Dear Prudence: Emily Yoffe on her most difficult question and how to deal with change.

In Her Final Chat, Prudie Shares Which Letter Was the Hardest to Answer

In Her Final Chat, Prudie Shares Which Letter Was the Hardest to Answer

Advice on manners and morals.
Nov. 10 2015 6:11 AM

“How Lucky I Am”

The outgoing Dear Prudence on how readers have humbled her and why change is bittersweet.

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photo by Teresa Castracane

Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, chatted with readers for her final live Q-and-A. An edited transcript of the chat is below. (Sign up below to get Dear Prudence delivered to your inbox each week. Read Prudie’s Slate columns here. Send questions to the new Prudence, Mallory Ortberg, at prudence@slate.com.)

dear prudie.

Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Teresa Castracane.

Q. Thanks, Prudie: My friend and I are college students who for years have loved your modern morals, your veiled sass, your firmness and graciousness. We forward each other outlandish Dear Prudence headlines and learn some real, beyond-after-school-special life lessons from your responses. You’re like a wise but progressive rabbi. What’s been the most challenging, troubling, or difficult question you’ve received over the years?

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A: Thank you so much. The first time I did a live event, I was stunned when I walked out and saw that almost everyone in the audience was in his or her 20s. It was such a thrill to think people so much younger than I am enjoyed the column. One of the turning-point columns for me was the letter from a mother whose 10-year-old daughter was the product of a rape. She had never told her child this, but now her daughter was becoming more insistent about knowing about her father. The letter writer’s family urged her to just tell the girl the father was dead. I knew that was the wrong answer, but I didn’t know what the right answer was. The letter sat in my inbox for a while as I pondered, then I turned to the brilliant child psychologist Alan Kazdin for advice. To sum up, he told me that often people, especially children, don’t actually need to know the answer to the question; they just need to know it’s OK to ask the question. So I wrote an answer about that—about the need for people not to feel there’s a taboo about exploring potentially painful truths. That column was so instructive for me and became a touchstone in the years since.

Q. Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes: Prudie, of all the people Slate could have chosen to follow your magic, Mallory Ortberg is the most unexpected but most wonderful option. That being said, I deeply respect and love your tender yet tough style. I’m excited and scared but mostly full of regret that we won’t have our wise Ms. Yoffe to guide us through all of life’s situations. To wrap this all up, an actual question (or rather, a plea): Tell me how to feel in the wake of this announcement?

A: Ah, lovely question. Next February would have been my 10th anniversary, and as it was looming, I realized that I couldn’t make it to this milestone and that this precious, precious job should be approached with a sense of joy, not obligation. As the song says, we’ve got to turn and face the strange changes. I feel lucky that this choice was mine, that it was better for me to realize I’ve said to all of you all the things I had to say, and that it was time for you to hear new things from someone else. Change will come whether we want it or not, so it’s lucky when we want it.

Q. 28 Years Old: Well, I guess that tells me who Slate is marketing to. How much does this person know about life at 28? Sorry, the 28-somethings are gonna hate me, but that’s how I feel.

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A: I’m sure you know plenty of old people whose advice you would run from. There are some people who are preternaturally wise. I don’t know Mallory personally, but her work shows that she possesses a true voice and a unique worldview. She will remake this column in exciting and necessary ways. No one always agrees with the advice in an advice column. But as you get to know the writer of one, you get a sense of whether you feel in sync with the author, whether you trust her, and even when you disagree that you feel the conclusion was honestly and interestingly arrived at. So give Mallory a chance—I bet she will surprise you.

Q. Say It Ain’t So: Are you going to start writing the Human Guinea Pig again?

A: No! I had so much fun being Human Guinea Pig, but I realized that when I wrote what turned out to be my last one—my visit to a nudist colony—that after I blessedly put my clothes back on, I had stripped down and humiliated myself for the final time. Now Slate’s Justin Peters has taken up this mantle, so be on the lookout for his adventures.

Q. Forbidden Love: I love my advice columnist dearly. From my perspective, she is a young hottie with a pretty good head on her shoulders and a fun sense of humor. Unfortunately, she is being replaced by someone who, while she does seem to have a fun sense of humor, has no record of advice for me to judge. Also, from my perspective, she may constitute jailbait. What should I do?

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P.S. My temptation to stay with my current advice columnist is tempered by the fact that while I can get away with posting online at work, I’m pretty sure sitting at my desk reading a magazine would be frowned upon.

A: You are clearly deluded to consider me a young hottie, but blowing kisses anyway. I hope you both stay with Slate and follow me to the Atlantic, but for your advice fix, you’ve got to turn to Mallory! When I started as Prudie I had no track record of giving advice! When I started as Prudie a bunch of commenters banded together to protest and try to get me removed and my predecessor, Margo Howard, returned. But it all worked out. I’m sure with this transition, it will all work out again.

Q. Re: 28 Years Old: You have to learn to love the millennials. We’ll be taking care of you when you’re old!

A: Indeed! When my daughter left for college a year ago, among the many difficult and complicated feelings (and tears shed) about this, I realized, “I’m losing my own in-house consultant on youth culture!” Now Slate will have a Prudie who is youthful, and that’s great. Each Prudie has been a reset and a distinctive voice. There’s a reason Sean Connery is not still doing James Bond! I think it’s fantastic that Mallory will bring an utterly different perspective to the column.

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Q. Opinions You Disagree With: I want to be able to say later that I participated in Dear Prudie, Emily Yoffe version! So I see that some of the letter writers hold drastically different worldviews than you do, most of which I also despise. You always wrote back in a polite yet firm manner. Do you get angry reading these type of letters or comments? If yes, what do you do after? Or are you just such a pro and separate work and life well?

A: I love disagreement—civil disagreement, that it. You don’t become a journalist, or advice columnist, unless you have a thick skin. It’s not interesting if everyone agrees with you and you never get challenged. I think one problem with society today is that there isn’t enough challenging, intelligent, and vigorous debate—there’s mostly a lot of name-calling and attempted silencing. If you disagree, make an argument, and let’s mix it up! You don’t learn that much from people who agree with you. You learn by confronting well-stated ideas you disagree with. I am grateful for all the people who made me rethink and hone my views.

Q. Change: Can’t everything just stay the way it was? My (imaginary Slate) family was perfect: charming, wise, wit-crackling. Sure, every now and then John Dickerson or Julia Turner would say something that rankled, but nothing so serious as to dim the warm glow. David Plotz stepped down, and I mourned. I feared the loss of others. And now dear Yoffe. Guys, c’mon, can’t we make this work? You’re always gonna be together forever, right? Right?

A: When my daughter was 5 years old, after her birthday party she came to me and said, “Mom, you really made a nice party for me. It really was. But it just wasn’t the same as my last parties. I mean you, you did a great job, but it just wasn’t what I thought it would be. It felt different this year.” I remember the tears welling up in my eyes as I realized at 5 years old, she was understanding that it never stays the same, it all moves on, and even that time when it was just right will have to pass. Slate is invigorated and renewed by changes—think of all the great talent that has arrived just in the past year! I had a long, great run, and now it’s someone else’s turn. And that’s bittersweet, but it’s right.

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Q. Dear Prudie Game: For the last 10 years, anytime my friends and I go on a longer car trip or have a girls’ night, we print a week’s worth of Dear Prudence questions and play the Dear Prudie game. We read the questions, discuss how we would give advice and the reasons why, and then read your answers. We know we did well when our answer matches yours, even if not everyone agrees. It’s allowed for a lot of insight and understanding into my friends’ lives, relationships, and thought processes, helping to bring us all closer. I may not have had a burning question for you over the years, but I have better relationships because of you. Thanks for all the years of great advice.

A: I’m so glad you mentioned the Prudie game. I have had so much fun hearing from readers over the years that they do this. They read the letter—to themselves or someone else—and try to come up with an answer and then see how it compares with mine. I heard from one writer who said she and her now-husband fell in love over this game. The good news is that you can continue to play!

Emily Yoffe: I have to stop now. I can’t believe it, but I have to stop my last—my very last chat. There are so many gracious letters that are in this queue that I can’t get to. I appreciate them all. I am going to print these out, and when I need a boost—or need to shed a tear—I am going to read the kind, uplifting, beautiful things you have written. How lucky I am that I got to do this job and how moved I am to hear from so many of you that enjoyed what I did. What an extraordinary community Prudie readers are. And Prudie goes on! Please play the Prudie game with Mallory and welcome her the way you have welcomed me all these years. Thank you, thank you, thank you.