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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Charm School: Should I give this person advice, or should I SHUT THE HELL UP?

Ah, that age-old question of unsolicited advice: does anybody really appreciate it? Is there any reason to be giving it? Are you helping anyone other than yourself? These tough questions are the topic of today's post.

You see, most of my social media posts are comedic in nature. Jokes, I mean. Jokes that have been carefully constructed and exaggerated to get a laugh out of the people who read them. It's very rare that I either post something legitimately concerning or actually ask the good people of the Internet for advice. I tend to keep my private life and decisions, well, private. For good reason.

And yet, I find myself inundated with unwanted advice. This has especially been the case since I've been pregnant -- people simply cannot resist offering advice to pregnant women. And from what I hear, it will only get worse when the baby is born, as people are biologically incapable of withholding unsolicited parenting advice.

In his defense, beating newborns has a 95% success rate in making them stop crying.

So, today we will go through a little decision tree that will help us to know when we should share our advice and experiences with others, and when we should shut the f**k up no I'm serious shut your goddamned mouth you are going to get punched.

presents ... 

QUESTION 1: Was a question asked at any point? Something that might suggest that advice is being solicited?


"Seems like every time I eat shrimp, I get the worst diarrhea of my life two hours later. Has anyone else experienced this?"

"I'm considering buying a full-sized pool table for my studio apartment. Thoughts?"

"The entire left side of my body has gone numb and I'm having a terrible time typing this as all the letters seem to have jumbled together into a foreign language. Does anyone have any advice on how to deal with this? I already took some Tylenol an hour ago but it doesn't seem to be helping."

Congratulations! That question mark means you have been invited to share your thoughts/opinions/past experiences! If you're lucky, maybe the person soliciting advice has a lot of Facebook friends or Twitter followers who will also read your amazing response and think you're the smartest person on earth. Today is basically your Christmas, Advice Santa. Make it merry.

"Seems like every time I eat shrimp, I get the worst diarrhea of my life two hours later. Has anyone else experienced this?"

"I'm considering buying a full-sized pool table for my studio apartment. Thoughts?"

"The entire left side of my body has gone numb and I'm having a terrible time typing this as all the letters seem to have jumbled together into a foreign language. Does anyone have any advice on how to deal with this? I already took some Tylenol an hour ago but it doesn't seem to be helping."

If there is no question mark suggesting that advice is requested, then things start getting a little trickier. Next, we move on to ...

QUESTION 2: Is the person joking?

As someone who has often received advice in response to a joke, I can tell you firsthand that this is 1) really, really annoying, and 2) makes the person giving the advice look like a f**king idiot of the highest caliber. No, I'm serious -- if you respond to a joke with earnest advice, you will look like such a fool. I am writing this to help you. You might even say I am offering unsolicited advice on how to avoid looking like a fool.

Picture the exaggerated version: you go to a comedy club and the comedian does a bit about how his wife always nags at him to do unpleasant tasks, especially tasks involving the care of their young children. The bit is quite funny and gets a lot of laughs. After the show, you go up to the comedian and hand him a list of parenting and relationship advice books that he should look into, suggesting that his relationship could use some work. "It sounds like you and your wife aren't communicating well, and over time this can really break down even the strongest relationships. I think that you two may have different 'love languages' and it's important that you understand where the other person is coming from to avoid misunderstandings of the type you described in your act. I bet you would really benefit from couples therapy."

Only someone who has completely, utterly missed the entire point of the comedy act would do this. Probably someone with severe mental and emotional problems.

So ... how is responding to a comedian this way any different from responding to a friend's joke on Facebook this way? It's not, really. Therefore, for your own sake, before you go posting links to great relationship columns in response to someone's statement that their husband never listens, ask yourself: is this a joke? Is this person purposefully exaggerating in order to get a laugh? And if the answer is yes, then PUT THE RELATIONSHIP COLUMNS AWAY. PLEASE.


Okay, so you're pretty sure the post wasn't intended as a joke. Now what? 

At this point, please note that you are officially leaving the safety of the reservation. We've acknowledged that advice has not been sought, so by giving it, you run the risk of pissing people off. Don't disregard that risk. People are perfectly within their rights to respond rudely to unsolicited advice, because giving unsolicited advice is itself rude. And as we all know, two wrongs make a right and an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind but wise for having learned an important lesson. So be warned.

If you've decided to proceed anyway, the next several guidelines will help to limit the possibility that your advice will only piss the person off rather than helping them. Follow them closely.

QUESTION 3: Is your advice something the person legitimately may not have thought of?

Oftentimes, the unsolicited advice that people give is so stupid it makes me want to punch myself in the face just in the hopes of lowering my IQ a few points so that I won't be so pissed off by it.

Samantha should just delete her whole Facebook account at this point.

Unless you hang around mostly with mentally challenged people or very small children, then you can probably assume that your friends have already thought of the most basic possible solutions to their problems. When you suggest these basic things, you imply that your friend is an idiot. Because only an idiot wouldn't have considered going to bed earlier as a good cure for being tired in the morning. Or drinking coffee, or snoozing their alarm. Clearly, there is some impediment in the way that prevents these solutions from working for them.

This is how I'm going to start responding to stupid advice, by the way. With rude sarcasm. Prepare yourselves.

However, maybe you do know something that most people don't. Maybe you've just read an incredible new article in which you learned that many people who have trouble waking up in the morning have actually woken up hundreds of times throughout the night without knowing it. And that this condition can be easily cured with some new therapy, drug, or machine. 

Put your pants back on, ladies. I hear this guy is married.

This might be information that the original poster legitimately was not aware of. And so, this is information that there might be some value in sharing.

Just remember -- you're off the reservation now. Don't be offended if the person gets mad, even though you're 'only trying to help.'

QUESTION 4: Is your advised solution actually possible? Is it remotely on the same level as the problem being presented?

The next worst kind of advice after really obvious advice is really f**king useless advice. This seems to happen more often in semi-anonymous online forums, probably because even the people giving the advice realize how stupid it is so they don't want their real-life personas associated with it.

Yes, clearly the best way to deal with a noisy cat is to sell your house, buy a different house in another neighborhood, pack, go through the stress of moving, and uproot your entire life. Because of a cat.

"Dump him" is very common unsolicited advice given on public forums. So helpful.

How does that bit of Confucian wisdom go about not killing a mosquito with a bazooka? Yeah. Before you offer up your advice, really ask yourself: would I follow my own advice in this situation? Would I really divorce my husband because he drank too much one time? Would I really pack up and move away just to avoid an annoying neighbor? No? Then don't tell someone else to.

I have received this "advice" numerous times. Word for f**king word. I wish I was joking.
But if I were joking, then someone would offer me advice.

QUESTION 5: Is your advice timely, or is it given after the fact?

The next person who gives me "advice" on a decision that has already been made and executed is getting punched in the face. You and I both know that your advice is obviously only given for your own benefit. It is literally impossible for me to benefit from it, as I have already chosen and embarked on an alternate course of action. Don't be a douche.

No one in the world would blame him. No one.

Alright, so we reach the final question of our decision tree. Advice hasn't been solicited, but you've decided to go forward anyway. You're 99% sure the original statement wasn't a joke; you're pretty sure your advice is novel and interesting and not something the original speaker has thought of; it's totally feasible and a great way to solve the problem; and there's still time to implement it! Sounds like you're well on your way to giving some dynamite advice, Advice Santa. Now we just have to consider ...

QUESTION 6: Is there a way to phrase it that doesn't make you sound like a condescending dick?

Ways of sounding like a condescending dick include:
-- making it sound like your 'advice' is something the original poster should obviously have already known
Well, when you put it that way, I absolutely want to follow your advice! I surely won't argue and disagree with you for no other reason than because your delivery was so shitty!!

-- barking it like an order
Now I'm not going to get a CPAP machine just because you're a bitch and I don't want to do anything you say. Ever.

-- making it sound like you are a doctor when you clearly are not
If you want to share doctor advice, make it clear that it came from an ACTUAL doctor, not from you or from WebMD. Say something like "my son had similar problems and ended up being diagnosed with ADHD! They put him on Ritalin and it has been an absolute savior for us. Maybe your son has a similar issue?"

-- just posting a link to some article without any explanation (I don't need to present an example of this -- you all know what links look like.) 

Instead of saying "Check out this awesome article about sleep disorders!", you just post the link to the article without any explanation. If the person even bothers to click on it (which they probably won't, since they have no idea where the link leads), they will see that your post was actually pretty dickish. Like, you couldn't even be bothered to explain what you were trying to do; you just sighed loudly and posted the link to the article that you can't believe your friend hasn't read yet, that f**king idiot. This is not going to make anyone want to listen to you.

Are we all on the same page now? Are we ready to venture into the dangerous world of unsolicited advice without stepping on too many toes?? I hope so.

Meanwhile, just remember: 1 -- almost everything I post is a joke, and I have very little patience for people who don't get humor. If I want advice, look for a question mark. And 2 -- I do realize that if I stopped posting anything at all, people would stop responding idiotically to it. But then who the hell would we all laugh at???

Giving good advice: it's not that hard, people.

You can check out past issues of Charm School here: How to talk to pregnant women; Weddings; and How to guest-proof your home. I can't guarantee you'll actually learn anything, but that's because I suck at manners and have no business pretending to teach them.


  1. My personal favourite is responding to actual requests for advice with ridiculous suggestions. Obviously this requires knowing the asker, otherwise they might think you're legit suggesting they move to avoid an annoying cat.
    Re cat: Don't worry, the cat is probably just plotting how to kill him.
    My best advice is usually stupid and regards children. Your kid is digging up the backyard again? "I hear good things about those bubble boy bubbles. I bet you could just put her in one of those and then pin it between the couches. Problem solved."

    1. Ah, if only the terrible advice I received was given in jest! I also LOVE answering real advice requests with absolute BS. Especially if the original question asked was something ridiculous (usually something medical that should be asked of a DOCTOR, not your peer group). My personal favorite was one time a girl wrote to a group forum that she was concerned she was having an allergic reaction to a new medication she was on. And someone responded "you could go to walgreens and they'll give you a pap smear."
      I laughed so hard I peed my pants a little.

      Like, I'm not exaggerating. I laughed SO HARD I PEE MY PANTS A LITTLE.

      A pap smear.

      At Walgreens.

      For a potential allergic reaction.

      I wish I was that funny.