Archive for the 'how to' Category


advice on giving unsolicited advice

Reader J. H. writes:

What do you think is the protocol for giving advice? I’ve noticed  sometimes people bitch and moan, only wanting people to hear them out, maybe a bit of validation (but letting them sort out the issue, and not telling them what to do). Other times, one hears a loved one making terrible decisions, and you can’t help but tell them what you think you should do. What’d’ya reckon?

Dear J.H.:

This is a great question, seeing as I just wrote an article over at The Weekly Alibi about writing an advice column. Now I can actually write more about the act of giving advice.

Let’s start with the fact that this bitching and moaning phenomenon is actually something I’ve studied in my time as a linguist. There are some people who, in complaining, are merely seeking someone to commiserate with them. Then there are people who are looking for a solution. It’s a communication style issue, and people don’t actually realize they’re one or the other (unless they take the time to become self aware about their communication style, like we linguists do twice a week).

It sounds to me like you’re a solutionist rather than a commiserater, since you refer to the people complaining as bitching and moaning. I’m going to give you some advice straight away: Commiseraters will actually probably get offended or annoyed if you try to solve their problems for them. They’re looking to develop a sort of intimacy with you by sharing their woes, rather than solving them. They probably know exactly what they need to do to fix the problem, anyway, so your advice will just cue them into the fact that you don’t think they’re smart enough to solve their own problems (even if that’s not what you mean to imply). So my advice is, if you know someone just wants to complain, don’t take it as just bitching and moaning. Listen to them, and then offer some story about how you’ve gone through a similar problem.

Some more advice: women tend to be commiseraters, and men tend to be solutionists, although this isn’t always the case. It’s probably about a 60/40 split either way, so it’s not a failsafe bet, but it’s an interesting trend to look into. On top of that, sometimes commiseraters actually do want advice, and solutionists do just want someone to listen to them. Just be aware that this is a communication style, so if you want to communicate with someone when they’re complaining, you should try and decide which style they talk in and go that route in order to avoid offending them.

I’m a commiserater. I come from a long line of commiserating women, including my mother and sisters. My father is a solutionist. If you want to talk about how you’re going to fix money problems, you call dad; if you start complaining about the money problems with no solution in sight, dad hands the phone to mom. I’ve done linguistic research on my dad in this matter. It’s hilariously predictable once you know what to look for. It’s been great for me, too, because I don’t get offended when I’m complaining and my dad (or anyone else, for that matter) offers a solution. I know he’s offering the solution not to shut me up, but because he loves me.

My best friend from second grade is also a solutionist. It’s hard sometimes for me to give her advice when she sounds like she’s complaining, because as a commiserater, I want to say, “Yeah, buddy, that happens to me, too!” But I know that most of the time, she wants advice. Of course, most of the time, she’ll ask for it directly, anyway.

So here’s my utmost recommendation for you: Unless someone specifically asks, “What do you think?” or, “What should I do?” after laying out all their problems, you probably should keep the advice to yourself. Unless, of course, you’re watching a good friend or family member waltz towards destruction. In that case, an intervention might be a better idea than advice.

Also, if you happen to write an advice column, you can give them backhanded advice without having to push it in their face.


great hair

Reader H. C. writes:

I would like to have great hair. What do you suggest I do?

Dear H.C.:

Well, that’s an open-ended question if I ever read one. But here are a few tips for having, as you call it, “great hair”:

1. Get a good stylist.

There is a huge difference between a $10 haircut and a $30 haircut. It may sound snobby and uneconomical, but it’s true. Unless you happen to be one of those lucky people who knows a girl who studied at beauty school and just gives her talents away to friends for kicks, you’re going


Probably not a good idea to do this. Image: graur razvan ionut /

to have to shell out for a great haircut. Furthermore, you’re going to have to shop around to find the stylist that’s right for you, and keep going back to that stylist for as long as you possibly can. And it’ll probably cost you more money than you’d pay at SuperCuts. This is not to say there aren’t great stylists at SuperCuts. There are diamonds in every rough. And not to say just because you pay more for a haircut, it’s going to be super awesome. My best advice? When you see a girl who’s got the look you want, ask her where she gets her hair did. She’ll probably be thrilled to tell you, and I’ll bet her stylist will give her a price break for the reference if you’re nice enough to bring it up. Don’t just keep going to someone because you’ve heard they were good, either; if you don’t like what they’re doing to your hair, find someone new.

2. Get good hair products.

This doesn’t necessarily have to cost you an arm and a leg, but the cheap shampoo at Walgreens isn’t necessarily the best thing for your scalp. There are many who argue shampoo in general is bad news bears, and will tell you how to wash your hair with baking soda and apple cider vinegar. It’s really just that easy, actually — you lather up with some baking soda and apple cider vinegar and wash it out. Gets the oil out. May not smell as nice as your Herbal Essences Floral Orgasm, but you can always put some lavender oil on the tips. Also, this route apparently takes a few days to work, so you may have some oil leftovers for a while. If you’re not up for the hippy dippy route, there are good shampoos out there that won’t dry out your hair. Most salon products tend to be a notch above drugstore, and some of them won’t cost you an arm and a leg. Ask your trusted stylist what she thinks you need.

3. You don’t have to wash and style your hair every day.

This depends entirely on your hair type, oil production, how often you dye or style your hair, the climate in which you live, and how much you sweat or exercise on a given day, but don’t be afraid to let the locks go without shampoo for a day (or two!). We of the west tend to over do it on the cleaning products on our bodies. You’re supposed to produce some oil, so let your body do its job to your hair. In fact, I like to give my ‘do an olive oil treatment every once in a while, especially in the winter. I just rub some into the ends (or my scalp if I’m feeling extra sassy) and give it a night to soak in. Extra shiny! If your locks do get greasy in between washings, it may be because you’re stripping the oil out by washing it too much and your scalp is overcompensating. Try a dry or waterless shampoo (you can even make your own! [link via]).

4. Cut early, cut often.

Even if you’re growing your hair out, it’s a good idea to get a trim. For shorter hair styles (e.g. dudes), I recommend once every three to four weeks to maintain a shape; for longer hair, six weeks is a good timeline. If you are dyeing your hair, you’re going to have to keep up those roots — four to six weeks minimum for a re-dye job. Otherwise you’ll look, as my mother says, “tacky”.

Now I know I’ve got some stylists among my readership. Got any tips you wanna’ share?


bring on the exclusivity

Reader N. Y. writes:

I have been seeing a few different people and dating around, but I really hit it off with one of them and we’ve decided to be exclusive. What should I do about letting the other people I’ve been seeing know I’m taken?

Dear N.Y.:

There are several levels of passive-aggression you could take to this question. It all depends on your mood, how well you know the people you were dating, and how full of yourself you are.

Let’s just go from least passive-aggressive to most! It’ll be fun.


Call every person you have been dating and tell them you have met someone you are interested in pursuing something with in an exclusive way. Let the person you’re calling know that you had a lot of fun with them and that you wish them the best. If you would like to continue being friends with them, let ’em know that, too.

Douchebag quotient: Pretty high. You don’t know how interested they were in continuing something with you anyway. The least douchebaggy way to do this is if by calling to cancel a date you already had set up because you’re seeing someone else. Still douchebaggy, but less than just picking up your phone with seemingly no provocation to tell someone they’re not the right one for you and you’ve found someone better.


Similar to calling but less direct and you don’t have to deal with them responding to you immediately. In fact, they may never respond at all.

Douchebag quotient: Still pretty high, although less so. Again, telling someone you’re interested in something more serious with someone else is kind of a douchebaggy way to go, regardless of how honest you’re being.

NEXT LEAST PASSIVE-AGGRESSIVE: Letting it come up in conversation naturally.


"Look, honey, we're official on Facebook now." Image: graur codrin /

This is tricky, but it’s easier if you already had a date planned with them before you decided to go all out with the object of your actual affection, or if you’ve been dating within a friend circle and you happen to frequent the same events. In this instance, you can either let it drop during conversation (“Oh, I’m seeing this girl/guy–” or “Oh, my boyfriend/girlfriend–“), or someone else can mention it while in the presence of one of the other people you’ve been seeing. The problem with this is that you have little direction or control over it, especially in the instance of waiting for someone else to bring it up in convo. However, if the person you’ve been dating but no longer want to date asks something like, “So, wanna’ come home with me?”, you now have an IN for saying, “Sorry, I’m taken now, but thanks for buying me this beer.”

Douchebag quotient: Pretty douchebaggy, especially if you didn’t cancel a date and lead them on by going out with them and THEN dropping the bomb.

NEXT MOST PASSIVE AGGRESSIVE: Let them see you in public with your new SO.

While it may not work in big cities like New York or LA, this is definitely what’s going to happen if you live in small-town America, where you are bound to run into everyone you have ever dated since middle school at one point or another. Just hold hands with your new catch and let things happen as they will. Of course, you once again have little-to-no control over when, where, how, or even if the people you’ve been seeing figure it out.

Douchebag quotient: Not all that douchebaggy. You’re just going about your business, after all.

NEXT MOST PASSIVE-AGGRESSIVE: Just change your Facebook status from “single” to “in a relationship”.

This is probably the route I’d take. Yes, it’s passive-aggressive, but it’s also a kind way to say, “Sorry things didn’t work out between us, but I’m moving on.” It can come as a shock to the folks you’ve been seeing, and if they’re not your friends on Facebook, they may never find out. But it gets the word out without being too in-your-face or pompous.

Douchebag quotient: Pretty low (if you don’t count passive-aggression as too douchebaggy). Again, you’re just declaring your takeness to the world, not singling anyone out and telling them what they’re missing.

MOST PASSIVE AGGRESSIVE: Just quit talking to the other people you’ve been seeing.

This is probably the route most people take in these situations. Your harem or stable will figure it out pretty quickly, anyway, especially if you’re actually friends and you’re out and about doing things with the new beau/belle and talking about it on Facebook. This route keeps the awkward to a minimum and lets the other datees save face without you rubbing it in their face that you chose someone else.

Douchebag quotient: Actually, this is pretty low on the dbag scale. While just ceasing all conversation with someone is usually the cowardly route to take, it can actually be the most reverent of their feelings. Which is nice.

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