Dear Abby: I've been going with this girl for a year. How can I get her to say yes? — Don
Dear Don: What's the question?
Phillips admitted that her advice changed over the years. When she started writing the column, she was reluctant to advocate divorce:
"I always thought that marriage should be forever," she explained. "I found out through my readers that sometimes the best thing they can do is part. If a man or woman is a constant cheater, the situation can be intolerable. Especially if they have children. When kids see parents fighting, or even sniping at each other, I think it is terribly damaging."
She willingly expressed views that she realized would bring protests. In a 1998 interview she remarked: "Whenever I say a kind word about gays, I hear from people, and some of them are damn mad. People throw Leviticus, Deuteronomy and other parts of the Bible to me. It doesn't bother me. I've always been compassionate toward gay people."
If the letters sounded suicidal, she took a personal approach: "I'll call them. I say, 'This is Abby. How are you feeling? You sounded awfully low.' And they say, 'You're calling me?' After they start talking, you can suggest that they get professional help."
In a time before confessional talk shows and the nothing-is-too-private culture of the Internet, the sisters' columns offered a rare window into Americans' private lives and a forum for discussing marriage, sex and the swiftly changing mores of the 1950s, '60s and '70s.
Asked about Viagra, Phillips replied: "It's wonderful. Men who can't perform feel less than manly, and Viagra takes them right off the spot."
About working mothers: "I think it's good to have a woman work if she wants to and doesn't leave her children unattended — if she has a reliable person to care for them. Kids still need someone to watch them until they are mature enough to make responsible decisions."