What motivates people to write in to advice columns? It’s hardly the most efficient way to solve life’s dilemmas. The lead time is too long for any truly pressing, agonizing situations. And by the time the magazine or column comes out, even milder complaints will have been solved or forgotten about or morphed into totally different problems.
To us, agony aunt letter writing always seemed like a faintly exhibitionist way to get a verdict on your personal life, like People’s Court with the faces blurred out. Cheaper than couples therapy, writing into an advice column is private, but only in the sense that it won’t wreck your Google. Ideally, those in your cohort (especially he or she who has wronged you) will read it, recognize you and—thanks to the authority and impartiality of the advice columnist—realize that you were right all along, finally understanding the full magnitude of your suffering.
If it’s not all totally made up, that is. We really, really hope the letters in ELLE’s advice column, Ask E. Jean, this month are not made up because one of them amounts to a juicy literary blind item.
“My husband was a finalist for the National Book Awards,” begins the letter (not online yet). “And I’ve done all right with the literary prizes myself.”
It’s hard to imagine a pair of literary prize winners having problems like the rest of us. It turns out they don’t, really. Their problems include irrational admirers.
“Last year, a woman (let’s call her Hera as an homage to her mythic heights of jealousy) sent me a series of virulent messages on Facebook claiming she was sleeping with my husband, was in love with him, and that I’d get my heart broken.”
But she was not merely a psycho groupie. The National Book Award finalist had dated Hera before he married the letter writer, so he called her and confronted her about the Facebook messages. She apologized, said she had gone off her meds and promised never to contact them again. But she did, a few months later, dropping by the house and asking the NBA finalists’ daughter if the NBA Finalist was at home. The literary couples’ lawyer issued Hera a no-contact statement.
All was well until a year later, when the letter writer recently received another message from an e-mail account she didn’t recognize. She took it to the police, who said if it wasn’t Hera, the letter writer could be sued for slander. (Is this how that works?) Now the letter writer felt “upset,” “powerless” and, evidently, a little paranoid.“What if Hera continues making new e-mail accounts and harassing me until I’m old and gray?” she wrote.
In her response—thoughtful and allusive as ever—E. Jean provides two clues to the couples identity.
“One e-mail? In a year? Come on—really? You’ve won a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship. Your best stuff conjures up how crazy love makes you feel (I’ve read your poems!) so it should come as no surprise to learn that pretty much everybody gets Facebook messages about ex-lovers.”
“It doesn’t take a detective to reveal your fear really is. The e-mailer is not the only jealous woman. Perhaps you don’t trust your husband as much as a confident woman should . Is he a flirt? Is he neglecting you? He’s a famous novelist. He certainly has the words to reassure you. Ask him to.”
Anyone know a National Book Award finalist novelist married to a National Endowment for the Arts grant-winning poet? Or has E. Jean changed the accolades to protect the innocent?