The Internet is like an overly garrulous friend—entertaining and inattentive, carrying on regardless of who’s around.Strayed, in turn, has made a career from listening. They are performers, and the traditional advice column was designed to be playful.
The people who wrote to Dear Abby in the sixties and seventies, by contrast, were terrified.Her column recognizes that giving advice is often futile. There was no telling whether “End of the Line” or “Losing It” were the melancholic people they claimed to be, or if they were pranksters, or editors making backhanded assignments; the columns were often written by a rotating staff, rather than the character with whom they were associated.The advice columnist emerged as a figure who wrote mainly for female audiences and encouraged propriety, manners, and practicality.The implication was that women hadn’t much to fret about—etiquette, hostessing—and that none of their questions would be ill fitted for a public forum. Gilmer, who took mild-mannered questions from her female readers and churned out thorough and philosophical responses.Between 18, Gilmer wrote a widely read column for the under the pen name Dorothy Dix.She often gave them ambitious titles, like “Are You Good Company to Yourself?