Every December, I delve into the analytics of my almost nine-year-old advice column, Love Letters, hoping to find big answers.
What were the year’s most popular letters? Did the website’s most-trafficked missives draw readers because they said something important about a social trend — or a change in the culture of dating and partnership?
It can be hard to tell, partly because many of the top attention-getters — based on page views — tend to have one thing in common: the word “sex” in the headline. The number one letter in 2017 was: “I wanted sex, he wanted to go sightseeing,” which ran in May. Number three was the February letter “He used me for sex.” You get the picture.
But when I look closer and revisit every column from January through December, I can spot trends, those letters that symbolized what readers were thinking about in 2017. Here are some takeaways.
The second-most popular letter of the year was January’s “I’m married to a Trump supporter.”
It was from a woman who’d backed Bernie Sanders and then Hillary Clinton. Her husband voted for Donald Trump, and, according to her, had “gloated since the win.”
In my answer, I took a risk and disclosed about how difficult it had been to navigate some of my own personal relationships since the election. I said that for this marriage to work, the gloating would have to stop and suggested that they find causes they could both support — maybe even an organization that helps women.
For the record, I didn’t love my advice. It felt too small for a problem that was so big.
The letter drew more than 1,200 commenters, including one from a user named Cakegirl who said, “First time responder, long time reader; but I was so enraged by Meredith’s comments that the husband should volunteer at an organization to support women. HOW ABOUT THE WIFE VOLUNTEERING TO HELP VETERANS???”
Cakegirl’s was not the only comment written with the caps lock on.
Another reader named Epi-de-mais summed up a widely shared view: “Just think – in four years, you get to do this all over again . . . That’s if you’re still married.”
In 2017, many people wrote to me after catching their significant others on a dating app. In April, it was “Is my boyfriend on Tinder?” In September, the headline was “My boyfriend downloaded Tinder.” In November it was, “Caught my husband on another dating site.”
Some of the partners claimed they weren’t using the apps to cheat, at least not physically. They said they were more interested in attention and wanted to see who might like them back. They sounded bored.
The cases were, of course, all slightly different. But all the app users shared one sin: As I told the April letter writer, the partner on Tinder was wronging a lot of people at once.
“Many people look for — and find — real relationships on Tinder. Using a dating app (without disclosing his relationship status) means he’s willing to betray not just you, but many others.”
In June, we had a letter from a 27-year-old who was having trouble dating. She admitted she was holding out for “happy Hollywood love like . . . Chris Pratt and Anna Faris” — a shiny famous couple whose Instagram accounts suggested a perfect life and an effortless romance.
Two months after the publication of the letter, Pratt and Faris announced that they had split.
Pratt filed for divorce in December.
We had our first letter about mansplaining in September. For those who don’t know, mansplaining is when a man explains something to a woman for no good — or solicited — reason. Often, the woman already knows the information (like the time a man explained advice columns to me.)
The word was added to the Oxford Dictionaries in 2014, and that same year, Rebecca Solnit released her book, “Men Explain Things To Me,” so the idea is nothing new, but it took until 2017 for the term to make its way to Love Letters. A reader questioned whether her boyfriend’s mansplaining was a deal breaker, and I told her it sounded as if they were simply incompatible.
I offered that she was confusing mansplaining with analysis; her boyfriend seemed more interested in discussing the details of life than teaching her anything.
Then I realized I’d “meresplained” mansplaining to her and had to apologize.
I ran a letter in late November with the headline “I already paid for my gym membership,” which was from a woman who’d asked out a trainer at her gym and had been rejected. After that it seemed to her that the trainer started avoiding her. It seemed to me that she was still hovering around him, still wanting more. I assured her that rejection was always difficult to deal with and made some suggestions.
If she’d written the letter in March, I’m not sure how commenters would have responded to her problem. But by November, they were focused on one thing — whether she was making a person uncomfortable in his workplace. Sexual harassment was on the forefront of everyone’s minds.
A commenter named Wizen said, “What would your advice be to a guy who keeps asking a girl out at her workplace and she says no? That’s right. Leave him alone. Be adult. Be civil. The awkwardness will subside.”
On Nov. 16, we ran the letter “He thinks we’ve been talking too much” from a 19-year-old who’d been told by a 21-year-old that she was expecting too much communication in the early stages of their romantic relationship. She was frustrated because she sent him messages, and though they were read, they weren’t answered. At least not immediately.
This was a common theme in 2017’s letters, no matter the age of the letter writer. With so many ways to reach out, readers had trouble managing their expectations. When were they being ignored? When was it just a normal, natural silence?
I told one reader in June, “There are so many ways to communicate these days, and yet somehow people say so much less.”
It was a “back in my day,” older person thing to say, but I stand by it.
On a list of letters that drew the most comments, number eleven was from 2016.
“Sent a sext and overreacted” has been one of the most consistently viewed letters since it was published last February. It’s from a woman who went out with a man, slept with him, and then unraveled. She began to obsess over his activity on a dating site. She sent a sexy text. When he canceled subsequent plans because he didn’t feel well, she got angry with him. She later tried to apologize, but it was too late.
Her letter was loud. Frantic. Desperate. Human.
“The problem is that later that night after I got home, I saw he was ‘ONLINE NOW!’ on Match. Match should get rid of this function on its website to spare the users of the sheer insanity it brings out in them, but whatever, it is what it is,” she wrote.
I think her tone is why the letter continues to resonate with readers. Most of us have felt this wild, lonely, or insecure about our romantic lives, or known someone who has. She was honest about how messy it can get.
The letter of the year for me — as opposed to the readership — was “At 39, I feel invisible.”
That’s because in April, when I answered this letter, I also was 39, two months from turning 40, and the concerns of this single letter writer resonated with me.
“I’m convinced I find myself in an invisible population of women. Who’s looking to date me? I really have no idea,” she wrote.
I told this woman that Love Letters has taught me that many people feel invisible, even in their 20s. She was in a good place — maybe even an enviable one. She was attractive, had friends, respect, a fulfilling professional life.
“I promise you that there are people of all ages who will read this letter and long to be in your shoes,” I wrote in my response. “You enjoy your life; you’re confident; and you aren’t dating with any deadlines in mind. It’s a good place to be.”
It is, I swear.
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