For Justin Halpern, it all started with a break-up. Blind-sided by the end of a three-year-long relationship, Halpern moved back home with his parents in 2009, made an office out of his living room couch, and started jotting down his dad’s brutally honest, sage, and expletive-ridden advice on a Twitter page called shitmydadsays. Within two months, the site had over half a million followers, a book deal, and a TV deal. After Sh*t My Dad Says topped the New York Times bestseller list, Halpern started working on his next book: I Suck at Girls.
In I Suck at Girls, we follow the now-married Halpern as he recalls some of the most life-changing, awkward, and embarrassing misadventures of his life – from losing his virginity to a waitress he worked with at Hooters, to having explosive diarrhea on the first-date with his wife. In this follow-up, Halpern’s own wisdom shines through.
But if you’re worried about losing his dad’s signature insight – don’t – it’s in there, with a bunch of new colorful characters too. And although Halpern’s dad warned him that he "better make this better than the last one, people will wait to shit on it," his dad returned to his son with the highest praise after just one reading: "This will be difficult to shit on. They’ll find a way, but it will be hard."
I Suck at Girls has been described as everything from a coming-of-age story, to a romantic comedy mystery, a memoir, and a confessional. How would you describe your second book?
It’s a story about growing up and exploring the opposite sex, for most people. There are a lot of books, like The Game and Tucker Max’s books, that are about sleeping around and they have a bit of misogyny in them, and then there’s a bunch of books on the other end of the spectrum where the people are social outcasts. I didn’t really see anything for the in between – and that’s who I was. I wasn’t popular, but I wasn’t a total loser. I was awkward. I wanted to write a series of essays that relate to universal stories everybody had. Most importantly, I just want to entertain people and tap into that thing where you read something and you say, “Ah, that happened to me. I had something like that."
What’s the biggest lesson you learned that you hope others will too?
That love and relationships are just a bunch of really embarrassing losses and failures that happen to you and hopefully, at the end of the day, you get one win. You get the person that it works with. So when you have all those other things – all the failures and break-ups – don’t take them too hard. They need to be there.
Which loss, in particular, had the greatest impact on you and your perspective on relationships?
I dated this girl Simone, and it was the only casual sex relationship I’d ever had. I didn’t have a big emotional connection with her, and when it ended, it had the biggest effect on me because I realized I didn’t want that kind of relationship. I wanted a relationship where, when it ends, I feel like shit. Because then I know it meant something. Guys always talk about sleeping around and sowing your oats, but I feel like at the end of the day, we’re all like pack animals. You want to be with somebody who wants to be with you, that you give a shit about. Any guy or girl who is okay with having lots of casual relationships and never wants to settle down, there’s something else in their life they’re compensating for because we are genetically coded to be with at least one partner. So if you’re fighting that, there’s something else going on.
I feel like a lot of the time they’re hiding that there is that one person they want to be with, they can’t be with, so in order to try to get over that person they try and get with a bunch of people.
Yeah, and isn’t it weird? Because you’re meeting people in all different parts of that journey. So you can meet the perfect person but they’re up here and you’re down here and it’s not going to work. You have to meet the right person who is at the same place, at the same time. That’s why it’s so fucking hard to meet somebody and make a relationship work.
Which moment in the book might surprise or even horrify your readers?
During the time I was working as a cook at Hooters, I lost my virginity to this girl Sarah. I was 19 and it was especially bad because it was my first time, not hers. The next day, she broke up with me over the phone while I was at work. She called the manager, and after she was done breaking up with me, she asked me to put the manager back on so she could get the rest of her schedule and tell him where to send her last check since she was quitting. It was so bad. You think about how inconsequential you are in someone’s life when they have other business, besides breaking up with you, to take care of. There’s an agenda and I’m at the bottom.
Now that you’re married, did you have any reservations about including the casual sex chapter in the book? What does your wife, Amanda, think of it?
I talked to her before I wrote about it and asked if she was okay with me doing it, and she said that it was fine. She really likes the book. It’s sort of about her, like a love letter. There’s all these failures and she was the one that worked out. I love her to death. To me, it says, “All that stuff that happened? That’s so that I could be with you.”
It’s kind of an inspirational story.
Yeah, someone else said that! This guy, 22 years old, was like, “This gives me hope!”
It’s basically saying, “You’re going to go through a lot of crap, but it’s going to work out.”
You learn something during every shitty thing you go through. They’re not just useless experiences. It all leads up to something.
We’ve heard so much from your dad. What about your mom? Does any of her advice make its way into the book?
She has tons of great advice, but none of it makes its way into the book because she didn’t want it to. She’s more private then my dad, and asked me to leave her out of the book as much as possible, and I did. She’s amazing and the smartest person in our family, for sure.
Well, we’ll see. I sold it and I’m developing it. This guy, Bill Lawrence, who created Scrubs, Spin City, and Cougar Town, he’s overseeing the project with my writing partner and I. We sold it so, hopefully, fingers-crossed, we’ll make it. It’ll be set in the early ’90s, kind of like The Wonder Years. It’s about a 14 to15-year-old kid living with his family.
You’ve said that so much in your life has changed since the success of Sh*t My Dad Says. What has stayed the same?
The people around me have all stayed the same. I have the same friends, my wife was my girlfriend. That’s the beauty of being a writer; nobody knows what you look like and nobody cares really what you do. You get this lovely anonymity, even if your projects are successful. The people closest to me have stayed the same, but the rest of my life has totally changed. My wife loved me when I was waiting tables.
A lot of people become more and more like their parents as they get older. Do you think you’ll become your dad?
I think I’ll be completely different, but I hope I’m equally as good. I don’t think I’ll ever turn into him cause he’s just a crazy guy, but I hope that I’m able to connect with my children the same way that he connected with me. I hope my kids will love and respect me as much as I love and respect my dad. And to do that, I have to be as good a father as he was.