I haven’t watched any daytime soap operas since I was in junior high, and I am not very interested in the personal lives of celebrities. But, I do have a guilty pleasure of sorts that involves reading advice columns, specifically those I can read on the Internet. I get something out of reading about some stranger’s personal problem and the helpful suggestions offered by either an expert or a bunch of well-meaning fellow readers.
The main columns I read are Dear Abby, Dear Prudence and Carolyn Hax’s Tell Me About It. These all follow the pattern of a columnist/expert responding to reader’s pleas for help and guidance. Often they will print another reader’s response to a previous answer, but rarely do discussions continue beyond that. There are recurring problems and the writers do a decent job of rephrasing the same advice to readers over and over again. I like how Ms. Hax seems to draw from a set of rules that favor being straightforward and fair to others, while also being honest with yourself about your needs.
Aside from the typical advice column, there are online communities that exist for members to post their problems and have the rest of the community respond to them. I find myself on Yahoo Answers and Ask Metafilter most often. These sites have a different dynamic, since people who are answering the question are able to read several previous answers to the question. This often results in them refuting or responding to a previous answer and not always answering the original question. Since you have a wider panel of answerers than the columns, the community answers show you different points of view that can be helpful, but they can easily fall into an ‘us vs. them’ mentality.
Why is this my guilty pleasure? I see it as a way to enhance my social skills and emotional intelligence without having to expend social energy. I’m an introvert and find social situations pretty demanding on my energy level. Although I do watch a lot of television and movies and read many novels, I don’t think I get the same sort of wisdom from them. In a fictional story, the writer is trying to keep your interest and advance the plot. A single person or a small group writes most of the characters and dialogue. Characters make decisions and act in ways that may be artificial or just unusual.
If I can read about real life situations and people’s actual responses to them, I can reflect on how I’d respond in the same situation. When I have to make hard or important decisions, I try to learn from the mistakes and triumphs of people who have gone before me. Before I read advice columns all the time, my knowledge was limited to those I knew personally. Now I have the benefit of having read through many other people’s views on the subject, as well as their first-hand accounts of what exactly happened and what they have learned from it.