I am an advice column addict.
I read three or four a day, bouncing from one to the other trying to figure out when I’ll get my next hit — “Well, she always posts on Thursdays — and this one normally has a new post every Tuesday — and I haven’t read the full archive of that one yet.”
I’m not entirely sure what the root of my obsession is. But I think I’m drawn to a world in which a sensible person is sought out by people with disastrous lives, so she can preach the word of Rational Decision Making and Common Sense to a willing audience. Like virtually everyone I know, I have a crowd of acquaintances whom I’ve seen essentially torching their lives with an incendiary mixture of bad decisions and worse attitudes, and I’ve longed to shake them by the shoulders and talk sense to them. In the world of advice columns, those friends are asking someone to shake them by the shoulders and talk sense to them. It’s so satisfying.
Advice columns normally fall under one of two categories: tips on manners and etiquette, and ”Holy sh!t what is wrong with your life?!” I mostly read the latter. Sometimes I even skip the advice.
If advice columns were only about dispensing advice, there’d be no need to even print the questions; columnists would just write once or twice weekly with the same general rules for living that they parcel out, piecemeal, in response to their letter writers. If you read as many as me you start to notice each columnist’s go-to wisdom bombs. Kapow! You need to let the past go. Boom! Communicate, don’t seethe in silent resentment. Zap! Leave your stinking cheating dead-beat boyfriend.
I don’t judge or dislike my favorite columnists for recycling their wisdom; it wouldn’t be wisdom if it only worked once.
But you also have to admit: if everyone followed it, would everybody be a little happier? Probably… a little. There’s another part missing from the equation of life satisfaction that doesn’t have to do with making all your decisions on a solely rational basis.
The following is the list of three of the most genre-defining, convention-bending, head-scratching, mouth-gaping advice column questions and answers. There are plenty of outrageous (and probably fake) questions out there, so these weren’t chosen purely on the basis of Jerry Springer worthiness; they’re the questions that made me ask, “Why do people seek advice from strangers?” “What does this question and answer say about our culture?” and “Why haven’t you talked to your parole officer about that?”