The Agony Antagonist

Monday, May 21, 2007

Too little information running through my brain, too little information driving me insane

One of my complaints with advice columns is that the letters, as printed, leave out so much vital information. I don’t know if this is because pages-long letters are cut to a few short paragraphs in order to keep the columns at a manageable length, or whether people who write in for help know that they need to keep their letters short because the standard for these columns is succinct letters without a lot of detail. Either way, we the readers are left with a lot of unanswered questions with regard to both the question and the answer portions of these columns.

An extraordinary example of the problems inherent in this particular form of brevity comes from today’s Dear Abby. Worried in Louisiana writes in to say that (1) her cousin, who is four years older than she, fondled her when she was 12 and he thought she was asleep. (2) Now she’s 28, and she’s pregnant by said cousin. (3) Should she tell her family who the father is? She fleshes out the story somewhat. Her version is six sentences long—twice as long as the one I’ve given above—but the pertinent information is the same: Cousin/fondled/pregnant/now what? Plus, I suppose, we know that she’s from Louisiana (which might give some reason to make some sort of joke about inbred southerners, I suppose), and worried.

Based on this scant information, Jeanne Phillips advises Worried to see a geneticist, get child support from her cousin/baby daddy, and make sure that what her cousin did to her as a child he doesn’t do to her children. That’s fair, and yet—I can’t help but feel that something’s terribly wrong here. Jeanne hints at what it is when she notes that Worried hasn’t said whether she plans to continue a relationship with her cousin, but, I mean, really? Is that all you’re wondering about, Jeanne? Because I am wondering what kind of retard would have unprotected sex with the blood relative who molested her as a child? How negligible does one’s self-esteem need to be in order for that to seem like a good idea? Good lord, lady. Not that we know the whole story or anything, but I’m positive that you need more help than Jeanne Phillips can provide. Might I suggest Dan Savage next time? A little tough love (and not of the incestuous-molester kind) might do wonders.

Ellie’s another one who, I suspect, edits her letters down to wee nuggets. Here: I’ll just cut and paste, below.

How do I convince my best friend that his current relationship is -- once again -- on the rebound?

We've been friends since high school, when we all thought our girlfriends were our true loves. After college, he broke up with his girlfriend and soon got into another relationship. They married, had a family and years later went through a messy divorce, during which he got into another relationship with someone else who was divorcing and had kids.

I don't think it's normal for their relationship to be like puppy love -- calling each other all the time at work and all that. It's deja vu all over again. Seen It Before

(Or see the full column here.)

Now, I don’t know about you, but I have all sorts of questions about this situation, primary of which is: Why are you, SIB, all up in your friend’s business? Oh, sure. We all care about our friends and want to make sure they don’t make horrible messes of their lives. Or, if we’re nice people, and good friends, we do. But honestly? Even reading between the lines here, I can’t figure out what SIB’s friend is doing wrong. He’s a once-divorced man in the early stages of a fun relationship. Now, the divorce is one thing. Is a “messy” divorce advisable? Not when you put it that way; but let’s presume that SIB’s friend is a good dad, still in contact with his kids, and that the divorce, though messy, was necessary for some reason (e.g., his wife was a dronk, she cheated on him, cohabitation was unbearable). The main complaint SIB seems to be making here is that his friend hops from unstable relationship to unstable relationship: First his high school sweetheart, then his wife, and now this hussy. Does SIB want his friend to stay with one woman? Does he want him to remain single for a time? From the substance of his letter, we don’t know. I will, however, make a guess that SIB married his high school sweetheart and is now in a largely unhappy marriage, and wishes to god that his friend would just stop acting like a schoolboy and get down to the adult business of being unhappy, goddammit. It’s possible that SIB’s problem is that he actually thinks that the new lady in his friend’s life—a divorcée with her own children—is unsuitable, but he doesn’t come out and say it, which makes me think that that’s not the issue after all. Does he imagine that his friend might get fired from his job, with all these puppyish phone calls? It’s hard to say, but again, probably not. Does he think that his friend flits from woman to woman, never able to maintain a stable relationship? Well god, I hope not. Three relationships over a lifetime seems like a pretty small number.

Really, the only answer here is that SIB is pissed that his friend is acting like a kid in love. He’s not looking out for him, he’s not trying to protect him, he’s not trying to be a good friend. And Ellie should call him on this, but she doesn’t. She does, however, tell him that if his friend says he’s up to the task of being a divorced father dating a divorced mother, all SIB need do is be a pal and keep his opinions to himself. This advice will benefit SIB’s friend, hopefully, but SIB should be told that he’s being an unreasonable prick, if he’s to do any growing from this, I think.

Another contender in the Too Little Information Game is Ellie’s new “Wanna Play Ellie?” letter, written by a real person with real problems, held up for ridicule and lame advice by you, the reader. Shall we play? Head Over Heels in Love is a 38-year-old man in Chicago who is “dating” a 27-year-old nurse in Florida. They met online, of course. Nearly everything she has told him has turned out to be false, at least according to what he’s been able to dig up. However, his heart is overruling his head (his unfortunate choice of words), and he believes that if she would just open up to him they would be able to live together in sexual bliss (my words).

My answer (in 100 words or less): Either this woman is a con artist or a pathological liar, or you are distrustful. In fact, probably all of the above. Your relationship, if you can call it that, is based in fiction. Wanting fictional love to be true is understandable; it’s often more passionate than the real thing. But waiting for this woman to come clean is nothing more than a quixotic pursuit. Ain’t gonna happen.

You live in a big city. You have options. Use them. As for your “girlfriend,” you should be overjoyed at the thought of losing her, unless a lifetime of uncertainty, smokescreens, distortions, distractions, gaslighting, and duplicity is what your heart desires.

A few words too long—and buckets too mean—but what the hell. I’ma send it in anyway. Can’t be any worse than Ellie’s advice.

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