Emily Yoffe: It's very informal and mostly goes by my saying, "Now that's a good letter." I also try to balance things. If I've done a wedding letter recently, I'll hold off on answering those for a while. I definitely don't screen out good letters, I print them!
Please write this up with more, many more, details and send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sixacross: Thanks for doing an AMA, Prudie! I love your column and find your point of view really helpful.
Three questions for you:
1. You recently ran some follow-ups with some memorable letter writers to see what action they ended up taking and how that worked out for them. Were the writers you contacted generally willing to share their progress? (By the way: more follow-ups, please!)
2. Do you get stopped on the street by readers who recognize you and want some quick advice?
3. Some writers have obviously been letting a bad situation accumulate without action for many years. Do you ever maintain a correspondence with them after a letter, to ensure they take some action to improve their situation?
Emily Yoffe: 1. I agree the follow-ups were really interesting and I plan to do more. Most of the people I contacted were happy to give me updates. A few didn't respond, which I understand.
2. Most recently in a break at Yom Kippur services a woman and her sister asked me to mediate a dispute between them, and I did!
3. I'm not a therapist, which people understand, so I don't try to act as that for people. There is so much sadness in my inbox, many letters that don't lend themselves to the column because the issues are so complicated and overwhelming.
5tupidflanders: Can you tell us which submission has had the most profound impact on you? Is there one that keeps you wondering what happened to the letter writer?
Emily Yoffe: The letter from the mother of a 10-year-old whose child was the product of rape and whose daughter was now asking about her father was one of the most powerful letters I dealt with. I turned to Dr. Alan Kazdin for advice in answering it.
Basically the point was that you want to let your child know this subject is not taboo, and explain that the answer is complicated and ask if it's okay to tell some now and some when the child is older. I heard from another reader in a similar situation who used the advice and said it really helped.
On question two, several years ago I had a letter from a man who was in love with a woman he wanted to propose to but he'd never let her know that when he was a boy he accidentally killed her father. He and some friends were throwing corn at passing cars and they hit the father who crashed the car. I'd really like to know what happened to those people.
XtheXlanternX: Prudence, I love your column and I read it religiously. The only place I regularly disagree with you is about marital infidelity—you seem to judge these people much more harshly than I would.
I was just wondering how you got started doing advice columns, and if you had any advice to anyone who would like to do what you're doing someday. I read a lot of your columns, and I feel like you're probably a person to use as a model, but what sorts of things helped get you to where you are today?
Emily Yoffe: Most people complain I'm too easy on cheaters! I really try to take it case by case. I do not think infidelity in and of itself has to be a marriage ender. It depends on the circumstances. (And dear husband, don't get any ideas.)
I don't think you set out in life to be an advice columnist. I have been a journalist for more than 30 years (Oh, Lordy) and I was lucky enough to be at Slate when the previous Prudie, Margo Howard left. (Economist Herb Stein, father of Ben, was the first.) I thought, “Hey, I've been through a lot of crap and my life is better now than when I was younger, so I should put my name forward for this.” Really, luck played a huge role. But doesn't it in a lot of things?
Sensitiverobot: Do family and friends often come to you for advice, or is it understood that once you're off the clock you're just Emily and not Prudence?
Emily Yoffe: When I turn to my sister for advice with problems she often says, "What would Prudie say," and I say, "I know what Prudie would say, but this is me and I don't want to hear any reasonable advice!" I really try in my private life not to act as if I'm in the advice game. Occasionally people will come to me for advice, but it's generally someone I'm in a mutual relationship with and so we come to each other anyway. My daughter would tell you that I never stop with the unwanted advice.
Viscountprawn: What other advice columnists do you personally know and/or talk with? Especially interested to hear about Dan Savage. I imagine you guys going out and getting blasted together on tequila at some sleazy bar.
Emily Yoffe: Amy "Ask Amy" Dickinson and I used to hang around when she lived in D.C. I have spoken on the phone, via interviews, with Dan Savage and Cary Tennis. I feel like I have a long-distance relationship with Dan even though we don't know each other. I love that he alternately takes me to task and agrees with me. And I was so thrilled that the incestuous twins wrote to me and not him—that really annoyed him, and I understand why!
NikaNuss: Hi Prudie! How do you feel about the comment section on your articles at Slate? I've always been under the impression that you are rather amused by how silly your fans can get (like the time you joined us when we were all writing poetry about letters!), but this week the comment section has been subject to mass bannings and deletions. Are you on board with that? What type of posts do YOU want your fans to make?
Emily Yoffe: I think the comments section is a great bonus. I've heard back from many letter writers who have said they have been particularly helped by the commenters. But there's a problem when the comments appear to be a kind of club taken over by very enthusiastic posters. I really appreciate the regulars, but others are discouraged from chiming in if the section is being monopolized by a few.
(*This final question was excluded from the original transcript for length reasons, but added back in order to help clarify Slate’s commenting policies.)
Emily Yoffe: Thanks, everyone. This was really fun and you made me think about what I do.