Michaeline: Fishing for Ideas Amongst Columns of the Lovelorn


Dear M: I’m an up-and-coming illustrator with my choice of three eligible young men, but the older gentlemen of my design firm are queering my pitch. Love or money? (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

I adore advice columns, and have done so since I was a kid. Advice columns! Little mini-dramas that are so important to the POV character that she or he actually takes time from his or her real life to write to a third party, hoping for some pearls of wisdom.

I found a new column this week – apparently, it’s been around for decades, but thanks to the magic of the Google search, I found it this week. Elle’s Dear E. Jean. It’s full of fabulousness, as one might expect from a fashion magazine. Instead of the downhome rustics of Ann and Abby, we get women who are models, electrical engineers, designers who rose from homeless childhoods . . . it’s just a fascinating cross-section of womanhood, with a few men asking for advice as well.

I like the advice, which seems to always boil down to: be your most fabulous self, and choose the kind of partner that fabulous self needs. Trust in the universe to provide what you need, as long as you put in the effort.

Some of these columns are begging to be expanded into romance stories; others provide a particular insight into romantic problems. And if you are the type of writer who has problems getting a handle on motivation, E. Jean’s straightforward advice might help you see through all the pathetic fallacies (and I’m not talking about the weather!) that we put ourselves through in order to preserve the Old Order.

Here are a few links to some of my favorites for writing:

“Ask E. Jean: Should I Choose the Cop Who Adores Me, or the Boyfriend Who Ignores Me?” Whoo-eee! You could write the romance novel from the headline alone (and actually, I think it is the plot to several romances). The cool twist is that the petitioner for advice is a crime reporter who worries that there might be a conflict of interest. You could get to the middle of act two on that alone until some lovely E. Jean-type friend butts in and says there’s no law against bonking a cop as long as said cop “isn’t under investigation”. By then, there will be other lovely complications to keep our lovers apart and interesting until the big finish.

“Ask E. Jean: Should I Ditch My Great but Unadventurous Boyfriend Because He Won’t Propose?”

Seems like a no-brainer – of course you should! — but on the other hand, if he’s great, that’s something. Plus, not getting married worked for people like Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell for an awfully long time. When you get down to the details, however, there’s trouble in paradise, and E. Jean gives our girl a resounding pep talk. She can do better! The story is in overcoming her bad self and getting herself on the road to better. This is helpful for setting up a realistic inciting incident to the story.

Gosh, I love so many of them, but I feel I only have room for one more. Sadly, I’m going to skip over the one that counsels the rich, good-looking businessman to treat his wife search like a business project. Surprisingly funny and caring, that one.

OK, let me go with the guy who is in love with three women. It seems to be a common dilemma – I mean, so many men and women enter into long-term affairs, presumably because they can’t decide who they really want to be with, so the “easiest” course seems to be choose all of them until something gives way.

“Ask E. Jean: I’m in Love With Three Women” is almost a haiku of indecision. As a plot line, the guy (or gal) who is in love with three people just doesn’t work in the romance genre – the overwhelming meme there is One True Love (or at least, One True Love At A Time, in the case of widow/widower stories). However, I think the advice column gives a lot of insight into reasons why we love. Great sex, co-parent, intellectually stimulating, physical beauty . . . and I want to add that if we consider that “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” then judging a former partner on physical beauty isn’t quite as shallow as it may seem. To this guy, Bachelorette Number One is the most beautiful woman he’s been with – and this is even after kids and divorce. It’s funny how someone’s physical beauty seems to dim when seen through a filter of a hellish relationship. This column gives us a condensed digest of one man’s heart and mind.

Love is a mysterious thing. We can fall in love despite all logic, and even without the “air conditioners” and other signs of a long-term commitment. But sometimes, if we take it one day at a time and just be as fabulous as possible, it’ll all work out. (-: Particularly in a fictional setting! Because we all want to be a happy moral of the story.

6 thoughts on “Michaeline: Fishing for Ideas Amongst Columns of the Lovelorn

  1. The cop one reminds me of Stephanie Plum. LOL. Morelli vs. Ranger. She’ll never decide. Perhaps Stephanie should write in and ask E. Jean for advice!

    I think looking these over could be a great resource for some sound, fun fiction. I suppose you could also write a story where the heroine IS E. Jean. Too much time solving everyone else’s problems and finding them love that she neglects her own problems and love life. Thanks for the recommendation!

    • What a fun idea! And I had the same thought about Stephanie Plum’s triangle. It’s either Ranger, or it’s dump them both and find the bachelor behind door number three who is better than both of them! (I don’t think I got beyond #8, but I did love that series!)

      • How funny–if you check out the Duke University romance panel link in my post today (Sunday) you’ll find Gordon Andrews has a genius suggestion for resolving the Stephanie/Ranger/Morelli triangle. I’d SO read that book 😀

  2. All these problems/stories sound like so much fun! Although I’m sure the advice seekers wouldn’t see it that way. Plot possibilities galore! I’ve always liked advice columns, too, if for no other reason than other people’s problems always seemed so much worse than my own. Thanks for the tip!

    • We could use our own problems, but they are too close, and we could use our friends’ problems, but we could wind up losing our friends. (-: But these people know what they are getting into when they write to an advice columnist — their problems become public domain! Of course, we change the name and transform them into something better than real life.

      What’s your favorite advice column? I’ve got a book by Dan Savage that I enjoyed tremendously, and I regularly follow Dear Abby and Miss Manners because it’s very easy to do (and they are such practical women!). I used to follow Dear Prudie before it disappeared behind some sort of paywall and got difficult to follow. I enjoyed it, but I’d enjoy a chocolate ice cream bar after work more, so there’s that.

      Tangential rant: I wish they’d figure out some sort of easy payment system for people who want information. I mean super-easy. Like, we have to answer three marketing questions, and then we get in. (Although, I suppose I would be leery that the marketing system would be mining my information and cookie-fying my system, so that wouldn’t be very good, either, unless things were explained to me, and I could trust that All The Things were being explained to me, not just convenient — or worse yet, alternative — facts.)

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