Two Different Advice Columnists Answer The Same Letter

Well, it was bound to happen: two online advice columns received — and published — the same letter today. Their different responses provide a window into the columnists' psyches.

Here's the letter that appeared in today's Since You Asked, at Salon, and Dear Prudence, at Slate:

Two months before I asked my wife to marry me, I cheated on her with a woman I met through an online hookup website. This woman and I met only once, proceeded to engage in oral sex, and left feeling awkward and guilty. I never saw her again.

I was consumed with guilt and confusion over my double life, and wondered if I would always be a liar and a cheat. At the same time, I was in love with my soon-to-be fiancée, and I made a decision to keep my mouth shut and go ahead with my plans to propose. We've been married now for nearly two years, and most of the time I'm happy. My wife is happy. And yet I still occasionally experience bouts of guilt and emotional pain, not to mention a secret fear that what I did as a senior in college will somehow be uncovered someday.

I've convinced myself that keeping the experience a secret is the best choice, especially now that we're married. Furthermore, I resolved from that day to never do anything like that again. Have I made the right choice, or am I just making excuses for myself in order to not have to do the right thing? I'm tired of feeling like a bad person.

That's the full version, from Since You Asked — the letter appeared slightly condensed at Dear Prudence. Cary Tennis's response was actually relatively concise and to-the-point for the often philosophical columnist. He did, however, recommend both therapy and a full confession. Advocating for the latter, he explained,

Frankly, I lean toward telling your wife. I have a feeling that will be good for both of you. But I don't know you or your wife, and people can be unpredictable. So it's your decision.

Prudie, meanwhile, didn't come down explicitly on either side of the confession question. That may be because she really didn't think the whole cheating thing was a big deal. She writes, "excuse me while I laugh at your idea of a double life. This one-time event has messed with your head, but since you don't have the life expectancy of a fruit fly, a double life it isn't." And she concludes,

The most destructive thing you're now doing is letting this episode eat away at you. Surely, there are times when your wife wonders why you're so sad and distracted. You didn't get an infection from your little frolic, so please stop letting it infect your marriage.

Advice columns often end up being more about the columnist than the problem at hand, and this one-bird, two-stone situation is no exception. Prudence, ever the pragmatist, advises our tortured letter-writer to forget about it and move on. Cary, the thinker, recommends analysis, followed by disclosure. This should be a lesson to future advice-seekers. Since we so often go after the advice we want to hear, those who prefer to put their missteps in perspective and get on with life should probably look to Prudence for encouragement. And if you want to go over your life with a fine-tooth comb, Cary Tennis is your man. Really, though, you might consider keeping your troubles to yourself. As the two experts' divergent responses show, there's no problem in the world that advice can't complicate.

Deadly Family Secret [Slate]
I Cheated Just Once. Should I Tell? [Salon]

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