart:

Not calling when you said you would.

Making excuses for why you haven't been attentive, instead of telling the truth, that you're not really interested in her.

Exploiting her for companionship, while tying her up so that she doesn't feel free to pursue a man who might actually want to marry her.

Breaking up with her and yet still hanging around, giving her hope that you will get back together when in fact you are merely lonely and using her till you find somebody better.

Or, the worst sin of all, breaking up with her without telling her. You just disappear. Why? Cowardice, of course. As Neil Sedaka said, Breaking up is hard to do.

I know -- I've been that creep. I had my reasons at the time -- and it wasn't fear of the woman or even of confrontation, it was fear of myself, and I knew I was being a complete jerk. I still feel bad about the way I did it.

Breaking up was the right thing to do, and cutting off communication was the only way I knew I would succeed in doing something so contrary to my desires at the time.

But that's a subject for another time. Let's just say that I vouch for Greg Behrendt's judgment, even when it condemns my own past behavior.

The book is candid, witty, useful, and wise -- and because I listened to the authors read their words aloud on CD, I got the sense that they really mean what they say.

They care about the women who waste their lives on unready or unworthy men, and they're impatient with the men who wander in and out of women's lives so pointlessly -- and selfishly.

Here's the message of the book, and it's a good one:

Tell the truth. Do it kindly, but do it. "I don't see this turning into any kind of longterm relationship, and I'm not going to waste your time or mine, when we ought to be finding someone else."

You might preface it with something decent and polite: "You're attractive and admirable. You're exactly the kind of woman I want to want to marry. But I'm not actually interested in marrying you, for reasons I don't understand and won't try to explain."

After you realize it yourself, the sooner you say it the better. And then get out of her life. Don't hang out with her. Even if you think she's "over you," she's not. There you are, a constant reminder that you didn't want her.

Don't send her little presents. Don't call her up and chat. Don't ask her for favors. Because that's what a guy who's courting a woman would do, and you're not that guy. Stay broken up. Go away.

O ye single men of Zion, if you read this book you will have a good set of guidelines for interpreting your own feelings and behavior.

If you find that you don't think of her at all for days on end, you're just not that into her.

If you only think of her when you need something, instead of thinking of how to make her happy all the time, you are so not in love.

What it comes down to is this: Be honest and fair. Don't take, when you don't intend to give more than you receive. Don't use up a woman's youth when you don't plan to be there for her old age.

By the end of the book, Behrendt is flatly admitting that he's advocating old-fashioned morality. He never quite gets to the point of saying that it's bad to sleep with women you're not married to. But he says everything else.

If it takes a writer from Sex and the City to tell Mormons what single women have a right to expect from decent single men, so be it. Let's just make sure we listen.

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More by Orson Scott Card

About Orson Scott Card

Orson Scott Card is the author of the novels Ender's Game, Ender's Shadow, and Speaker for the Dead, which are widely read by adults and younger readers, and are increasingly used in schools.

Besides these and other science fiction novels, Card writes contemporary fantasy (Magic Street, Enchantment, Lost Boys), biblical novels (Stone Tables, Rachel and Leah), the American frontier fantasy series The Tales of Alvin Maker (beginning with Seventh Son), poetry (An Open Book), and many plays and scripts.

Card was born in Washington and grew up in California, Arizona, and Utah. He served a mission for the LDS Church in Brazil in the early 1970s. Besides his writing, he teaches occasional classes and workshops and directs plays. He also teaches writing and literature at Southern Virginia University.

Card currently lives in Greensboro, North Carolina, with his wife, Kristine Allen Card, and their youngest child, Zina Margaret.

More about Orson Scott Card

Orson Scott Card currently serves as second counselor in the bishopric.

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