Multiple Perspectives in Advice Columns

Thursday, January 25, 2024

I often look at advice columns on Thursday morning. Doing so today, I came across an "ask the readers" reply at Carolyn Hax's Washington Post column.

While I'd never want to see my favorite columnists completely quit, I am glad that several of them toss one up for their readers to tackle from time to time.

In this column, the questioner is having to deal with the emotions evoked by once again having a long-past, unrequited romantic interest back in her social circle.

The reader replies run the gamut from You know the best way to ensure you won't jump? Stop walking toward the edge through calls to introspect to [P]ut a college crush where it belongs: in the past.

All were thoughtful, and touched on different aspects of the problem as the readers saw it. Some of these concerns might not have applied precisely to that reader's particular situation, but they plausibly could, and they did for that kind of situation, at least for the people speaking from experience.

My favorite reply was the first, which I'll quote below:

Image by Greysen Johnson, via Unsplash, license.
I recently had this exact situation happen to me. I hadn't seen my what-could-have-been friend for a number of years. During this time I got married and had kids while he was unhappily married and eventually divorced. When I saw him again a month ago, I started having fantasies, mostly about him realizing I was the one who got away.

However, all those fantasies weren't about me wanting him. They were about my wanting to feel wanted. I wanted to be the object of that initial obsessive, head over heels, fiery part of an early relationship. I wanted to feel like a mystery to be discovered again. I wanted to be pursued. I love my husband and we have a great relationship, but we've been married a long time and that kind of spark is hard to come by after almost two decades together.

Identifying my feelings and what these weird intrusive fantasies were actually about helped me re-approach my relationship in a new way. I asked for things -- emotional, sexual -- from my husband that filled that need for me and those fantasies went away. I don't mean to for this to sound pat and easy, it required me to be very vulnerable (although I didn't say what brought these requests on). However, I knew my husband was who I really wanted, and I found away to feel wanted by him in a better way. [bold added]
This is gold: She admitted her feelings to herself, introspected, got to the bottom of what caused her emotions, and greatly improved her life with what she discovered.

As someone who has had to deal with the X that got away and resurfaced at an awkward time in multiple areas of my life, I am extremely impressed with what this respondent did, and will admit wishing I'd read or done something like this myself a couple of times when I was much younger.

That said, it's never too late to learn from or move on from the past.

These kinds of columns combine the advantages of "crowdsourced" advice with the those of curation by someone who has spent lots of time thinking about how to help people with personal problems. If you're inclined to skip these, as I used to be, you might reconsider that policy.

-- CAV

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