"I can't be your Carrie Bradshaw."

by Lani Diane Rich

April 2, 2018

Boston Globe advice columnist Meredith Goldstein ’99 talks modern advice and memoir

A photo of Meredith Goldstein '99
Meredith Goldstein '99

When asked about her memories of being a newspaper major at the Newhouse School, advice columnist Meredith Goldstein can’t recall much.

“I was a Daily Orange person so that’s a certain kind of lifestyle,” she says. “Some of my best memories from that time, I can’t even trust because I was so sleep-deprived.”

Since those hazy days of rushing a DO paste-up to press in the dark hours of the early morning, Goldstein has moved on to become Boston’s hometown romantic consultant through her wildly popular “Love Letters” column at the Boston Globe. Her memoir, “Can’t Help Myself: Lessons & Confessions from a Modern Advice Columnist,” spins the parallel narratives of Goldstein’s complicated and evolving personal relationships—romantic, familial and platonic—alongside memorable letters from readers and her responses to them, with a dash of input from the online community that built up around the column. Goldstein recently sat down with the Newhouse School to talk about her unexpected path from covering the beach community beat to advising the lovelorn.

When did you start at the Globe?

I started freelancing in 2001 and was hired in 2002. I was placed in the Northshore Bureau, which was lovely. I would spend the summer looking for stories by the water and could not complain. They were these beautiful communities and I really loved my time there because it would be everything from a story about tourism to a story about people who do clamming.

How did you shift to doing the “Love Letters” column?

I always knew that I wanted to write for the Living Arts department, so after three years I went to Living Arts, writing about things to do at night, helping with their calendar stuff, doing nightlife features. Which was hilarious because I like to go home early at night and watch TV. But because of the kinds of stories I was writing, I was starting to get letters from readers. “I saw your article about texting. Can I text a woman to ask her out on a date?” And I would be like, “I don’t know. I’m a journalist. That wasn’t my point.” But I did know. "No, it’s not okay to text a woman to ask her out on a date. Call." The challenge was convincing my editors that some of my time should be spent on this because it seemed like such a trivial thing. That was sort of an uphill battle but once it was a success, they were stuck.

What's your favorite part about writing the column?

I like knowing that a lot of these struggles are universal. I think it can feel very lonely. Not just for single people; I think people in relationships can be just as lonely. You can feel like these things are things that only you are experiencing.


Image of cover of "Can't Help Myself" by Meredith Goldstein '99
"Can't Help Myself" by Meredith Goldstein '99 is available in stores on April 3.

What made you decide to turn it into a book?

Linda Henry, our managing director, looked at “Love Letters” and said, “There's a book here.” They really liked this idea of a memoir. I could tell that they thought I was going to have some “Sex and the City” stories for them. I would hear that a lot. “Oh, you must be like Carrie Bradshaw.” She was making these dating observations while dating. I warned them, that’s not the story that I have to tell, if I have any story at all.

They knew that my mom had passed away. They were like, “Okay, but, you know, [you could write about] that.” They were not insensitive about it, but I was also laughing because at the time there had been all this success with “Wild” and Cheryl Strayed, and I said, “OK, yes, my mom died, but I did not go hiking. So, I can’t be your Carrie Bradshaw and I can’t be your Cheryl Strayed. I’m home, not dating and totally watching TV.” I think for many of us we don’t imagine we have stories that are worthy of a memoir. I realized, sitting down and writing a proposal, that there were things that I was desperate to say. The more I thought about why I give the advice I give, there’s [a] story attached to each of those reasons.

What advice do you wish someone had given you when you were in college?

It is a time to make mistakes. I think that’s hard to do these days because of the internet. All of your mistakes are recorded forever. I could write a terrible article in the DO, and it didn’t go online. I can actually make a case for not putting these things online for college newspapers. I hope that culture doesn’t stop them from taking risks. I also think nowadays industries change so much that it’s really freeing to say, “I don’t know what I want to do.” Because it might not exist yet. It’s exciting. Some of the coolest jobs haven’t even been invented yet.