If you read Tuesday night’s Pajiba Love, you probably noticed Lainey drop a Buzzfeed link and mention that it got the Overlords back on our bear trap shit again. The article was a discussion with 5 popular internet advice columnists about what their job is like, including Alison Green of Ask a Manager, Daniel Ortberg of Dear Prudence, Jennifer Peepas of Captain Awkward, Nicole Cliffe of Care and Feeding, Harris O’Malley of Dr. Nerdlove, and Jolie Kerr of Ask a Clean Person. But did you notice who wasn’t included? US. Um, Buzzfeed, we’re RIGHT HERE. ON THE INTERNET. We sling hot helpings of tasty advice too, ya know! I mean, just because our advice is often questionable at best, it doesn’t mean our perspective is invalid. Unless, of course, you think that fire isn’t always the right answer. Which is fair, because “bear traps” is also always correct.
Anyway. I figured I’d take this opportunity to contribute our own perspective to the conversation — by taking all the questions from their roundtable discussion and answering them.
What are the weirdest letters you’ve received?
I mean, basically every question in our inbox would qualify as “weird” — but they’re all differently weird. I’ll never forget the one about the New Jersey dick art fanatic or the self-declared liberal “feminist” trying to figure out how to have a perfectly equal, non-patriarchal wedding (or come up with a reason not to propose to his girlfriend — still not sure quite what that guy’s agenda was). I also love the fact that we have gotten a whole slew of smell-related questions, from microwaved sauerkraut to a couple of awful farters trying to decide who’s the awfulest. We’ve had to defend the career of Priyanka Chopra, convince someone not to take a Facebook photo as proof of paternity, and we’ve even had to explain goddamn Bitcoin — which, honestly, is probably the most research I’ve put into anything since college. Fucking Bitcoin, man.
Point is, you lot keep us on our toes — even if you sometimes treat us like we’re essentially just a slightly more personable Google search, running at your beck and call. But I will admit, I’m slightly jealous of Jennifer from Captain Awkward, who told Buzzfeed that her weirdest question was one she decided not to publish:
A lady forgot her keys or her phone at a friend’s house, so returned 10-15 minutes after she left and found him…involved…with a house pet. She was like “do I have to keep this a secret?” and I was like “you do not have to keep the dogfucker’s secrets” but I also did not want to moderate that comment thread. Now all of you can be haunted as I have been haunted.
Look, I don’t wanna brag, but if anyone ever came to Pajiba for advice on how to deal with the dogfucker in their life, WE WOULD DEFINITELY PUBLISH THAT SHIT. In fact, fuck it, I’ll solicit this: PLEASE ASK US ABOUT DOGFUCKERS! The Overlords would offer up a spectrum of options, from public shaming to blackmail to hiring goons to kidnap said fucked-dog to save it from further abuse. Or, like, maybe just calling animal control and reporting the abuse. Or maybe just tricking the dogfucker into a bear trap and letting the dog get its revenge.
Where other advice columnists fear to tread, Pajiba will stomp all over and light shit on fire. That’s our guarantee.
Are there any recurring themes in your inbox that surprise you?
We get a lot of work-related questions, from office etiquette and dealing with annoying co-workers to how to change career paths. We don’t get as many romance/sexy-time questions as I’d like, but on the other hand we’ve gotten multiple variations of the ol’ “how do I make friends?” conundrum, which I assume means our readers think it’s an issue we have experience with? Hot tip: bear traps keep people locked in place while you get to know ‘em! There’s also, unsurprisingly, a lot of questions that touch on politics. We’ve had questions from Americans living abroad and having to explain the Trump-ness of it all to the people they meet, and from people considering moving to America from abroad and being worried about immersing themselves in the Trump-ness of it all here. In fact, trying to explain America in one shape or another is a reoccurring thing, and it’s funny because half the time I don’t even know what the fuck is going on here myself!
Another theme I’ve noticed is that a good portion of our time is spent answering questions from other Overlords! Sometimes those questions/answers make their way onto the site for everyone to read — but not always. Mostly, I just want you to know that AP(A)A has turned into an in-house service as much as it is a public-facing venture.
A lot of our questions boil down to people trying to figure out how to communicate with someone else. Though I’ll admit, I never would have anticipated how many of our answers would advocate lying, or at least figuring out how honest to be at a given time. But hey, sometimes it’s easier to get out of an awkward Thanksgiving by pretending to have the Norovirus than saying “I’m not OK eating turkey with your Trump-supporting ass, Grandpa!”
Have any of you ever gotten the “the problem you think you have is not the problem you actually have” letter?
Oh, yes. Sometimes it’s in a big emotional way, like the person who asked if they had to drop everything and help their mother, even at the risk of their own mental stability. And of course they didn’t — not only because they shouldn’t risk exacerbating their own issues with depression and anxiety but also because even if they did, they’re not the help she truly needed. Sometimes the problem isn’t whether to help someone — it’s accepting that you can’t. Another person asked whether to trust their gut or their friends and family’s opinion about how dire the situation is around them, which led us to a whole explainer on how even if this does feel like the end of the world, it isn’t, because shit’s always been awful in one way or another (we’re a ray of sunshine, truly).
Do you ever think a letter might be fake? What do you do when that happens?
No. We take every question seriously. Or at least, we answer them seriously. Even if our serious answer involves clapping back at the person who wrote it! Point is, I don’t much care whether a question is real, as long as it isn’t boring.
I will tell you that one question, which we answered on the site, was secretly sent by Dustin himself via a fake email address — and he didn’t confess until after the column was posted. So technically I’ve been faked out by my own fucking boss.
How does being an advice columnist play out in your own life? Does it ever come up in weird ways in your relationships?
No, the people in my real life know better than to trust me. I mean, I write movie reviews here too and it’s not like my friends give a shit about my opinions when they’re making their ticket decisions either (hell — they actively distrust me!). Though I will say that sometimes my husband will try to read between the lines of the advice column, and ask me if I was actually talking about him when I was offering advice on how to have a debate with a dude or something. And then I say “Noooooo” while internally I’m screaming “YEAH KINDA.”
What about imposter syndrome? Do you always feel perfectly qualified to do what you’re doing? Do you ever worry you’re giving the wrong advice?
Uh, the fact that we are unqualified to do this is literally in our mission statement. We even pitched this column as being “Free Advice From Unqualified People On The Internet” — and I think we’ve delivered on all counts! The real problem is that I sort of imagined if we positioned ourselves as being blatantly dubious, we’d receive suitably ridiculous questions. But almost right off the bat we started getting serious, heartfelt ones, and had to figure out how to walk that line of being like, “I don’t know why you think we can help you teach your foster child about facing racism, but fuck it — you asked, we’ll try!” And over time we figured out to earnestly approach the questions, while also owning up to the fact that we’re not experts. And of course it helps that the Overlords all discuss the questions together, so it’s never just one person’s opinion. This column crowdsources!
But I will say that we are definitely qualified in the area of solving problems with fire. Through years of collective personal experience. Oh, the shit we’ve burned!
How much mail do you get? How do you manage it all? Do you ever send private responses, even when you don’t publish a letter?
It comes in fits and starts, which is why we’ve gotten to a point where we don’t necessarily publish weekly — or sometimes we’ll tackle multiple questions in a single column. It’s pretty unpredictable, but I think we could always use more — if only for our own amusement! And yes, sometimes we do send private responses, especially if we are backlogged and aren’t sure when we’ll get to something.
Are there questions you won’t answer or topics you won’t address? If so, what makes something off-limits for you?
We answer almost anything, though we also reserve the right to be like “WTF is this with this question?!” while we do so. And for some of the more sensitive, personal questions, we also point out that while we are happy to offer our opinion, please also seek professional help. I’m not sure what exactly would be off-limits, unless it seemed like something we’ve already covered in some shape or another, or if the question isn’t really something that requires “advice” so much as someone looking for validation. Mostly, if we think readers will connect with the topic, or if we can find an interesting angle, then fuck it — we’ll run it.
If someone wants to write to an advice columnist, are there tips that would help them increase their chances of getting a response (and a useful response)?
First off, there’s no guarantee our responses will ever be useful. That’s part of the fun! But if you want to guarantee seeing your question in a future column… I mean, did we mention we’d love to tell you how to handle dogfuckers?
For people who aren’t Alison, do you frequently get updates from LWs?
Not frequently, but we do get them on occasion and I always share them with the Overlords. It’s really nice! Though it does always makes me go back to the column in question to see what the hell we said, just to check if we were being super-assholes that week.
What question/LWs do you still think and wonder about a lot?
I don’t know how it is for the other Overlords, but personally? I still wonder whatever happened to all that boyfriend’s dick art.
*Please note, I’m sure that puppy in the header pic isn’t actually drinking Tito’s Vodka. Probably. But WHAT IF I’M WRONG?
Header Image Source: Getty Images