The Real Problem Is

Confession: I read the Agony Aunt columns in the British tabloids, particularly Dear Deidre in The Sun. Do I do it for the salacious and seamy/unseemly details? Do I do it to feel morally superiour (the British spelling, if I had my druthers) to the people who might write into Dear Deidre not so much for advice but for some sort of validation that what they did was not wrong, or at least no so wrong:

Of course that’s why.

I have to wonder how much popular culture, from Dear Deidre to Melrose Place (what, that’s not popular culture now? Gentle reader, I don’t want to make you feel old, but the most recent reboot was eleven years ago already, so it’s ripe for another comeback–if there is one boon from dearth of fresh ideas in modern popular mythmaking, it’s that any cultural allusions will be perennially fresh as the same old shows and movies get endlessly recycled), where was I? Oh yes, that popular culture has fictively normalized bad behavior. But that’s neither here nor there.

What I wanted to point out is how the answers to a lot of such letters feature first and foremost the condemnation not so much for how people have betrayed sacred vows or presumed trust but rather for putting people at risk of getting Wuhan Flu.

For examples:

DEAR DEIDRE Sex with my post-baby bootcamp trainer has made me realise I want to be single

HAVING hot sex with my bootcamp teacher has made me realise I don’t want to be with my partner any more.

I’m a woman of 28 and my fella is 31. We had a good relationship until my daughter was born.

* * * *

I’ve never been unfaithful before but it was lovely to feel wanted.

I lost all my inhibitions and we had sex. It took me back to how sex used to be before I had my daughter and it felt incredible.

* * * *

I want to be single again and not stuck with the same guy. I don’t want to break my partner’s heart — but I know I would be happier alone.

Deidre responds:

You are in the grip of your new sexual attraction to your instructor but that is distorting your thinking – and you also risk transmitting the virus.

After just a year of marriage, my husband has asked me to try swinging:

AFTER just a year of marriage, my husband has asked me to try swinging.

Deidre says:

Don’t be pressured into doing anything sexual that you are not fully comfortable with – and swinging these days brings the risk of Covid too.

I’ve been having sex with strangers since my fiancé jilted me – & with him too:

I’VE been having sex with strangers since my fiancé jilted me. I’m still having sex with him too when he pops round. My life is a mess.

Deidre reminds her of the real risks of promiscuity. Sexually transmitted diseases? Pregnancy? Feh:

You are sleeping around to boost your self-esteem but the attention is short-lived and brings an emotional hangover, plus the virus risk.

She does not mean HIV, kids. She means The Real Danger.

I have three men on the go but can’t choose – am I having a midlife crisis?:

I AM in love with three men and have sex with all of them. I just don’t know who to choose.

I am a woman of 38 and have always got on well with men but have never married.

Deidre starts with:

Labels don’t matter, choices do, and at the moment you are putting yourself and your partners at risk of transmitting Covid.

A lover has put a spark back into my unhappy married life – am I wrong to see him?:

TWELVE years ago my husband walked out of the delivery room when I was in labour, saying he was off to the pub.

It’s been an unhappy marriage but now a lover has put a spark back into my life.

Deidre manages to hold off mentioning Wuhan Flu until the second paragraph:

I do understand how unhappy and trapped you feel in your marriage.

But readers’ experiences tell me an affair like yours is likely to lead to more misery in the longer term – and these days it also risks transmitting coronavirus in the short term.

I guess the tabloid is being internally consistent with its KLAXONING, ALARUM-BLARING coverage of the disease in Britain dominates the front page and a lot of above the fold coverage.

But it’s a bit amusing and maybe a little unnerving, in a certain fin de tous les siècles sort of way that the contemporary, emphasis on the temporary or perhaps con concern gets placed ahead of deeper moral failings.

But I guess one, and by “one,” I mean “I” does not go to Agony Aunt columns for moral philosophy anyway.

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