THE WAY I SEE IT: Origins of the self-help genre

Caity Donohue

In my senior year of high school, my mother bought me a copy of Greg Behrendt’s “He’s Just Not That Into You.” 

I would like to say that she was aiming for humor, but she herself would tell you that subtlety is not one of her many virtues, so let’s be honest. She was probably trying to make a point. 

Anyway, my friends and I had a good laugh over what seemed to be advice for idiots: if he is not calling you, he is not interested.

Well, duh. I mean, it is that simple, right? We laughed until slowly, we began to see ourselves in some of the characters described. 

I firmly believe that right then, is when the boom in movies and manuals on how to have a relationship began. That winter, the bestselling self-help book was turned into an even more successful film that scored at the box office. 

Lately, it is absolutely impossible to walk through a bookstore without seeing a section overflowing with books professing the best relationship advice. It’s harder still not to get dragged by friends to a movie that showcases a neurotic, hopeless romantic incapable of handling a functional relationship. 

It caused me to wonder why, specifically in the past decade, we have come to rely so heavily on someone else to tell us how to make it work. 

Are we part of a generation that, in a tragically twisted way, is constantly looking for love and unable to find it? 

Of course not — it has to be an exaggeration. But in a sense, it has left an indelible mark upon the society we are a part of. 

In my junior high’s sixth grade social studies curriculum, we covered Mesopotamia in all of its ancient glory, and I was completely and utterly bored. I remember thinking that the only thing remotely interesting about it were the videos we got to watch of excavations extracting the remnants of a lost civilization. Lo and behold, a single question has stuck with me ever since. 

Every now and then I wonder about a future society, centuries away from now, looking back on what we stood for. What were our values? What did we believe in? What did we strive for? 

Doesn’t it seem kind of weird that in the midst of their findings will be an astounding amount of literature and media that advises one on how to act in order to snag a significant other? I guess that in my mind, I picture the Jetson family in all their space gear finding a copy of the DVD “The Ugly Truth,” which was also very successful in its debut this summer, and settling down to watch it on an antique TV and DVD set. 

Would they not be curious as to why, for a good five years, it seemed that movies just like this one were booming, or why men’s and women’s magazines were seemingly obsessed with “attractive” behavior?

I think there are a couple of plausible reasons for this odd motif in our society today. I have friends who ask, when did enough turn into “not-good-enough?” The answer may lie in the need we have for perfection in every form.

It is almost as if a whole culture became okay with someone else telling it how to act — rather, who to be — in order to find love. Doesn’t it seem like we are approaching the necessity of someone else telling us how to fall in love? 

Most importantly, how can this be a message we leave behind? 


       Caity Donohue is a sophomore English and secondary education major from Northbrook, Ill. She can be reached at [email protected].