Everyone hated my response to "Utterly Confused," the young woman in the college dorm who was disturbed by the atmosphere of fear created by a dorm mate who loudly and obsessively monitored everyone else for infractions of the code (drinking, taking drugs) and reported them—including calling the police about a kid down the hall who was selling drugs. I said the girl sounded like "a sad case with an emotional disorder" and suggested the letter writer talk to the resident director about the situation. Readers wanted to know whether I was on drugs, because my answer was so wacked out. They wondered whether I was seriously defending having a dormitory become a decadent den of illegal activity, while condemning the one student who wanted a decent atmosphere.
I agree I did a terrible job of not making clear that no one should have to put up with illegal activity in the dorm (even if I think a drinking age of 21 is probably counterproductive and leads to more binge behavior). I should have answered by saying that the whole place sounded out of control, and that the dorm needed responsible adult supervision to make sure the campus rules of conduct were being respected and that all students felt safe and secure. Maybe, as some readers suggested, the hall monitor was so angry, in part, because of cruel treatment by her debauched classmates. But in editing the letter for space, I left off the information that the unhappy girl liked to go through the dorm's garbage cans looking for bottles of alcohol and roam the halls sniffing for pot so she could report her classmates. This doesn't excuse my lousy answer, but I still feel that even if the young woman was in the right, she also sounds a little off.
Finally, readers sometimes ask whether I hear back from people who have written to me for advice.
I do, rarely, and wish it were more often. Two years ago, a woman who signed herself Weighed Down wrote that she had met a fantastic man with whom she had an incredible connection, but he was overweight, and she wasn't sure she would ever be physically attracted to him. She wondered whether she should break it off before it went further and she hurt him. I advised her not to think about the future but just continue to enjoy his company and see what happened. I said instant lust is wonderful but doesn't always last, and she may be surprised by how things develop with her lovely, large man.
I recently got an update. She took my advice and wanted me to know the two of them had just gotten engaged. "I couldn't imagine my life without him in it," she wrote, and this time she signed herself, "Light as a Feather."
That made me feel light as a feather. And so, dear readers, to you best wishes for 2010, and thank you for your delightful, insightful, and provocative letters.