Unsolicited advice

Okay, I can’t help it. I read advice columns — Carolyn Hax, Dear Margo, Dear Prudence at Slate.com, and others at Creators.com‘s advice page. I’m not crazy over Amy Alkon at Creators, nor Cary Tennis’ “Since You Asked” column at Salon.com, but I read them anyway. Dan Savage (warning: NSFW) is good for those who need straight answers to graphic questions.

But by a long shot, the advice column that makes me do a double take is S&M at Philly.com. The column is a weekly two-person effort by Steve & Mia, a 50-something guy and a 20-something woman. Click here for their latest column.

Now, I used to work for a news publishing company, so I’m well aware that things are tight in the newspaper biz, and that column inches are precious, etc. So I am not complaining specifically about the length of the replies. However, I am complaining about the know-nothing, flip answers that are given. I’m used to the sarcasm and snark that passes for hip humor in a lot of these columns, but I do think S&M go a bit beyond the pale. Often their columns make me think they must have gone, “Oh, damn! I have a deadline!”

The first letter is from a young woman who discovered in a previous relationship that she enjoys bondage, but doesn’t know how to approach this with her conservative fiance. Read the replies. Go on, I’ll wait. Okay, back? Can you believe that? Mia says just spring it on the guy out of nowhere and have some stockings handy; Steve says lay out a jump rope.

Come on, people, really?

I assume people writing into this column know what they’re getting into. But let’s assume they want a serious response. I’m absolutely no expert, but let’s try some common sense. So for Letter Writer (LW) #1, how about you try talking about this is a non-pressure, non-bedroom situation. S&M do the LW and her fiance a great disservice by seeming to ignore the description of him as “conservative and more religious” than the LW. I’ll extrapolate and assume that since a) they are engaged and b) they’re having sex, she has some idea of what the guy considers okay and what he considers not-quite-so-okay.

I’d suggest sitting down one evening, or afternoon, when you have nothing going on (or can delay anything that is) and bringing it up as non-confrontationally as possible. Don’t swamp him with websites and articles, although it might be good to have some ready to go when he’s up to it. There are a lot of potential obstacles here — religion aside, the fiance may be uncomfortable with the idea of bondage, and so just tossing down some scarves won’t cut it. I’d also say to the LW that she deserves — they deserve — to have this discussion because if not, their sex life will continue to be “not exciting” and that will not be a good thing for the marriage.

This is a pretty big issue, and one that a lot of people have trouble talking about and it deserved a better answer.

The second letter is from a woman who’s re-entering the dating scene and asks a simple question: How can she avoid the players?

Steve’s answer is useless; Mia’s is better, noting that there’s always the risk of meeting someone like that, but that LW2 has shown she can get out of a bad relationship. If necessary, she can get out of another. It won’t be fun, true, but it’s par for the course, no matter what age you are in the dating pool.

I’d go a little further, though, and remind LW2 that Match.com, and such other sites, are not the only way to meet people. There are friends, co-workers, volunteer efforts, etc. Or just running into someone and apologizing for spilling their coffee. I’d also warn that going into any situation where you’re meeting new people will go better if you can have a positive attitude, even if you have to fake it at first. And of course, the basic — be happy with who are and what you’re doing, because well, you’ve always got you.

The point, I suppose, is that it’s difficult enough to navigate relationships, and the sexual side of them, even with your spouse. Tell me you haven’t sat there wondering how to bring up something with your partner, even something simple like you wish they’d empty the trash when it gets full. Discussing sex is a lot harder, and people looking for help talking about it deserve better than these answers.



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