With the approach of Valentine’s Day, we offer three endnotes to the most recent viabrevis posting (https://viabrevis.wordpress.com/2013/01/18/the-agony-and-the-exposition/). Each involves a dialog between a member of a romantic triangle (actual or hypothetical) and what is known in the trade as an agony aunt, i.e., a newspaper advice columnist. Actually, like the proverbial aboriginal nuclear family consisting of a mother, a father, a child, and an anthropologist, the advice column dialog invariably has multiple participants, as David Gudelunas suggests in his Confidential to America: Newspaper Advice Columns and Sexual Education: “Readers write to advice columnists to participate in a sort of public discourse, and readers who never actually mail a letter to the columnist use the column as a way to gauge their own behavior and to eavesdrop on the problems of their friends and neighbors many of whom they will never meet in person.”

The first is from the Athenian Mercury (April 23, 1692):

Quest. It is my misfortune (if I may call it so) to fix my affections on a person, whose circumstances cannot admit of an address, being a wife, which has made me often endeavor to stifle the passion, but all is in vain: And were it not for an uncertain, or rather imaginary expectancy, I should fall into despair, which I am satisfied will produce fatal consequences.

Quest. If the lady may within the rules of modesty, and with a due respect to her own virtue and honor, make me a conditional promise, in case she should survive her husband, without breach or violation of the vow she made him in marriage.

Quest. If such a request in me be any breach of the Ten Commandments, it being only executory after the death of the husband.

Ans. The relation is a very great folly and wickedness. A folly to wait for any thing, which morally speaking, is two to one odds; whether it happens or not, since our lover is not certain, but he, or his mistress may one or both die before the husband; besides ‘tis a manifest breach of the tenth commandment, and may be of very ill consequences, for if she condescends to such a conditional promise, it necessarily follows (if she’s in earnest, and if in jest ‘tis a poor remedy) that it will alienate her affections from her lawful husband, and there’s a gate open to many horrid practices that don’t now shew themselves; such a person so continuing must certainly be in a state of damnation; therefore our advice is, that he repent himself of such a wicked folly, avoiding all such opportunities of converse, or otherwise, that may renew so vile a flame.”

The second is a letter written in 1907 to the editor of the Yiddish daily newspaper Forverts [פֿאָדװעדטם ‘Forward’] who offered advice in his column “A Bintel Briv
[א בינמל בריװ ‘A bundle of letters’] to his largely immigrant readership new to the ways of the New World. The letter quoted here is from Isaac Metzger’s A Bintel Brief: Sixty Years of Letters from the Lower East Side to the Jewish Daily Forward:

“Worthy Editor,

In the “Bintel Brief” I have already read about many kinds of problems, but never about such a misfortune as the one that befell me. I beg you to print my letter as quickly as possible and advise me how to save myself.

About four years ago, when I was still at home in Russia, a young man from another city boarded with us. When I decided to go to America he told me he wanted to go too. At the time I was nineteen years old. But my mother, who was a widow, said it was not proper for a girl and boy to make such a long journey together. She hinted that if we were planning to get married it would be all right. As long as I liked the young man, who was quiet and decent, I answered my mother that if he agreed I would too.

My mother began to talk to him, and he said it was impos¬sible because he had a girl friend whom he was going to marry. Meanwhile, I fell in love with the young man. My love for him grew from day to day, until I couldn’t restrain myself any longer, and I spoke to him openly about it. He listened to me attentively, and told me, too, that he was obligated to his sweetheart. When I asked him who she was and where she lived, he didn’t answer me, but burst into tears. I was suffering, and decided to leave for America as soon as possible, in order to forget him.

When I finally got a steamship ticket from my aunt and began to get ready for the trip, the young man came to me one day and told me he loved and wanted to marry me.
Then I was the happiest girl in the world. We became engaged and decided that right after the wedding we would go to America together. A few weeks passed, and the day of our wedding came.

The guests gathered, the music played gaily, but about an hour before the ceremony my bridegroom called me in to another room and told me he couldn’t marry me, because he didn’t want to make me unhappy. He explained it was all a mistake on his part, because he couldn’t forget his sweetheart. I didn’t know what hit me, I began to cry and plead with him to have pity on me and not shame me so. But he was adamant. Since I thought that his sweetheart was in America, I promised him that, if he found her, I would release him. He grasped my hands and kissed them, and after that we went through with the ceremony.

A few weeks after the wedding we left. My aunt, who met us in America, greeted us warmly, and my uncle found a good job for my husband. My husband loved me honestly, and of course I loved him, and we lived together happily almost three years, but after that came my misfortune.

I had noticed, weeks ago, that he was upset. My heart told me then that trouble was brewing. He went about sadly, and I heard him sighing and groaning. He started coming home late and didn’t even go over to our baby, whom be loves very much.
I finally asked him what had happened to him. He looked at me. He asked me if I remembered what I had promised him before the wedding. When I heard those words I fainted and was sick for several days. When I felt better he talked to me and, with tears in his eyes, begged me to calm down, because there was no other way out.
He explained that since he had just met his sweetheart, who had been in America all the time, he no longer belonged to me but to her. He says he will leave me our home, his money, and will pay me alimony too. But we must part. I fell at his feet, cried, and begged him to have pity on me and our young child, but he had one answer: “It can’t be any other way.”

I beg you, have mercy on me. My husband is a good man with a fine character, and he is a faithful reader of the Forward.

Write a few words to him in your answer to my letter. How can and of me that I set him free? The truth is that when I made him that promise I never believed he would ever find his sweetheart.

I wait with greatest impatience to see my letter and your printed.
Thank you in advance,

The man has no right to leave his wife now, after he lived with her for three happy years and has a child with her. Even though his wife promised him before the wedding that she would free him, he dare not demand now that she keep her word. If he is really a decent man with a good heart and fine character, he must understand that he now has more obligation to his wife and child than to that sweetheart who vanished for years and didn’t concern herself about him.”

Meredith Goldstein’s December 22, 2012 “Love Letters” column in The Boston Globe makes itself at home in the 21st century. Vintage vin ordinaire in a mix of new and recycled bottles, “Love Letters” combines the familiar subject matter and confessional format of the traditional newspaper advice column with elements of the contemporary blogosphere, giving hitherto silent eavesdroppers speaking parts in the discourse:

Can he reach out to married ex? He just wants to tell her he made the wrong choice 14 years ago…oh, and that he still loves her

Q. About 14 years ago I made a decision between two women. I had feelings for both of them and they had mutual feelings for me, as well. I ultimately made my decision and I believe the wrong one. I was married for almost 10 years and am now divorced. I think of this other woman on a daily basis even though I have not spoken to or seen her in almost 14 years. She lives in the same town as me, and I know through Facebook that she is married now. I am tempted to write a letter to this woman and just tell her that 14 years ago I should have pursued a relationship with her. I know it sounds crazy but I think somehow I am in love with her. I almost need closure because I cannot get over her. I just want to write this letter and tell her how she made me feel so long ago and express that I think she is a great person and hope she is happy in her life. Is this a bad idea? Please offer some advice. Thank you. –PAST REGRET, Boston

A. You’re not in love with this woman. You’re just lonely and sad about your divorce.

You’ve turned this ex into some mythical soul mate who can magically fix your life, but in reality, she’s just an old crush. Had you chosen her back then, you might have dumped her after a few months. Don’t make up a crazy narrative about the path you didn’t take. You’re just inventing fairy tales.

You’re not allowed to write a love letter to a married woman. It’s be one thing if you just wanted to say hello, but you’ve admitted that you want her back. Your intentions are all wrong, and I will not endorse any form of communication.

Use your energy to meet new people. It’s a big world. Go explore. –MEREDITH

Leave it alone. You’re dreaming. TONICNOTSODA

Oh, just stop it. You will probably tick her off. “Hey, remember me? I rejected you 14 years ago in favor of another woman? Oopsky.” MOVA

You’re not in love with her. And you shouldn’t confess your love for a married woman … especially one you haven’t seen in 14 years. I am very different than 14 years ago. The guy I was in a relationship with back then probably wouldn’t be a good fit for me now…. We’ve both changed. POWDERGIRL…”

Plus ça change…