Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

Program Note: No More Private Letters, Please

Each week, I spend hours and hours responding privately to letters I receive from readers. For a variety of reasons, fewer than half the letters I receive make it to the site. In the past, one of those reasons was due to a direct requests from LWs that I not publish their letters, and I’ve always been happy to comply. But because of the overwhelming number of letters I now receive, I can no longer honor that request. I just don’t have the time to read and respond to letters I’m forbidden from posting, and with so many incoming letters each day, I don’t want to have to worry about accidently publishing something that isn’t supposed to be published. So, please: if you don’t want to risk seeing your letter posted on this site, do not write to me. Talk to a friend instead, or a family member or a counselor. (If you’ve written to me in the past and asked that I keep your message private, that request will still be honored, of course).

Also, if I’ve taken the time to respond to you, and you’ve found my advice at all helpful, please feel free to let me know (an update is also always welcome, whether you liked my advice or not!). I can’t tell you how many times I have spent an hour reading someone’s letter and composing a thoughtful response — many times privately — and then never hearing a word back. This is another reason why I’m no longer accepting private letters. If I’m going to spend significant time each week reading and responding to letters and not even get a simple “thank you,” then I at least need to have the benefit of posting it to this site. Now, with a baby only three months away, my time is more valuable than ever, so I hope you’ll understand if you write to me and don’t hear back and I hope you can appreciate why I am no longer answering letters I don’t have the option of posting. I love what I do here, and I know this community has helped lots of people, but if I’m going to have the energy to keep things going, I have to draw some boundaries. Thanks for understanding.

28 comments… add one
  • SGMcG July 21, 2011, 10:21 am

    Does this new policy also apply to letters to Miles?

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  • mary July 21, 2011, 10:23 am

    I have been reading your column for several years, never commented, although I really enjoy your common sense answers. But after reading the above, I have to say that you taking the time to respond to lots of “private” letters (i.e., you get no benefit) is very caring and impressive.

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  • Mainer July 21, 2011, 10:45 am

    Considering the purpose of this site, I’m rather surprised the “private response” was even an option. If you were being paid to respond to a person’s issue I could understand their request being honored, but both access to the site and your advice is free. The purpose of your site is to not only advise, educate, and warn, but to also entertain your viewers (and letter writers). There is no such thing as a free lunch, and as such the publication of their letter should be their “fee.” For them to feel entitled to free advice with zero exposure, especially given the complete and utter anonymity in which the letters are published, is quite frankly pretty selfish. There are avenues in which a person can seek if they wish to receive advice in a completely confidential manner. But a free website run by someone looking to establish her skills in a grander and more professional sense is not one of them.

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    • *HmC* July 21, 2011, 4:34 pm

      Totally agree with you, I was surprised when I first found out Wendy offered this service. But I believe she gave an explanation that it did help to build her audience which makes sense. Of course if she no longer feels it’s worth doing, that makes sense too.

      As far as the thanking… I’ve written Wendy privately twice, both times knowing she might not have the time or inclination to respond and prepared to not take it personally at all. But both times she did and was very helpful. Once I sent a thank you response, and the other time I didn’t. Sorry Wendy, wasn’t trying to be rude. It really was more along the lines of the first response here, that I know how busy you are and didn’t think she’d miss it. But, thank you! And thanks for this site! Great work.

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  • Amanda July 21, 2011, 11:06 am

    “I can’t tell you how many times I have spent an hour reading someone’s letter and composing a thoughtful response — many times privately — and then never hearing a word back. This is another reason why I’m no longer accepting private letters.”

    This is a completely reasonable response. Why wouldn’t a private LW thank you for your time? That’s so inconsiderate. THANK YOU Wendy! And best wishes for a beautiful, healthy baby

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    • parrt July 21, 2011, 11:34 pm

      “I can’t tell you how many times I have spent an hour reading someone’s online dating profile and composing a thoughtful letter making sure to talk about things relevant to the person, and then never hearing a word back. This is another reason why I think online dating websites are for douches, and I will never use one ever again”

      fyi, i’m a male.

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      • twiglet July 22, 2011, 1:01 pm

        erm…not really the same structure of human interface, though, when you think about it. Not unless Wendy e-mails you every so often about her bad day?

  • LTC039 July 21, 2011, 10:12 am

    Wendy. I think sometimes people don’t respond back (if you answered their letter privately) is because they assume, since you get so many letters each day, I simple thank you will be cast aside or maybe even an imposition on the amount of letters you get each day.
    Just a thought…?

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    • zombeyonce July 21, 2011, 11:33 am

      It’s certainly possible that people think that, but even if they did expect a thank you note to go unread (which I have a hard time believing Wendy would do), it’s still always good manners to thank someone for their time. At least, that’s what my Southern mother taught me.

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      • LTC039 July 21, 2011, 11:42 am

        I really really doubt that the people that didn’t return a thank you did it out of pure rudeness & inconsideration. Maybe some, but I don’t think that’s the general case.

      • zombeyonce July 21, 2011, 11:48 am

        I’m not saying they consciously thought “I’m not going to thank Wendy,” I think it’s more like it just didn’t occur to them to thank her, and that’s what I’m saying is the unfortunate thing.

      • LTC039 July 21, 2011, 11:44 am

        inconsideratness*** wow.

  • Sonia July 21, 2011, 11:18 am

    Now, I think everyone should understand that by writing to an advice columnist you’re asking to get their advice but also that you’re offering the columnist a way to make a living.

    I wrote Wendy a letter a while back and, while I didn’t request that my letter not be posted publicly, I was pleasantly surprised when she wrote back despite not publishing it. I’d still write in again in a second to get the great advice that she has to offer!

    Also: shame on anyone who didn’t at least write back to say thank you if they received advice, whether it was what they wanted to hear or not!

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  • silver_dragon_girl July 21, 2011, 11:52 am

    Well, then, in response to the letter of mine that was published on TF last fall, THANK YOU 🙂 I never sent a thank you, I don’t think. I meant to, but I forgot. 🙁 My apologies. I did (eventually) follow your advice, and it was the best thing I could have done!

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    • kdog July 21, 2011, 12:46 pm

      I also want to say thank you!! I sent in a letter, which was not published (although not per request), that you responded to briefly. I haven’t yet followed the advice due to timing issues, but I think about it often and it helps keep me on track and looking in the right direction until the time comes. I absolutely respect the line that you want to draw here. And, I imagine that this type of work can definitely take it out of you so I hope that you know (even where we may not have given the proper response) that your work is greatly appreciated. You’ve managed to build quite the community here for all of us.

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        katie July 21, 2011, 9:03 pm

        ill third this, and say thank you as well, wendy, for making me feel better about my situation.

        you really do help people, i hope that you know that in your heart

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    Megan July 21, 2011, 12:18 pm

    I wrote Wendy earlier this month about what I could do on m visit to New York on a budget. I didn’t ask to keep it private, but she did privately answer me and I just checked my email in a panic to make sure I wrote a thank you back. I did, but thanks again Wendy for all that you do!

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    • soandso July 21, 2011, 12:22 pm

      yeah – I don’t think all of Wendy’s advice on this site has to be about relationships. That sounds like a very neat idea for a post. I want to know what I could do in NYC on a budget too!

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  • greenishbrownishfemalesheep July 21, 2011, 12:38 pm

    i wrote to Wendy some time ago and thought ‘thank yous’ are better with an update. i haven’t updated yet since i figured it would be best to do so whenever the sitation i wrote in about is completely settled, so maybe others feel the same. you are all correct that a thank you should’ve been given right away though now that i think about it. so THANK YOU, i know for me, your advice and guidance was immeasurable when i needed it. especially as i am one of those people not comfortable talking about my personal issues with anyone (in person).

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  • Nick July 21, 2011, 12:52 pm

    Wendy could choose to think of this as an opportunity instead. Why not charge $25 for a 150 word or more private response?

    Set up a simple paypal page (yahoo store, google store whatever) for a $25 item, and instruct in the receipt that the question be emailed to a dedicated account with the receipt attached. That makes it very simple to buy and verify.

    -reply by email guaranteed in 14 days or a refund is issued
    -follow-up questions are ignored
    -she puts her customary amount of care into it (thats the 150+ word idea)

    So the customer risks $25 but you know what? If someone’s problem isn’t worth $25 to attempt to solve, it’s not a problem. More than $25 and you could buy face time so I like that price. Don’t want to spend the $25? She may (one day) get to your request with a public anonymous reply. Wendy could probably write 2-3 of these responses per hour and do it for 2 hours a day and pick up an additional $10-$15k/yr doing rewarding work she’s good at. It’s not a huge $ amount but pays for diapers. Not everyone needs a personals ad re-write but everyone needs qualified advice. Asking friends is an awful substitute for genuinely qualified 3rd party impartial advice. Maybe I overestimate people’s willingness to pay for good advice delivered privately but maybe not.

    This Might have legal implications that should be explored. Talk to a lawyer friend and ask: how do I set this up so its not akin to unlicensed psychotherapy or otherwise illegal? Also, have a simple insurance policy and an adequate disclaimer / waiver terms as you may get sued by a wacko who follows or doesn’t the advice (most successful people do get sued eventually).

    Then she nominates / asks one of her most reliable community members to police comments as a volunteer.

    Boom! I give you: time, money, fulfillment, scale, peace to pursue motherhood apace. Best luck.

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    • zombeyonce July 21, 2011, 4:10 pm

      While I love the charge for extra advice idea, I’m not sure she would bring in as much as you think. I wrote an advice column many years ago and you really can’t knock out 2 or 3 letters an hour because you have to really think about a good solution to the problem and, often, think on it for a while and work out the different options and which would be the best. Plus, then you have to write it and go back and rewrite a bit to make sure it makes sense and covers all the bases.

      That often took me a long time, and I was a crappy advice columnist. The quality of Wendy’s answers are much higher than mine ever were.

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    Skyblossom July 21, 2011, 1:49 pm

    This sounds like a very reasonable rule to follow and is a great example of setting the boundaries you need!

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    Heather July 21, 2011, 6:29 pm

    I was beyond giddy when I wrote into Wendy when she was still on TF and I got a published response. I also gave an update! And I thank you every day for it.

    I was shocked at the degree of responses my letter got. But, I will always keep which letter it was a secret. 😉

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  • JK July 21, 2011, 7:05 pm

    Good for you, Wendy!

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  • Maynard July 21, 2011, 9:44 pm

    I’m surprised that so many people requested private responses! I’ve written into Wendy twice, actually, and assumed both times that if I sent her a letter it became kind of “public domain” and she could do whatever she wanted with it. As in, I wrote in knowing it could possibly be published and I figured that was the “price” I’d pay for getting her advice

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  • MissD July 21, 2011, 10:35 pm

    I wrote in a while back (not a private letter), and am chagrined to realize (after checking my email account) that I did not follow up with a thank you. Wendy, I appreciate that you took the time to respond to my letter, even though you did not post it. Your response was thoughtful and caring, and I did take you up on your suggestions. Thank you for your caring, thoughtful advice. It helped to have the perspective of a (sympathetic) outside party. Things have definitely improved in my life, and I enjoy being a regular DW reader. Thanks for all you do!

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  • Bellz July 22, 2011, 2:55 am

    I also wrote to Wendy and waited until I had an update to say thank you. I think lots of LW’s do the same.

    Readers – if you love Wendy, take a moment each time you come into the site to click on the banner ads on the right side bar. It’s a quick way to contribute 🙂

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  • twiglet July 22, 2011, 1:06 pm

    Noooo idea Wendy even did this. Mightily impressed, but no, you can’t keep that up or you’ll be swamped. Good luck with the baby, hon, you do a great job, and I reckon you will be a very cool Mom.

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