You could argue that the iconic advice columnist, the late “Ann Landers,” was single-handedly responsible for America’s rising divorce rates since the 1960s, thanks to her infamous question, “Ask yourself, are you better off with him or without him?”
Thanks to Ann, along with her equally all-knowing twin sister, “Dear Abby,” millions of women probably found the courage to leave truly destructive and unsafe relationships, but millions more likely read that rhetorical question as a permission slip to ditch marriages that were simply more work than they were willing to undertake.
Together, sisters Eppie Lederer and Pauline Phillips, writing under their familiar pseudonyms for a combined 93 years (Mrs. Phillips daughter, Jeanne, continues “Dear Abby” still), elevated the journalistic genre of advice column to social significance.
As such, you might say advice columns are accurate gauges of what’s up with the culture.
If the free advice peddled in today’s media is any indication, my perception of the decline of our civilization is more than just a vague sense of longing for some idealized “good old days.”
We’re in big trouble.
To wit: A recent question for syndicated columnist Carolyn Hax, perhaps the most popular, and certainly the pithiest, of today’s purveyors of free advice, that asked via a provocative headline: “Is a baby a good reason to marry?”
To summarize, a woman in her mid-30s, unexpectedly pregnant (apparently having forgotten that sex often leads to pregnancy), explains that given the circumstances, her 30-something boyfriend wants to get married. Based on the messy divorces she has witnessed among her friends, the writer is uncertain about marriage and instead reasons that breaking up would be much easier without the dreaded “slip of paper” that makes it difficult to “just walk away.”
Ms. Hax, whose answers to advice-seekers often are brutally honest and spot on, offers a truly distressing response to this question, but it certainly helps to explain a recent survey that shows 4 in 10 Americans believe marriage itself is becoming obsolete.
The sum total of her wisdom is this: “The No. 1 question to ask yourself before committing to a mate is, will s/he make it ugly if we break up?”
Really? Not, “Do we share the same values about marriage, commitment, faith, family, love and companionship,” but essentially, “Would we have a messy divorce?”
Meanwhile, only the first sentence of Ms. Hax’s advice even mentions the child to be born of this couple, and then merely as a practical matter: “With a child, do you think either of you will be able to ‘walk away’? Would you want that?”