In this photo illustration, the Reddit logo is displayed on a smartphone screen.
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Dear Abby and Dan Savage were yesterday’s advice gurus. Today, Reddit’s subreddits take center stage.
Millennials and Gen Z are turning to Reddit for highly-specific life advice, fueling viral stories.
But these advice subreddits might not be so different from the agony aunt advice columns of yesteryear.
Scrolling through social media during your morning commute, you’ve likely stumbled upon viral Reddit posts like those on the immensely popular forum r/AmItheAsshole, where users ponder questions like AITA “for telling my fiancé that if he expects me to contribute 50/50, we have to make some serious lifestyle changes?”
In that now-viral post published on Monday, the Redditor explained that though they made much less than their partner, said partner now wants to split expenses equally. The poster then asked the subreddit if telling their partner they need to make serious lifestyle changes — like selling their now-unaffordable two cars — made her the bad guy.
Reading it struck a chord because I, too, have struggled with relationships with partners who earn way more than I do — and the minefield of issues that come with it.
And it seems that I wasn’t the only one it resonated with. Redditors flooded the post with over 14,000 comments, with most voting “NTA” — meaning that the poster is “not the asshole.” One user commented, “It does sound like he has something else going on, and I would mentally prepare for him to call the wedding off.”
Today, these columns seem dwarfed by the deluge of advice that people now receive on Reddit’s forums — also known as subreddits — where millions of users tune in to offer their takes or to watch the fallout, popcorn in hand.
And I, for one, love watching internet strangers getting vindicated or roasted by a thousand judges.
Who needs an agony aunt column when you have r/OffMyChest and r/AITAH
At the forefront of these advice subreddits is r/AmITheAsshole — with over 13 million users — and its offshoot r/AITAH. But beyond them is a funky constellation of subreddits where users come to pour out their innermost thoughts and burning questions.
Looking for advice about dealing with loved ones?
Another Redditor sought guidance on how they could tell their single mother that they know her mum’s “best friend” is, in reality, her girlfriend, leading one commenter to note with amusement, “This is so interesting because the convention wisdom for parents with closeted gay kids is to let the kid come out on their schedule.”
Three days later, Redditors reacted with delight when the original poster shared an update: they were right about their mum dating a woman, it just wasn’t the person they thought it was.
Need to unload?
One person shared a confession on r/OffMyChest, which read: “I accidentally found out my coworkers don’t like me,” and recounted how they received a message about them intended for another coworker. The poster wrote, “I feel like even at 28, no matter how hard I try to fit in and be nice, I somehow mess it up.”
Over a thousand Redditors responded, with advice such as: “One thing I have noticed in life — trying to fit in almost always has the opposite effect” to affirmation: “Your coworkers don’t deserve someone like you.”
Curious about what the opposite sex thinks?
On r/AskMen, the question “What’s one thing you wish you could tell your wife, but won’t because you know it will start a fight” prompted this heartfelt response: “Your family takes advantage of you because of your inability to say “no.” Guilt issues are real and debilitating.”
To be sure, Reddit’s public advice columns are not without their detractors. Another viral post in 2019 wrote: “Too many AITA commenters advocate too quickly for people to leave their partners at the first sign of conflict, and this kind of thinking deprives many people of emotional growth.”
For hundreds of years, humans have been fascinated by what their neighbors are up to
My theory for why these subreddits have such viral appeal is that they offer a sense of community, similar to their historical counterparts — agony aunts.
As part of his book on advice columns, the University of Tampa’s David Gudelunas wrote, “It was through reading columns such as “Dorothy Dix” and “Ann Landers” that Americans learned what the other half was up to—no matter what half they themselves represented.”
These columns date as far back as 1690, when one appeared in a London paper, according to Gudelunas. His book even shared a fascinating letter published in 1910 from a reader who asked if “it was improper to give a young lady a ring for an engagement which had previously been worn by another.”
An agony aunt responded: “It would be very bad form to give the girl whom you are now engaged the ring which the first girl wore while engaged to you. Either have it reset or give her another ring.”
And it just shows that our fascination with seeing strangers getting judged or vindicated in text is older than we think.