Confessions of an Advice Column Addict

My addiction started early. We got the newspaper delivered daily to our house. I would read all the comics first followed by the horoscopes and both advice columns, Dear Abby and Ann Landers. I could miss reading the comics. I could miss reading the horoscopes. But, never, ever could I miss reading Dear Abby and Ann Landers. Twin sisters who were also advice columnists, they ran similar columns and gave similar advice, but I loved their no-nonsense and generally kind approach to advice giving. More often than not, they advised tolerance, forgiveness, and acceptance, three values near and dear to my heart.

When I went to college, I no longer read a daily newspaper. The Internet as we know it did not exist. Whatever online communications occurred were usually text-based chats on a command line at universities. The web with its bountiful and relevant web sites would not exist for many, many years. Between my studies and making friends online and off, I forgot all about my beloved advice columnists. If my hands happened upon a newspaper, I would skim the front page directory and go immediately to the advice section.

The return of my daily advice column reading addiction started up again once I was able to access advice columns online. For a while, I was a devoted reader of Miss Manners (answered by Judith Martin) on the Washington Post’s website. I loved her writing style in response to etiquette questions. I loved them so much I read all her prior columns. The writers may or may not have an etiquette question  per se, but Miss Manners would respond in the same formal manner as if it were an etiquette question. What is etiquette and manners but an expression of tradition and respect for others in formal and family settings? I checked for a new column more than the twice a week writing, just to ensure that I wouldn’t miss anything until they decided to throw up a pay wall. Since that was the only thing I read at Washington Post on purpose, I begrudgingly gave up reading her columns. I would have to find them somewhere else or not read them at all.

In searching for new columns, I came across Heartless Bitches International (HBI), a Canada-based, woman-run website devoted to strong women. I particularly enjoyed read their Rants section. Even though Rants was not an advice column, I learned a lot about what strong women thought about their lives and how to live them well. I also read their advice section by Auntie Dote; there’s something about the Q&A format of advice columnists that I like. The advice was hard hitting regardless of the writer’s gender, was not against using profanity to get a point across, could address more explicit topics than the Landers sisters, and seemed to be aimed at a young crowd, especially the 18-24s. However, the advice could be applicable to any life stage. The young are not the only ones who get themselves into bad situations and need to dig themselves out.

Around the same time I got into HBI, I got into reading an advice column called Tomato Nation by writer Sarah Bunting. Sarah blogs a lot about baseball, among other things, as well as dispensing advice. She varied her column contents in ways that other advice columnists did not. Readers could ask her to ask her readers for advice on things such as where to buy clothes, the best eye remover for allergenic skin, or the names of books and movies to which they only remembered a portion of the plot. I liked the variety, but I liked the traditional format more. Since the frequency was not enough to satisfy my craving for advice asking and giving.

I started reading Ask Amy, an advice column by Amy Dickinson. While Amy has her own voice and style, I liked the Landers-esque approach to advice giving – support and, for the most part, validating the writer’s right to whole, safe relationships. Not everyone was pushed to forgive. Her columns seemed more modern than the Landers, but not necessarily as young at the HBI crowd; she was as likely to address issues of young adults starting families as middle agers dealing with elderly, unruly parents and elderly parents dealing with unruly, disrespectful children and grandchildren.

In the last few years, I have been reading Dear Prudence by Emily Yoffe on Slate. Her advice column had a similar feel and style to Miss Manners, although definitely less formal. Her column also appears twice weekly, and she also answers a question via video. Although I am not a fan of watching videos, I have watched a couple of hers. The format is fun: an announcer reads through the question and Prudie answers while sitting at her desk. I’m a lover of reading more than watching videos so I don’t generally watch them. Now that I am a Slate member, I get to read all the columns on a single page. Having that privilege makes the reading even easier! I love not having to press the Next button.

In the last year, I managed to find Dear Abby listed on Yahoo’s sidebar column and picked up reading her column again. Even though the letters are now being answered by Abby’s daughter Jeanne Philips, the style, voice, and kindness in her answers are strikingly similar. It’s like I have been reconnected to my childhood where advice columns were a gateway to learning about adult life in an indirect way.

Recently, I decided that I needed more advice columns so I searched for Advice on Google. I was amused when the first listing came up as a definition of the word. Immediately following were lists of different advice columns. I found a list of advice columns on UExpress.com. I saw Miss Manners and decided to check out the link again. Was it still behind a paywall? The answer is a big, fat, glorious no!

Back onto my list of daily advice column readings she goes! I went back and read a number of her back columns, but I’m not going to read all the way to the beginning like I did all those years ago. That might be going just a little too far. Sometimes I consider axing the advice columns from my daily reading obsessions. Then I reconsider. Why let all that great advice go to waste? Someone’s gotta read ’em. Might as well be me.

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