The 3 Best Advice Column Questions
The start of a good column for bad advice.
February 17, 2013 - 11:00 am
#3: “Should I ditch my life and move to L.A. to become a singer, or stay for love?”
In this column by Amy Alkon, aka the Advice Goddess, a 25-year-old aspiring singer writes about how committed she is to throwing her whole life into music, until she drunkenly hooks up with the drummer of her band a week before moving to The Big City, and suddenly has second thoughts. She knows her plans don’t involve a relationship, he doesn’t appear to seek one, but without warning she’s full of confusion about what she really wants from her life.
Alkon tells her, sensibly, that some of her feelings are probably due to what I like to call “sex brain” — the physiological reaction that people experience after sex that encourages bonding. She then goes on to advise the letter writer,
Now, with big scary life changes looming, maybe it’s tempting to find a reason to stay where you are. You need to decide who’s the boss here — your ambition or your feelings.
In other words, there’s no single “right” choice in this decision. And I have to admit, I’m rooting for both options. On the one hand, there’s the artistic flight to the West Coast to pursue her dreams and adventures. On the other, there’s the thrill of new romance, the tingle of possibility, the intoxication of following the heart’s impulses — and the refreshing jolt of reevaluating her goals and desires.
One thing unites both choices: they’re full of risk and uncertainty. And that’s what makes Alkon’s answer so different from the archetypal advice columnist’s. Alkon isn’t instructing the writer on the most sensible, pain- and uncertainty-free way to live her life. If that were the case, I’d tell the letter writer to stay home and steer clear of the flaky drummer. It’s the most conservative path.
Life without stupid decisions is like subsisting entirely on a diet of undressed green salad. It’s probably really good for you. But it still sucks.
Do I envy the people who write in with crippling, haunting, sometimes life-threatening problems? No. But do some problems — sometimes, in some cases — actually make it sound like the letter writer is just living her life more thoroughly than I am? A sheepish yes. “You quit your job, ditched your friends, sold all your furniture and moved to Los Angeles to become a singer? What is wrong with you?! And where do I sign up?”
I understand what drives people to seek advice; and also what compels me to give it so prolifically (sometimes my friends call me their unofficial therapist). When seeking advice: I don’t just want to be told what the best course of action is, I also want to abdicate a little bit of my responsibility to make a choice. I feel safer following directions than making them up on my own. When giving advice: I seek order, and I want to see my friends follow my specific instructions to achieve it so their lives will unfold in a logical, soothingly predictable way. I want to protect them from getting hurt, which often means protecting them from uncertainty or volatile circumstances.
Neither of these is an especially noble impulse when you look at it. The first should seem obvious. And the second — well, it’s natural to want to protect people you love from pain, but sometimes the best thing to do for a friend is support her as she embarks on something scary, new, and unpredictable, because life is scary, new, and unpredictable, and if you never encounter anything scary, new, and unpredictable, you probably aren’t really living it.
I want to write an advice column in which I go with the opposite of my advice-giving instincts, and encourage people to expand their horizons, goof off, and make a bad decision every once in a while — the kind of little bad decision that leads to a better life.