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“Love Letters” advice columnist

October 20, 2009

On paper, Meredith Goldstein’s voice rings loud and clear. I have to tell you, I’m doubting this guy’s potential, she writes to a reader whose date won’t reveal his marital status. To the boyfriend of a severely depressed woman: My advice: therapy for you. And always: Readers? What do you think?

The words from a week of reader letters (generated by Wordle.net)

A reader would have a hard time matching this guileless, tell-it-like-it-is online voice with Goldstein in real-life, a soft-featured, unassuming blonde in a plain black sweater. In person, Goldstein, 32, replaces bold advice with casual conversation, clever wordplay with careful anecdotes.

Goldstein is not married or even involved – she’s a single relationship advice columnist, a walking oxymoron – yet her ability to connect with readers qualifies her nonetheless.

“I’m not shocked that this is what I’m doing,” says Goldstein, writer of Boston.com’s “Love Letters” blog, a classic “Dear Abby”-like column, but with a modern, technological twist. “I think that any advice columnist is sort of being an online friend more than anything else – I certainly don’t pretend to be a therapist.”

The simple exercise of articulating words on paper helps a lot of people organize their thoughts, according to Goldstein. She gets letters from people of all ages and backgrounds, with real, cross-generational problems: a woman needs help reentering the dating world after her husband of 35 years leaves her; a college coed doesn’t know how to cope with the end of a relationship; a woman is nervous to say “I love you” to her boyfriend.

“Meredith has this ability to generate trust and compassion,” her mother, Leslie Goldstein says. “People know she can be relied upon – she’s extraordinarily giving with her time, her energy, everything.”

On a typical day, Goldstein receives anywhere from three to 30 letters. She posts one online, along with her response. Then readers comment with their own stories and advice. Comments range 50 to 500 per letter, on average about 150 a day, says Goldstein.

The words from a week of Goldstein's replys (generated by Wordle.net)

Some comment solely to praise Goldstein’s advice. “Once again, Meredith is right. She represents justice for all – you should listen to her,” reads one.

Not that they always agree.

“Even the ones who are critical of me every day are respectful about it,” she says. “And I’m certainly not right all of the time. They’ve been known to change my mind.”

In addition to “Love Letters,” Goldstein writes for the Living and Arts section of The Boston Globe. Before starting the blog last January, she covered the nightlife beat. There she wrote about dating and trends, which she parlayed into the advice column.

She doesn’t like to answer a lot of questions about her own love life. However, Goldstein will occasionally cite her experiences to answer letters. In one case, a woman in her early 20s wrote in about her troubles getting over a college boyfriend.

“She was miserable, she was frozen. She felt like she was missing out on this fun time in her life and why couldn’t she get over it?” says Goldstein. “I wrote back and said ‘let me tell you a story about a girl named Deredith.’”

Goldstein used a pseudonym for her ex-boyfriend and explained how she too had had a hard time moving on after her college relationship ended. She gave a piece of advice she repeats often to readers: Time doesn’t heal all wounds.

“I said ‘I’m 12 years done with that relationship and I’m grown up now,’ but that doesn’t change the feeling I had when I saw his New York Times wedding announcement.”

Another columnist, or a consoling friend, might say, “it does get better” or “give it time,” but heartbreak doesn’t go away, says Goldstein, and people shouldn’t expect it to. A lot of the world is negative, she admits, but the happy people tend not to write.

“For every letter I get, I have to imagine that there are a hundred great relationships out there,” she says. “I try not to let it get me down and I continue to tell readers, ‘don’t feel like this is all that’s out there.”

Goldstein tries to take her own advice. It’s hard to date as a relationship columnist, she says, though that doesn’t mean that she’s not looking.

“Meredith hasn’t met someone that she wants to be with long term, but she’s more self-aware than most people I know,” says Danielle Kost, one of Goldstein’s best friends. “There’s a lot of societal pressure to have things all figured out by your early 30s. That often forces people to rush into things. Meredith won’t.”

Goldstein considers herself happy overall – thanks largely to her group friends.

“My friends are such a strong force in my life that I know that if I am with someone, it’s out of choice, not based on need,” she says.

“Some readers would see being single as a failure, as something unfinished. But to me, relationships are also unfinished. They change,” says Goldstein.

The deceivingly inconspicuous woman seems to have an endless knowledge of relationships and dating. In reality, she’s “a big homebody.”

“Despite all my going out, I’m an in-front-of-the-TV, ordering-food-in-elastic pants person,” Goldstein laughs. “When I tell people what I do for a living, they’ll say, ‘Oh, so you’re a Carrie Bradshaw type.’ Oh no, I say, the dumpiest Carrie Bradshaw you could possibly imagine.”

“She’s quieter, she’s not Type A,” her mother says. “But she’s a magnet to people.”

Since she was a little girl, Goldstein has always known what she wants in life, at least according to her mom. By the second grade, she knew she wanted to be a writer; by seventh grade, a journalist.

The would-be Globe columnist majored in journalism at Syracuse University, before landing the job she always wanted.

“It’s been more rewarding than I could have ever imagined,” says Goldstein of her “Love Letters” gig. “All writing jobs, especially journalism, tend to be very rewarding because you’re dealing with real people; you’re recording their lives. I think this is just a different way to do that.”

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