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How to be human: advice for the future

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Welcome to the second of The Verge's two new advice columns (the first, Ask Stoya, premiered last weekend). Leah Reich was one of the first internet advice columnists. Her column "Ask Leah" ran on IGN, where she gave advice to gamers for two and a half years. After IGN, she completed her PhD in sociology, but so many people mixed it up with psychology that she figured she might as well get back into giving advice. You can write to her at askleah@theverge.com.

The first time someone asked me for dating advice, I was 15 and had never had a boyfriend. My brother, 20 and away at college, called me at home in rural Colorado from the co-op where he lived in Los Angeles.

"How do I ask her out? I can't ask her out," he said to me.

"Why not?" I asked.

"Because," he said.

"What's the worst thing that could happen?" I asked.

"Well... I mean, she could say no."

"Nope. The worst thing that could happen is she could laugh in your face."

"Wait, what?"

You never know — maybe she'll say yes

"But she won't! I mean, why would she? Yeah, her saying no might suck, but as long as she doesn't laugh in your face, it isn't nearly as bad as it could be. And you never know. Maybe she'll say yes."

Okay, sure. Someone laughing in your face isn't the absolute worst thing that can happen. They can laugh in your face, and then tag you in a Facebook post for everyone to continue humiliating you. But when someone laughed in my face at a junior high dance, I was humiliated, and I never forgot how it felt.

There I was, a little sixth grader, just 10 years old. He was an eighth grader. I walked up to him alone, ballsy as anything, as he stood there flanked by his friends, and I asked him to be my boyfriend. He looked at me. He looked at his friends. Everyone looked at me again. They didn't say anything, but I could still hear them laughing from the bathroom stall where I spent the next hour crying. That was the first — and the last — time I asked someone out for a long, long time. So when my brother and anyone else after him came to me for advice, I remembered how stupid I felt, how mortified and miserable, and how long it took me to get over it.

How to ask for a raise, how to mend a broken friendship, how to get into and out of trouble...

A few things have changed since I was 15. I've gotten over that early humiliation, only to experience many, many others. I've asked at least one other person out, and I've had a boyfriend or two. I've been a total disaster and gotten my shit together, only to lose it again. I don't base all my advice on my own experiences anymore, but I don't discount what I've felt and how that can help me understand how someone else might feel. I've written hundreds of advice columns as "Ask Leah" over at IGN, some of which you may have read if you've been a fan of that site for long enough. I've moved on from giving advice about dating to giving advice about almost everything under the sun: how to deal with being bullied at school or at work, how to ask for a raise, how to have a better relationship with your parents, how to mend a broken friendship, how to get into and out of trouble.

But here's what hasn't changed: I never forgot what it felt like to have someone come to me totally freaked out about something that seems totally easy, like talking to another person. And I never, ever forgot what it felt like to have someone humiliate me.

I need you to help me keep things cool here

Giving and getting advice isn't always so simple as "how do I ask someone out?" The questions people ask and the answers I give aren't always about love and dating. In fact, even when they are about love and dating, they're more about communicating and being kind. Plus, all these questions and answers don't always come from an easy place or an experience we can all share. If that were true, I wouldn't have been able to write "Ask Leah" for all those gamers — I was never a 16-year-old boy who'd never talked to a girl, but I was also never a 25-year-old wondering about gender and being trans. I don't need to have the same experience as you to give you advice, but what I do need to do is listen to you and respect you.

But the truth is, we all need to do that — out in the world but here in this little corner where my column lives, too. As both my letter writers and my readers, I need you to help me keep things cool here. After all, this is where you come for advice, too.

I'm here to help all of us learn how to communicate and act like decent, kind humans

So this is the kind of advice I give. I don't tell people whatever it is they want to hear. I tell them things they need to hear, even if they're not totally ready. But more than that, I'm here to help all of us learn how to communicate and act like decent, kind humans. Sometimes it seems like the technology we have makes communication harder even as it's supposed to make it easier, and it gives us more ways to see how awful people can be. But the truth of it is that people are always going to be people — complex, weird, sometimes kind, quite often not nice at all. Navigating all of this, whether in dating, in friendship, or at work, can be hard as hell.

That's why this advice column isn't just for guys or just about dating. It's not just about being online or doing things IRL. It's about how to go out and be a human being, in the world, on your phones, on the internet, and in whatever comes next. Send me your questions at askleah@theverge.com, and let's get started.