We talked with the popular anonymous advice guru about her new collection 'The Best of Dear Coquette.'
I don't remember at what point I started reading the Dear Coquette blog. It was maybe around 2009 or 2010, back when she still went by "Coke Talk," an anonymous internet guru whose party-girl-with-a-brain persona had amassed a huge following online, currently at 30,000 Twitter followers and tens of thousands on Tumblr. A mysterious figure, Coquette is able to simultaneously make you want to get fucked up with her and also let her sort out your life.
Coquette's advice became crucial to me in a way I didn't expect. On a pretty spring day in March 2012, my then-boyfriend left for work and while using his computer, I discovered hidden camera videos of his female roommates and me. Intuitively I felt that if he knew what I had found, he would become violent.
I'm still not sure why, but I felt that Coquette was the only one who could possibly help, and desperately fired off a late-night email. Within an hour, I received a response that laid out steps: inform the roommates, get evidence to the cops, and start healing emotionally, all while pretending everything was normal in the relationship so that my ex wouldn't realize anything was up, freak out, and possibly murder all of us.
Four years later I'm a stable person with a regular job and a healthy relationship—due in a large part because of Coquette's advice kicking my ass.
But I'm not the only person Coquette has helped. Since 2009, she's answered thousands of readers' questions about life, love, and the abyss. She's offered advice on how to shove an ecstasy tab up your asshole, thoughts on why Tony Robbins is so creepy (he's " basically a charismatic cult leader"), counseled a desperate reader through her husband's suicide, and told us how to stay sane while watching the RNC ("100-percent laughter. No cowering"). Her new book, The Best of Dear Coquette: Shady Advice from a Raging Bitch Who Has No Business Answering Any of These Questions, is a 350-page compendium of her sagest wisdom, picked from thousands and thousands of entries and organized into sections by topic (relationships, sex, drugs, the universe) so that a reader can quickly find what they seek in their time of need.
I chatted with Coquette through Twitter DMs (her need for anonymity prevented a phone call) over two days about the impact she has had on her readers over the years, our shared near-death experiences, and her surprisingly simple key to happiness (a sense of scale and mindfulness in the present). Her advice for VICE readers? "VOTE."
VICE: The tagline of the book is "advice from a raging bitch who has no business answering these questions." Why do you think people are so desperate for your advice despite that caveat? What do you think compels people to fire off their issues into the ether?
Coquette: Everyone needs advice. This format is as old as recorded history. A question is posed, a response is given, and somewhere along the way maybe a little wisdom gets transmitted. Technologies advance and mediums change, but we're all still just a bunch of curious monkeys who need answers as much as we need oxygen.
And sure, I'm a raging bitch who has no business answering these questions, but the whole point is that I'm not claiming expert status. I know my place. I leave it to the scientists and philosophers to tackle the great unknowns. I'm cool with pitching in on the day-to-day stuff, and that's all my readers ask of me.
So you have "no business answering these questions," but in a way, who else is gonna?
True. Half of this shit is just showing up. I mean, I don't have to answer all these questions. I just do. Wouldn't know how to stop even if I wanted to.
"Technologies advance and mediums change, but we're all still just a bunch of curious monkeys who need answers as much as we need oxygen."
Does the sheer amount of desperate, confused people in your inbox ever overwhelm you?
Nah. It humbles me. I know that sounds like a smarmy answer, but it's the fucking truth. I feel lucky that this has become such an important part of my life.
What's been your favorite reader interaction over the years and years you've done this?
There are so many of my readers that I keep in touch with at this point, I really couldn't name a favorite. Actually, no wait. As I'm thinking about it, I just remembered the couple who asked me to write their wedding vows. Shit, that was back in 2011. They've been married a half decade now, and I still hear from them every once in a while. They include me in their anniversaries. That shit really does make me happy.
I would ask what you get out of it, but you kind of told me already.
Yeah. How could I not love it? I get all kinds of follow-up letters from people who go one way or the other with my advice. Some wished they'd taken it. Some were glad they did. Some hate my breathing guts. It's a lot of fun to see how certain stories play out, how certain pieces of advice have ripple effects through people's lives, even years later.
It seems like you have an odd place in that you don't just solve people's problems, you reframe the problem in a way that not only addresses the underlying issue but also makes them reconsider so many underlying assumptions they're working with.
I can't solve anyone's problems except my own. You're right. All I do is reframe. I smack people upside the head with a much-needed perspective. Usually it's just a sense of scale. That's all anyone needs—a sense of scale plus the ability to stay mindful in the present moment. That's the key to fucking happiness right there.
In an odd way, I feel like the questions the readers ask (and also that I am asking in the context of an interview, really) are less useful for you to respond to than the statements we make about ourselves that you go HAM on.
How do you mean?
Like, the question a reader might ask would be, "How do I dump my boyfriend?" and your response is along the lines of, "It's not difficult to leave someone—why do you feel like it's difficult to [dump] someone who is treating you badly?" Which leads to insight on how this person was even in this situation in the first place: cultural shit, self-worth shit, etc. All of which you dissemble for them.
Ah, yeah. That's exactly what I mean by reframing. I'm well aware of all the various flavors of cognitive bias that stand in the way of rational behavior and good judgment. If I'm lucky, a given piece of advice might provide the tiniest spark of critical thought or the slightest tweak to a person's moral intuition. They raise their eyebrow for a moment, say, "Huh," and then go about their day. That's all I want, just that split second of effect. That seemingly insignificant nudge is all that matters to me, because I've got years and years, and I am relentless. If you stick with me through thousands of those sparks and tweaks, the aggregate effect really does make a difference. I get letters every day from people telling me how they've grown up with my advice and how I've had a profound effect on the way they think. That's the big prize. That's what means the world to me.
I've lived this entire secret life through a computer screen. This isn't who I am day-to-day, and when I stop and realize that thousands of people are emailing me every month with questions, yes, it still surprises me. I love it. Really, I do, but it's such a bizarre position to be in. I mean, who the fuck am I? I know there are several layers of irony to that question, but still, I really am just a shady bitch who has no business answering any of these questions.
That's all anyone needs—a sense of scale plus the ability to stay mindful in the present moment. That's the key to fucking happiness right there.
You've led a lot of readers over the years to get their shit together—including myself! You're a compassionate yet no-nonsense kick-in-the-ass for many of the people who write in. Without giving too many details that might out yourself, how did you get your personal shit together?
Well, I got my shit together how most people get their shit together. Necessity combined with the will to survive. I'm not some hard ass or anything. I've lived a charmed fucking life, but I've done my fair share of staring into the abyss.
What's next for Coquette?
A new life in a new city, already well underway. In terms of projects and other exercises in self-improvement, you know I'm doing some cool shit, but I like to keep my personal goals private, lest they not come to fruition.
I will say this. The trajectory of my life has been forever and dramatically altered by this crazy little experiment called Dear Coquette. It's more than just a little thing I do for fun. I know better than to take any of it seriously, but it's a part of who I am now—then again, what else is the human condition but a string of happy accidents?
Follow Eleanor Fye on Twitter.