Slate’s “Dear Prudence advice columnist Emily Yoffe responded to questions on Wednesday about her favorite letters, her personal life, and her long-distance friendship with Dan Savage during an “Ask Me Anything” on Reddit. This transcript has been edited for clarity.
Snapmedown: Has there ever been an occasion that you seriously considered notifying law enforcement after receiving a Dear Prudie letter?
Emily Yoffe: Great question. I haven't. Usually when the obvious answer is to notify law enforcement, the person writing to me has identified a problem, and I am just telling the person to go ahead and notify the authorities. I have heard back a few times from people who have done that and felt better about it.
I haven't had the kind of letter in which I realize that the letter writer, for example, is molesting a child and I myself need to act.
SquirrelWife: I love your column, but I’ve always found your stance on alcohol to be a bit strange. Anyone who drinks more than one drink once a week seems to be labeled an alcoholic. Why so stringent? I think by your standards everyone I know has a severe problem. I should perhaps point out that I’m English and we do like a drink.
Emily Yoffe: I agree people get really *pissed* at me for my stance on drunkenness. I am not at all opposed to drinking. I am opposed to being drunk, especially being drunk as a hobby. I love England, but watching puking people stumble out of the pubs at closing time is not the most endearing sight.
trees_make_me_happy: Hi Prudie! No real question, but I wanted to provide a follow up. I wrote, and you published, one of your more controversial letters about five or six years ago now.
It was regarding my then boyfriend, on whose computer I found a porn CD that included child porn. I didn't actually take your advice, but you did kick start me to at least do something. I confronted him about it later that day, over the phone while at work to see how he would react. He sort of spluttered and denied any knowledge that that's what was on there and told me to throw away the disc when I got home. Then, when I got home, the disc was mysteriously already gone.
I didn't contact the police, which was what a lot of your readers were up in arms about, but I did move out a week later and am now happily married to a wonderful, wonderful man and have an adorable six-week-old daughter who's sleeping in a swing across from me at the moment. Thanks for doing what you do!
Emily Yoffe: I remember your letter and I'm really glad to hear there's such a happy ending for you! A lot of people take issue with my belief that our laws need to make much more a distinction between people who look at child pornography and people who molest children. I know the child pornography industry is repellent, but I think that someone who just looks at these images and does not touch children should not be incarcerated for years on end.
way2gimpy: What percentage of your questions do you think are just made up?
Emily Yoffe: A minuscule percentage and I don't run letters I think are fake. Take the incestuous twins letter, which a lot of people said was a fake. I hope the follow-up helped prove it wasn't. But after I ran the original letter I got an email from a young woman with the subject line "Thank you." It turns out she was in an incestuous relationship with her twin sister and they thought they were the only two like them in the world.
She had an unusual name, so a little Googling revealed there were two people the same age with the same last name living at one address. Why should we be surprised by people's capacity to get themselves into seemingly unlikely situations?
pugg_fuggly: Do you find yourself giving different advice than you would have earlier in your career? Or is good advice timeless?
Emily Yoffe: I think I have more of a sense now that some situations just can't be improved very much. Some people would rather kill themselves with booze or drugs, for example, than make their lives better.
Our laws are such that if you have a mentally ill loved one who will not go in for treatment, then there's often not much you can do. (These laws need reforming, but I don't see that happening.) So what I'm left with is giving more advice along the lines of after you'd done what you can, you just have to sometimes accept people won't or can't be helped.
Dhet: Does your faith inform your answers to letter writers?
Emily Yoffe: I'm not a particularly religious person, but I do think I'm Jewish in my outlook. Some basic ways are that I'm a “this world,” not “the next world” person. And that forgiveness is not as guiding a principle for me as it is for Christians. Not that I don't believe in forgiveness, I just don't believe everyone has to forgive. I don't want people to get stuck on early traumas, but the pressure to forgive can be destructive in some cases. There are ways to get over things without forgiving the perpetrator.
Ex_party: What's the screening process like for your letters? Any good ones that have been screened out, but you'd like to tell us about?
Also, I've been cheating on my brother with my other brother (we're triplets), any advice?