Advice Columnist Meredith Goldstein Reveals She Doesn't Have It All Figured Out

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"Can't Help Myself," by Meredith Goldstein. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
"Can't Help Myself," by Meredith Goldstein. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

Advice columnist Meredith Goldstein is never at a loss when it comes to giving advice to her "Love Letters" readers. But as her new memoir reveals, that certainty is sometimes completely lacking in her personal life.

"Can't Help Myself: Lessons & Confessions from a Modern Advice Columnist," is a humorous and sometimes poignant look at how Goldstein handles her own breakups (sometimes crying beside her workplace vending machine), her dating-avoidance techniques, her fraught relationship with her father and, ultimately, the difficulties she has navigating her mother's cancer treatments. The book is interspersed with letters she's received from her own readers, which are woven into the narrative about her own life.

Here & Now's Robin Young talks with Goldstein (@MeredithGoldste) about the book, and the situations she confronts.

  • Scroll down to read an excerpt from "Can't Help Myself"

Interview Highlights

On her experience with a breakup

"I would see this ex at work and immediately go to the vending machine area because it was less populated. And then I would cry. But the good news about that is you're near vending machines so you can get a snack after."

On dealing with a breakup as a loss

"[A friend] really said to me, 'You're allowed to be this miserable about a breakup because rejection is a different type of grief.' You know, when you lose someone who is still around, you have to know that they've chosen to be without you. So it was really liberating, and I think it informed the rest of my advice from my advice column, which is that breakups are that bad, in many cases. And we have to figure out how to cope with them and what they mean."

On "training" to be an advice columnist

"Most advice columnists — the ones that I've really loved — were reporters and writers first right. They're not licensed anything. They're just really good watchers of people. So I knew I had a similar background. And I just thought, 'Oh, it's going to be this small thing. I'll put it online and see who who responds.' And then, people who love advice columns, love advice columns, so they'll find a new one as soon as it exists. I think I was shocked to suddenly be getting letters from London and other cities, and people just really kept returning every day."

"Breakups are that bad, in many cases. And we have to figure out how to cope with them and what they mean."

Meredith Goldstein

On things she heard about

"Right off the bat, the biggest question was snooping, I think. You know, people who had hacked into their partner's emails, Facebook accounts. People felt entitled to know every little thing about their partners, and I was just shocked that all of these people were spying, essentially, and didn't have much respect for privacy. But then there were these universal themes of, 'When will this person say I love you? 'How do you know? How do you know when you know?' "

On the type of advice column she wanted to write

"The internet happened, you know, and there was this online community of people. And I think when we travel, when we look for any recommendations about things, we go online, right? So I didn't want to be a final word, that I knew. I wanted to put my advice on there, and then say to readers, like, 'What do you think, community?' And that's when people — the same commenters would start coming back every day. And that's really what I wanted it to feel like, group therapy but online."

On the influences on her advice

"You never want to say that these things that are so obviously the influencers in your life, are the things. People would say, 'Oh, well, maybe your relationship with your father ... ' and I'd say, 'Oh, no, no, no. It's not that cliche.' But, of course, I mean, growing up in a single-parent household with my mom and having a father who lived states away, it certainly changed how I thought of marriage, right? My mother had gone to Juilliard and could have had this incredible performance career, and I always thought, 'Well, she ditched that to get married and have kids. I don't want to do that.' It was sort of always using my parents' marriage as an example. I think it took me a while to admit — as you start to look at the advice you give as an advice columnist, you start admit, 'Oh, everything I say is influenced by what I experience in my real life.' "

On her mother's death

"I think the first thing to know is that when you talk about advice columns, most people think of it as like a dating column. But, it's a life column. So I had to realize, after she died, that I had to be honest with readers about all of the compartmentalizing I had done, about my own dating life, about my place in the world in my 30s, because all of my attention went to my mother. So, after she died, it was actually an excellent time to look at the readers and for the first time to tell them something personal about me. And to say, 'I don't know what to do with myself. I'm experiencing horrible grief, and not breakup grief, but the grief of the loss of a loved one. And tell me — how am I supposed to date now? How am I supposed to think about anything?' You know, it's so easy to be the advice columnist who just tells other people what to do. And for the first time, the wall was down, and I just said, 'Help me. I've actually been a mess.' And readers had great advice for me.

"One of the things I asked them was, 'Am I allowed to have ex-boyfriends around during this time?' So many wonderful people who had been important in my romantic life wanted to show up and help me. And I didn't know if that was OK. Would it be confusing? And all these readers, suddenly they're advising me. And they're saying, 'Oh, you know, well maybe.' And some of them are disagreeing. And most of them just advised me to take some time."


Book Excerpt: 'Can't Help Myself'

by Meredith Goldstein

Excerpted from CAN'T HELP MYSELF: Lessons and Confessions From a Modern Advice Columnist by Meredith Goldstein. Copyright © 2018 by Boston Globe Media Partners, LLC. Reprinted by permission of Grand Central Publishing, New York, NY. All rights reserved.

This article was originally published on May 07, 2018.

This segment aired on May 7, 2018.



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