Increasingly complex relationships, shifting perspectives about the world and anxiety about the future can make college an extremely confusing time for even the most emotionally stable student. We all could use some guidance occasionally, but where can you find wise, nonjudgmental advice? From your parents? Nah, they’re just projecting their life fears onto you and hoping that you don’t end up being the hot mess they were. Professors? Nope, they’re just wondering why you’re spending all your time “building relationships” instead of toiling through your twenty page thesis due next week. Your friends? They’re just as confused as you are.
So who? The answer, as always, is the internet!
No, I don’t mead the grumpy masses on Reddit or the sarcastic commenters on Yahoo Answers. I mean the real gurus: Internet advice columnists.
Internet advice columnists know when to be serious and when to be funny—and most importantly, they don’t know who you are, so you don’t have to worry about someone giving you weird looks from afar later in the week because they know about your “secret” feelings for your stepbrother. This anonymity also means that they can’t follow up, so if you don’t want to take their advice, you don’t have to feel guilty or awkward about not doing so, compounding the problems you already have/still have because you didn’t take their advice, dammit!
“But the internet is large,” you say mournfully. “Whoever shall I trust with my deepest troubles/pettiest dilemmas?” Well, allow me to, ahem, advise you where to start. Here are the five best internet advice columns on the web, in no particular order:
1. Ask Polly (Heather Havrilesky)
Heather Havrilesky of “New York Magazine,” aka Ask Polly, is a secular guru of the highest order. Polly doesn’t just dish out advice; she peers deeply into your soul, finds the nuggets of fear and weakness within and polishes them until they gleam like gold, revealing your true potential and lifting your spirit. Polly treats no problem as too large or too insignificant; she advises women with “perfect” lives that lack passion, as well as women who are suffering through family tragedies. Her common advice includes exercising daily to help diminish anxiety, seeing a therapist and building a life that you would be happy living single so that you don’t end up settling for lackluster romantic partners. Polly recently gathered her most beloved columns into a book intriguingly titled “How to Be a Person in the World.”
2. Ask Bear (S. Bear Bergman)
Bear Bergman of “Bitch Media” gives out guidance that is, like his name, both soft and strong. Bear can advise anyone, but he specializes in LGBTQ issues and nontraditional viewpoints. Bear is awesome because he explains how societal norms play a large role in creating stress in our lives, especially for those who do not or cannot conform to such norms; he even provides links to articles explaining these social phenomena in more depth. He creates an environment of both affirmation and empowerment, expressing that your feelings are valid while providing practical tips for caring for yourself and building a life that inspires you and others around you. And honestly, who doesn’t want to take advice from someone who publishes children’s books that champion racial, sexual and gender equality?
3. Dear Prudence (Mallory Ortberg)
Mallory Ortberg from “Slate” doesn’t just write funny spinoffs of Victorian literature and cofound groundbreaking women’s blogs (The Toast, RIP), she also dishes out practical advice to those with more specific problems, like people who have moved across the country for ultimately failed relationships and people who have found their partners cheating on them with family members. Prudence is careful to affirm her reader’s feelings and good qualities, but she also focuses on the minutia of human behavior: What is polite, what is acceptable and what is not? She is also really funny, a trait that comes across more clearly in her weekly podcasts, which is why many of these podcasts are only available for paying “Slate” subscribers.
4. Carolyn Hax
Carolyn Hax is an old hand in the advice column game; she has been sharing her insight with “Washington Post” readers for almost twenty years. Hax is refreshingly straight-forward without being too abrupt; affirmative, but not too squishy. Her advice is fairly progressive, a trait that distinguishes her from other similarly seasoned “agony aunts,” and she especially excels at extending the benefit of the doubt to all of the players in each letter, not just the writer. She also has an interactive forum, Hax Philes, frequented by people who call themselves “Haxies,” if you crave more immediate interaction. Her columns are brilliantly illustrated by her ex-husband, Nick Galifianakis. (Talk about #ex-relationship goals!)
Captain Awkward is an exception to the above mentioned “don’t ask your professor for personal advice” rule, mainly because she maintains her own advice blog and doesn’t pretend to be a smooth, well-oiled charisma machine. Our Captain’s self-deprecating title makes her approachable for those who find themselves slightly left of the social center. Captain Awkward advises all varieties of people, but does occasionally provide specialized advice for “geeks,” such as “Captain Awkward’s Dating Guide for Geeks” and “Geek Social Fallacies.” She will occasionally launch into long but intensely moving cautionary tales involving her own life, but she is just as likely to create a post briefly answering all of the recent Google searches that lead people to her site. Captain Awkward’s advice challenges the perception that being “different” is bad or unhealthy by giving you permission to embrace every aspect of your personality.
Obviously, advice columnists get hundreds, if not thousands, of letters a week, so writing your own personal letter may not result in a prompt answer to your question, if you receive an answer at all. However, because they respond to a wide variety of issues, reading their answers to older letters can be just as inspiring and might give you vital tools to solve your own problem.
And if that fails, there’s always the comments section. Or Reddit.