March-April 2015 | Featured Article

A Conversation with Emily Yoffe

As the writer of "Dear Prudence," Slate's advice column, Emily Yoffe considers the problems of hundreds of people every week. She talks about her most memorable letters, her biggest gaffe and more.

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Do you regret any advice that you’ve given?

One of the ways that my mind works is to wipe out my regrettable answers, of which there are legion, I’m sure. I try not to make grotesque mistakes all the time, but I constantly look back and think, ‘I didn’t get that quite right.’

I answered this letter from a woman in her 40s or 50s. She was going into the hospital for surgery. Turned out her middle school or high school bully was a nurse there, and she was really freaking out: What if this woman was her nurse? I said, ‘If you’ve gotten married, you haven’t spoken to her in all these years, she probably won’t even know you. Forget it.’

When your sister posts on your Facebook page, ‘That’s the worst answer I’ve ever seen,’ you know you’ve really given a bad answer. And a lot of medical people said, ‘You absolutely can call. This happens all the time, whether you’re in a relationship with someone or you don’t want this person treating you, for whatever reason. It doesn’t have to be something bad, and you should not go into surgery anxious about it.’ I wrote an update and said, ‘Totally blew that one.’ And I wrote back to the woman and said, ‘Don’t listen to me.’ She was very nice, and wrote back to me after the surgery. She had said, ‘I just don’t, for personal reasons, want to deal with this nurse,’ and she didn’t, and it all worked out.

What have you learned about human nature from being an advice columnist?

You couldn’t be more cynical than I naturally am. But the column has made me more sympathetic to the endless, myriad ways we manage to get ourselves in fixes. People write in with the most amazing, intimate, darkest things. I hear from people every day of the week, people are telling me stuff they’ve never told anyone, and they want me to solve it. It’s a blast.

You’ve lived in Chevy Chase for 10 years. What do you like about living here?

In some ways it reminds me of where I grew up, which of course I was desperate to get out of at the time. It’s a beautiful neighborhood, there are so many trees. We can walk to the Metro, we don’t need our car very often, we walk into Bethesda all the time, we walk to movies, walk to restaurants. I just feel very lucky and privileged that I live in such a lovely place. It’s safe, it’s beautiful, there are a lot of great facilities, what’s not to like?

What are some of your favorite places to go?

One of our favorite restaurants is Faryab. We walk up to this Japanese place, Yuzo. Shangri-La for Indian food. We go to the Landmark theater all the time. I am so parochial. We met a couple of friends for dinner Saturday, and they said, ‘Oh, there’s this place in Georgetown.’ My husband and I were like, ‘Georgetown! I mean, Timbuktu!’ We’re pathetic. n