Abby, Ann, Ben and the “Agony Aunts”

Advice columns in newspapers have always been popular. Some readers skip the news and go to the advice columns to see what problems are bothering other people.

It’s amusing to postpone looking at the answer imagining how you might respond before you look at what Dear Abby or Ann Landers has to say.

The British call advice-giving writers (mostly women) “agony aunts.” This suggests a kind and elderly relative dispensing bits of wisdom. One can almost hear her say “Ah my child, when you have lived as long as I have, you cannot help having acquired some experience and knowledge of the ways of the world.”

Sometimes, the advice givers take the easy way out suggesting you consult a specialist: Alcoholics Anonymous, a marriage counselor or an abused women’s shelter. I prefer more original approaches.

The questions are sometimes surprisingly naive. Someone might write: “I have been married for 15 years to a very nice man but he often belittles me in front of other people.” (That is a nice man? and why did you wait 15 years before complaining?) or “I have a wonderful wife but she never stops talking when we have guests.” (One wonders what other “wonderful” qualities she has.)

Some columnists specialize in a practical topic: “Miss Manners” will tell you all about etiquette, how to decline an invitation graciously, how to seat people at dinner and who to serve first. And of course what to wear for different occasions.

The New York Times Magazine has a section called “Sunday Styles” in which readers ponder awkward social situations: Who should pay at restaurants, what to do with unwanted gifts, how to respond to questions you do not like. Sometimes the questions veer toward the ethical: “Should I tell my best friend that his girl friend is cheating on him?” “Can I cut off a relative who has hateful views?” “If I have been overpaid, should I keep the money?” Answers to such questions are often to go with flow, not to obsess, giving the questioner permission to follow their own inclination.
The best advice givers are the ones who identify the problem, get to the crux of the matter and propose a common sense solution of the kind that makes you say “Why didn’t I think of that?”

 

You might say that Benjamin Franklin was a sort of “Dear Abby.”
Poor Richard’s Almanack provided wit and wisdom, aphorisms and
proverbs as a form of advice albeit unsolicited. Mark Twain also wrote this “Advice to Youth: Obey your parents when they are present because they think they know better. Respect your superiors if you have any. Do not lie until you are a perfect liar.”

When someone starts a sentence with:”If you ask me,” I have an irresistible urge to respond: So, who asked you?

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Libby
Libby
3 years ago

Dear Simone,
This is one of my favorite “Simone Says” columns!

There is a new, very thoughtful “Agony Auntie,” called “Dear Sugar.” I happened to stumble upon a book of some of her questions and answers.

As always, thank you for a special blog entry. It made my morning!

Libby B

Arlie
Arlie
3 years ago

Hi Simone. I love your writing style. Please keep it up!

Zac
Zac
3 years ago

Delightful, thanks for sharing!

Also people who say “it goes without saying..,” so shut up already? 🙂

Tia Berkey
Tia Berkey
3 years ago

Hi Simone, I loved this entry. Please keep up the good work!

Kyle Bender
Kyle Bender
3 years ago

This really brings back memories for me. I read the twin sister’s advice columns “Ask Ann Landers” and “Dear Abby” in the 60’s and loved the witty advice they’d give. It was so funny to hear some of the wild situations people would be in and asked for their advice. Nothing was off limits and especially with Dear Abby, her responses were laced with sarcasm. Thanks for a fun post!

Jerry Watkins
Jerry Watkins
3 years ago

Benjamin Franklin’s classic Poor Richard’s Almanac was very popular in colonial days. Published yearly between 1732 and 1758, 10,000 copies were printed per year. That’s pretty amazing if you think about the effort it took to print pamphlets back then. Some of his sayings are still used today, like “Fish and Visitors stink in 3 days.”

Sam Mann
Sam Mann
3 years ago

It’s funny to realize that when Ann Landers was popular there was no Internet, so people sent their questions through the mail. It took a lot more effort to actually sit down and write their problems and then go through with addressing it and sending it to Ann. I’m sure there were a lot of people that changed their minds about sending the letter after writing it.

Justin77
Justin77
3 years ago

I’ve never been a fan of the advice columns and haven’t read many of them but I’m sure there are plenty of people that read them religiously. They seem as trivial to me as the gossip columns which don’t interest me either. That’s ok though “different strokes for different folks.”

Travor
Travor
3 years ago

Oh yeah, I’m one of those readers who skip the news and go to the advice columns to see what problems are bothering other people. I can’t really help it. I mean, most times I will want to understand how others are applying a solution to certain problems. This has greatly helped me work on mine.

Leah
Leah
3 years ago

I already made it a practice to close my eyes at the answer and think of how I would react in the same situation. It’s funny that even with my best thought out answers, most times, the advice in the columns sounds more workable, even though sometimes they are there to give you a good laugh. It has led me to believe that sharing problems with someone ‘wisely’ can help you in a lot of ways. And honestly, Abby or Ann Landers are doing a good job providing readers with such.

Charlie
Charlie
3 years ago

Lol. You really are into the columns too because your examples of naive questions usually surprise to me. Like seriously, some things are better left unsaid as when you look deep you’ll realize that these are things that can be best overlooked unless they aren’t expressing their questions the right way. For the Sunday styles in NYT magazines, I always look forward to that as there is always something interesting to learn.

Roland
Roland
3 years ago

OMG! I had to take out time to laugh this one off! Saying “so who asked you” to someone who said ”If you ask me,” sounds like something I’ll do very soon as I get a lot of that at work during our chat sessions. Plus my sister would always start off with that when asked for some suggestions about a topic.

Scout
Scout
3 years ago

I remember my mum once wrote something for the advice column and sent it. She was so thrilled when she saw it up with an answer from Abby. She was so excited that she had that particular page framed and placed in her room. I always looked at it strangely whenever I went into her room as a little girl. I wondered why the hype. I guess I understand it a bit better now.

Brylee
Brylee
3 years ago

My grandparents were good fans of this column and never disposed of the papers whenever they are done such that we will go visiting and spend hours reading them and sharing stories. Thanks for taking me down this memory.