How do you become an adult? Some might suggest the following: start a family, work towards career objectives, purchase or build a home, commit to a religious path, smoke cigars, or spend less time arguing on Twitter. Surely these are some suggestions that are at least worthy of consideration.
However, others will choose an easier approach: They’ll read a book by a virtually unknown Chicago man and alleged comedian Andy Boyle, who sincerely apologizes for his privilege of being “a white heterosexual cis dude raised by two loving middle-class Midwestern parents” in his introduction. The book in question is Adulthood for Beginners: All the Life Secrets Nobody Bothered to Tell You. (They didn’t bother to tell you because the “secrets” are actually just really obvious and basic life advice).
In any case, some people may read this book because they’re gullible and Amazon has a habit of pushing inane, marketable books to the top of their new releases list faster than Whole Foods’ stock after Amazon announced they were buying the chain. The irony is that in reading this book, 20- and 30-something individuals will further delay the onset of any semblance of adulthood they had been seeking and will instead spend their time frolicking in Boyle’s vapid, self-satisfied musings.
Are You Not Inspired?
“When in doubt, think what an a–hole would do, and then do the opposite,” Boyle advises. Are you inspired yet? Jokes aside, the literary fixed-gear-bicycle hymn of self-deprecating vacuity that is Adulthood for Beginners is no laughing matter and should be approached with caution.
This is a humor book that piggybacks off exposure from a viral post Boyle wrote several years ago about quitting drinking. It’s clearly placed in the semi-ironic life and career advice genre, which also overlaps with the semi-serious life advice genre (hint: this is a big “bawse” of a genre).
Boyle’s book is jam-packed with the vocabulary and diction of a 14-year-old delinquent talking about embarrassing situations and other “s—” (because what defines being an adult better than constantly swearing in a casual manner?). It also uses made-up words like “vaguebook,” “successing,” and “superboring” and is full of profound advice such as “it’s not cool to be a d— to people.” This is balanced out by the contention that you shouldn’t be “supersh—y” to people who make mistakes.
Running Out of Metaphors
Adulthood for Beginners also includes various references to casual drug use, getting along with roommates while avoiding sleeping with them, and other non-funny scenarios that make you groan like the sinking Titanic. Admittedly there is a funny part in the roommate section (notable because it’s … funny) entitled “What to do if your roommate is a demon spawned in the deepest, darkest parts of hell, like the part where they invented the phrase ‘guac is extra.’”
On the subject of taking advice, Boyle writes that it’s best taken from someone trustworthy like him because: “Advice is like meth. Just because someone from your hometown gives it to you doesn’t mean you should take it.” Yes, meth is such a funny topic, considering states are setting new records with meth overdose deaths. Groan.
Certainly not all the advice in Adulthood for Beginners is poor advice. Some of it is even pretty informative. It’s just that overall the book itself is bad. Like, really bad. I’m running out of metaphors to tell you how bad. The main takeaways are “believe in others” and “believe in yourself.” Do you really need a book to tell you that?
With sections ranging from “Inner Awesomeness,” to “Dating Awesomeness” to “Work Awesomeness,” Boyle details his belief that life is like a science experiment full of trial and error. He reruns his post about why he quit drinking to start the book, because we all know copy-paste never killed anyone. In the chapter entitled “the Asshole Test,” Boyle comes up with a way to test if your beliefs and words are acceptable or not, formed out of his experience of unintentionally calling something “gay” as a negative term and being reprimanded. “If everyone says what you’re doing makes you look like an asshole, they’re not wrong,” Boyle writes. This is what passes for unassailable logic, folks.
Here’s the okay stuff. You can tell Boyle put in an effort here and probably means well despite the unctuous, unfunny tone of the book. There are some strong points about the damage done by bullying and compelling anecdotes about getting called fat as a kid and the pervasive sense of self-hatred and not being good enough that drove Boyle to try to lose weight and improve himself.
He’s on point when criticizing Madison Avenue standards of beauty as “aberrations of nature and beauty.” Part of the book talks about teamwork in a way that would bring a tear to a bionic eye: “Every wonderful thing happened because people believed in one another, or in just one person, and that made it a reality. We’re all standing on one another’s shoulders, succeeding together.”
But the bad stuff wins out in the end because this is a bad book. In perhaps his most controversial passage, Boyle defends Nickelback fans: “Why the hell would I judge something that brings so much happiness to others? They’re just like me, people with hopes, with dreams. People who just wanna rock, in this case to a curly-haired Canadian. What’s wrong with that? Not a g–damn thing.”
With oh-so-original chapters like “Measure Success By Setting Goals,” lots of the book reads more like a distillation of generic self-help books than an original product. For example: “The nicer you are in aggregate, the nicer it [the universe] is to you. The more times you go out of your way, just a little bit, to be helpful to someone, the more likely someone will do that for you. Tell that to this guy. He doesn’t seem to be buying it. I also heard a rumor that sometimes really bad things happen to good people.
Nobody Knows Anything
There’s some standard, pretty good advice about how to achieve goals, avoid jealousy, and treat your parents well (but don’t be afraid to correct them if they use hurtful language that was normal for them growing up but now comes across sexist or racist). However, the standard advice is mixed with shrill demands such as asking that everyone be sensitive to preferred gender pronouns and the ever-changing demands of gender theory:
We don’t get to decide whether someone’s a specific gender. Or if they’re gay. (Or if they’re ‘they’ or ‘he’ or ‘she’ or anything else.) Or asexual. Or if they’re an astronaut. Or a writer. Or a ‘true’ gamer. Or literally anything. Whatever someone tells you they are, that’s what they are.
We know this book is legit because it also includes praise for quote fabricator Neil deGrasse Tyson, whom Boyle praises as “so smart!” The book also contains numerous mind-numbingly stupid truisms, such as “If it’s a problem that means it can be solved.” Huh?
When it comes to dating, Boyle urges being a grown-up about breakups and accepting that it’s over when it’s over. He forbids use of the term “friend zone” and says the advice is “mostly for hetero dudes.” “That person is your friend. You’re not waiting to become something else. Your relationship has been defined. Being just friends with a gal is totally awesome. So stop being a s–tbrain and be content with that,” he commands.
In other epic guidelines, Boyle notes that being “super creepy” isn’t good when seeking love and opens up about how he used tickling girls into his early 20s as an on-ramp to making out (these two are apparently not related topics). He advises Romeos-in-training to avoid asking someone to “hang out” when you mean go on a date, to learn to take no for an answer, to not lead-off interactions by commenting on attractiveness, to not post creepy sexual-themed comments on attractive people’s social media pages, to be wary of those who dislike tacos, to be honest to a date when you aren’t feeling a connection instead of leading them on or making a fake excuse to end the date, to not ghost on someone you are dating, to refrain from touching people without their permission, and to resist sending unrequested photos of genitalia (“Be kind to strangers and don’t send them photos of your wang,” as he puts it). Aren’t these the kind of things someone who was well-raised might already know without needing to read them in a book?
Other amazing tips that won’t change your life: “online dating is not weird,” “don’t use blurry photos” on dating sites and apps, “don’t message them anything you wouldn’t want your parents to see,” and remember to find someone who’s good at texting because “digital communication is super important to most folks these days.” That Amish girl you’ve been in love with forever is a no-go, I guess. Thanks for ruining everything, Andy.
When it comes to getting turned down: “Also, rejection is normal. You are rejected thousands of times in your life, in work, in love. Not everything is meant to work out for you. That’s how you grow and get better as a person.” Also, in case you were wondering, Boyle is all good with open relationships or intimate relationships between three people or more (“no judgments here,” as he writes, even if a girl wants to have “twelve boyfriends at once”). He also believes that “casual sex is fun and awesome.” That sounds adult to me, but in a more adult movie store/fall-of-Western civilization type of way.
Also if you want to know when it’s time or the right situation to marry, Boyle, who’s never been married, has “no idea.” He also thinks the idea that you should marry or have a romantic partner in life to be happy is “totally bogus.” Sorry, reader. You weren’t reading this book for actual guidelines on how to become an adult, were you? It’s all about the relativism and ever-changing whims of individualism here. As Boyle puts it:
Never feel bad if you don’t know something. Because nobody knows anything. We’re all just faking this, some of us with more mistakes than others …You’re doing great. Even when you’re not ‘acting’ like an adult, it’s okay, because you actively are one. Nobody is doing this s–t perfectly. Not you, not me, not Jay Z, nobody. (Well, maybe Beyoncé.) We’re all just making it up as we go.
Well, that’s definitely reassuring.
Virtue Signaling Masquerading as Compassion
In terms of work, Boyle notes you can’t always do what you love, but you can make your work something that funds what you love, whether it’s raising a family or collecting vintage cars. The rest of the work section is basically practical advice on networking, creating a decent résumé, excelling at job interviews, and obtaining and keeping a good career.
The “Body Awesomeness” section repeats the tried-and-true advice about eating healthily, exercising, and living an active lifestyle. In “Next-Level Awesomeness” Boyle cranks up the advice to maximum with the usual gems you’d expect like “Failing isn’t failure,” learning to persevere in the face of rejection, and disappointment and overcoming obstacles with determination.
There’s advice on dealing with practical choices like buying a home, learning to avoid pitfalls in interior decorating (“don’t buy a mattress through Craigslist”) and managing finances. Boyle makes a good point when he notes that “You don’t have to put your money into big multinational banks, especially if they, say, helped to ruin the economy in the last decade. Credit unions and smaller, local banks are also good options.”
There’s also a chapter called “Good Lord, Don’t Wear Blackface” that specifically presents “a not complete list of things white people can’t do.” The list includes saying the n-word, wearing a sombrero (even though many Mexicans are white, which Boyle may not be aware of, perhaps a sign of his own white privilege) and ever saying “I don’t see color.” Also don’t “say you can relate to the racism that a person of color felt because of some ‘similar situation’ you encountered” and don’t “Tell people to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.” Because everybody knows that no white person was ever poor or told something to that effect, only non-white people. Huh?
Elsewhere in the book, Boyle comes up with the oh-so-original point that “Rich White Men” are the main problem in society: “We all make mistakes. It’s literally how you get better and find success. No one just wakes up and has everything handed to them. (Unless you’re the aforementioned guy running for president, or many other Rich White Men.) You gotta work at it.”
This points to the fact that Boyle’s good points in the book are outshone by the veneer of virtue signaling and bizarre political correctness masquerading as compassion that pervades. As Boyle himself acknowledges, “I’m sure reading this book has taught you lots about sh—y writing.”
I would add some advice that most adults would do well to heed: Self-help books in general encourage passivity and overthinking instead of action. On the whole, it’s a good idea to break up with them.
Breakups are painful, and Boyle sympathizes, noting “Many times in my life my heart’s felt like Thor was smashing it with his hammer after wrapping it in barbed wire …But they got through it. I’ll get through it, too. And so will you. It just takes time and then your brain gets better. I promise. Just don’t put your terrible poetry on a public blog that still exists more than a decade later you forgot your password and can’t delete it. Ugh.”
I have a hunch that terrible poetry might be funnier and more instructive than Adulthood for Beginners.