How do you know what is worth a question on AskMetaFilter? November 7, 2019 1:46 PM   Subscribe

So I’ve posted a few things lately only to discover that the bulk of the answers do not meet my needs and I start to wonder if it was worth using up one of my limited questions on that topic, or whether I should just be expressing myself differently for better results. To me AskMetaFilter is a good way of thinking through a difficult issue or helping me to feel better when I’m feeling bad.

As such I’m looking for as many answers as I can get, which actually answer the question and which introduce an idea or perspective I hadn’t thought of myself already or give me some hope, comfort, feeling that things will get better etc.

Seeing as I can’t do back and forth, what am I meant to do when it becomes evident that the question I’ve posted is not getting the responses that I’d like? Is there something I should be doing better to ensure my questions get answers that meet my needs?

Also is there anything I can say to stop people telling me to get therapy? I have put up a notice in several questions saying I’m looking for a therapist (it takes time to find the right one) but have still had people answer that I need one, which I find insulting!

Please remember I am a real human being with feelings - please be kind!! Thank you!!
posted by EatMyHat to Etiquette/Policy at 1:46 PM (21 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

I think one or two little updates if you think the answers are going in the wrong direction are fine. Continually either adding new information or arguing/responding to answerers is not that helpful and not really within the site guidelines. I haven't looked specifically at your questions but I think if people are telling you to see a therapist, you can look at that as supporting your decision to find one (or maybe they can point to resources which could potentially help you find one). Its also okay to say "Don't tell me to find a therapist" but some people may also just say "No one but a therapist can help you with this."

Suggestions for therapy often (to my mind) seem to come from a US perspective where therapy is often an available thing and may have sliding scale options which isn't always true other places (and not even everywhere in the US). That said, questions along the lines of "Help me feel better about this" are often going to point you to resources (including therapy, but also things like church, community, meditation, the usual things you see here) in addition to being "Hey, things are going to be okay" types of answers.

I find that the more emotional I am about my question, the more likely i am to have issues with the answers I receive and I often think it can say as much about me and my frame of mind as the answers I am getting.

AskMe is at its least good when people need support or comfort either with a decision they've already made, or a difficult-to-understand choice, even if that choice may be entirely justified/warranted under the circumstances. So that can be hard. And sometimes it can be surprisingly supportive but I don't think it can be predictably supportive. Folks have spoken with/to the mods here about maybe being a little more strict with what sorts of answers (particularly "tough love" types of answers) are allowed and okay and I think we've seen movement on that front, but possibly not enough for everyone. I know "It used to be worse" is cold comfort, but maybe some of this may be useful for you.
posted by jessamyn (retired) at 2:00 PM on November 7 [22 favorites]


To me AskMetaFilter is a good way of thinking through a difficult issue or helping me to feel better when I’m feeling bad.

The general tone of this combined with a bunch of your questions suggests that what you really need are more friends who are there for you emotionally when you're feeling like this, where you get the comfort from them. Then, if they can't come up with ideas for things to do, you can come to AskMe for ideas, but not for emotional support. It's one thing to ask that answerers read the question better, which is a thing people should do, but... they can't be substitutes for friends or therapists or the other emotional supports that are supposed to exist in your life.

Emotional support works best when it comes from an ongoing relationship with somebody who actually knows you and can use that knowledge to help figure out what to say. I don't think it's really possible for AskMe to do that particularly well. I don't think you did something really wrong by looking for it here, it's just like: Your princess is in another castle. AskMe providing hope or comfort as a byproduct of a question answer is great when it works, but I don't think it's possible for it to be a reliable source of that.
posted by Sequence at 2:10 PM on November 7 [33 favorites]


To me AskMetaFilter is a good way of thinking through a difficult issue or helping me to feel better when I’m feeling bad.

AskMe should be able to help you with the first thing. AskMe isn't designed to help you with the second thing, and often will make it worse.

I think this MeTa is perhaps an example of the difficulty I have when I read your AskMe posts. I often do not answer them, because I often do not know what information you are actually looking for. In this MeTa, you have asked for help in deciding what types of questions to ask and how to better express yourself and what to do when your post doesn't work and how to get people to stop telling you to get therapy. And all of those things are fine, but they're also all different things. Which is okay here in MeTa where we can have a wide-ranging conversation that you participate in, but it's much less good in AskMe, where there isn't a lot of back-and-forth.

AskMe often does its best work when there is a single, answerable question. There might be lots of different answers to that question, lots of different perspectives, and that can be fine. But if there are lots of different questions, things get ... muddled.

So, that's my advice for how you can ask better questions: narrow your question to a single question that you want the answer to.

Put that single-answerable question above the fold, and repeat it at the bottom of the More Inside, and make sure whatever details you provide in between seem necessary for people to answer that question. It'll help people maintain focus.

That's not a panacea -- people will still tell you to get therapy, and go off on tangents, and miss key details, but I think it will help.
posted by jacquilynne at 2:15 PM on November 7 [24 favorites]


Sequence I would love to have some friends or someone IRL who would provide emotional support but that just isn’t my reality and to be honest never has been. It is one of the reasons I’m looking for a therapist but I’m also aware that such relationships take time to build, whether with the friends or the therapist. In the meantime metafilter is all I have.
posted by EatMyHat at 2:18 PM on November 7 [3 favorites]


The questions that have gone best for me have been when I'm asking about a relatively common experience that I'm about to go through, too. People chime in with their own experiences and insights, and it's great! It's fantastic to get stories of personal experiences and hard-won insight from a huge group of people, a way bigger group of people than you could ever be close to in your daily life. For questions like that, AskMe is a fantastic resource.

The questions that have gone worst for me have been when I'm asking for help clarifying my own vision, my own thought process, my own needs or desires. AskMe can't help with that. That requires an intimate conversation, and not only is AskMe a public forum and not intimate by its very nature, but it's also set up so you can't go back-and-forth and sort things out. Those questions really should be ones you try to answer with loved ones, a therapist, or by writing in your journal. You can have an intimate conversation *with yourself* about that stuff, if you don't want to or can't talk about it with another person. But you can't have an intimate conversation on AskMe, period.

I think when you're asking a question on the green, you have to think: is it a good thing or a bad thing that I'm asking a huge crowd of strangers about this? Sometimes it's a great thing, when you're basically interested in taking a survey or mining the huge amount of life experience that people bring to bear. Sometimes it's a terrible thing, when what you really want is intimacy or clarity or a heart to heart.

I think if you're writing the latter kind of questions, you're finding writing them helpful because you're essentially journaling (and having that intimate conversation with yourself as you do so). So maybe try actually journaling about that stuff instead. I think you might find it cathartic and clarifying in a similar way as writing the questions currently does, without the ensuing discomfort of then having a bunch of people comment on all those innermost thoughts and feelings.

Seeing as I can’t do back and forth, what am I meant to do when it becomes evident that the question I’ve posted is not getting the responses that I’d like? Is there something I should be doing better to ensure my questions get answers that meet my needs?

Maybe try to clarify once or even twice. But the truth is that not all questions are answerable by the AskMe community. So people shoot their shot, but sometimes nobody is going to hit the target. Or maybe you're still working through your own answer and you don't really need or want all these people weighing in anyway.

I think that if you don't like any of the answers you get, there might be no problem with the question and no problem with anybody answering it, it might just not be answerable here and now on AskMe. And that's interesting information, too.

I've had questions like that, where I didn't really get any useful answers. But knowing that out of the thousands of people who glanced at the question, not a single one came up with anything better than I had thought of beforehand and maybe not a single one even knew what I was talking about, that told me something very useful and interesting about how I should be thinking about the situation, too.

I guess what I'm saying is to be open-minded about the answers you get. Not in the sense that "every answer is a good answer," but in the sense that the answers are good information that you can use to shape your perspective on the situation, even if they don't directly tell you what to DO about the situation.
posted by rue72 at 2:47 PM on November 7 [17 favorites]


To me AskMetaFilter is a good way of thinking through a difficult issue or helping me to feel better when I’m feeling bad.

Yeah, I feel like Ask can't really do the latter as a general service. It can offer practical solutions to specific problems, which might lead to you feeling better in the long run, but it's not really a comfort blanket. So if you're seeking to use it to help you feel better when you feel bad, it's probably not going to work for you in those instances (or if it does, it'll be more by luck than judgement).

Have you tried MeFi Chat? A quick look at your questions suggests you're posting pretty much as frequently as you possibly can (I can't actually remember how often we're allowed to post Asks these days, having looked at my own track record I see that although I answer a lot, I've posted on average one Ask every 7 months over the 15 years I've been here, so it's fair to say I've never run up against the limit!). And your question above suggests you feel like even this isn't enough, if you're trying to decide how to use your 'limited questions'. That makes me wonder if sometimes what you're after is maybe not so much answers to questions, as company and connection with the community (not a criticism! We all need company and connection). Chat's maybe a better option for that "I feel bad and I want to connect with someone and see if that helps" urge.

Sorry, I realise that, ironically, this is a classic AskMe response that doesn't really answer the question you actually asked, but instead suggests something outside the scope of your question as an alternative solution!
posted by penguin pie at 3:29 PM on November 7 [16 favorites]


Sequence I would love to have some friends or someone IRL who would provide emotional support but that just isn’t my reality and to be honest never has been. It is one of the reasons I’m looking for a therapist but I’m also aware that such relationships take time to build, whether with the friends or the therapist. In the meantime metafilter is all I have.

I think there can be a big difference between trying to use Ask as a comfort (which doesn’t go well, because the replies can be sparse or unpredictable), and trying to use Ask as a way to find other sources of comfort. So, say you are feeling lonely. Instead of using your Ask to ask a question and hoping to collect a lot of responses (because getting a lot of messages will make you feel less lonely), use your Ask to say “I’m feeling lonely today because I don’t have many friends. When you’re having this feeling, what makes you feel better?” And then, over time, use the responses to help yourself work with that loneliness going forward. Some will suggest therapy (which isn’t an insult or criticism of you), some will suggest some activities to do, some will suggest books to read, etc.

The thing with Ask is it doesn’t work well to keep coming back to it with the same general problem. It’s designed to provide you with suggestions that help solve the problem you’re having, so it requires you to apply the suggestions.

If you’re feeling lonely and just want to chat, try looking at the conversations on Metafilter and FanFare and seeing if anything makes you want to join in. That’s a better way to feel less lonely than trying to collect responses to an Ask, imo.
posted by sallybrown at 3:54 PM on November 7 [30 favorites]


I remember being frantic and scared years ago when my ex wife was in an accident and posted a question. It was the time I could feel people cared and I think Taz was modding. Feel it. Alot folks get a mefi...moment or hour or 30 day thread, it's what you do with it, sincerity, tone, etc. Is key IMO.

Those times I need to chat or talk from sheer, woah, I'm alone are tempting to me and sometimes I memail. Languagehat due. First draft of poem for Kattullus ready, just scared to send it.

Fanfare is good idea, it's more fictive and I love people's style and take on stuff.
posted by clavdivs at 4:26 PM on November 7 [7 favorites]


“Also is there anything I can say to stop people telling me to get therapy?”

No, Mefites will always tell you to get therapy regardless of what your actual question was about, it’s kind of a cliche about AskMe. You just need to ignore that as background noise.

Questions that go well for the asker are usually discrete questions about concrete things, or where you want to hear readers’ own experiences. So, “where is s good place to get food in Oklahoma” - no wrong answers, no way of misunderstanding the question, the more different answers the better. Or “how did you deal with the death of your rabbit?” - again, no wrong answers, clear question, multiple different coping mechanisms and personal stories welcome. And the famous “help I’m stuck in a room with no door handle” one - practical solutions.

Stuff that doesn’t work well: “I love my boyfriend why is he abusive” - you will only get DTMFA answers, people will make assumptions about you, your boyfriend and your life based on their own past relationships and you can’t answer back by threadsitting. “Tell me how to do this thing, given that I don’t want to do it the obvious or straightforward way” - you will just get people telling you to do it the obvious and straightforward way. “I’m unhappy, let me tell you about my life” - you’ll get a mix of responses, mostly critical of your life choices. “Can anyone help with this technical question?” - you’ll get a load of non-specialists telling you what they think the answer is based on logic alone, and people with actual subject expertise will steer well clear (see any legal or medical question).
posted by tinkletown at 4:53 PM on November 7 [8 favorites]


Yes! Please consider joining us regularly on Fanfare, or in the various weekly chatty threads on MetaTalk by Eyebrows and Fizz. Today’s Fizz thread is particularly good. You also might enjoy the monthly meficardclub snailmail exchange run by Sparky Buttons, or the Secret Quonsar gift swap with signups this week (see the top banner for the signup link).

I try to participate regularly and they’re a cheerful way to get a pretty reliable dose of friendly connection from your online experience here.

I hope to see you!
posted by mochapickle at 4:56 PM on November 7 [15 favorites]


Just to clarify I’m not posting the same general question over and again on ask mefi and I’m not posting to alleviate loneliness. I just don’t have any friends I can confide in or ask for emotional support, but given as I’ve never had that, it doesn’t make me lonely. I do always consider the answers I’m given and have applied some of them, but it really depends on what they are as to whether I do that.
posted by EatMyHat at 6:13 PM on November 7


I've definitely had that happen where the answers start to follow each other off a cliff of everyone Nthing the first obvious facile reply and nobody really engaging with my actual problem I need help with. I find that using the AskMe interface to write out my question helps me enough to clarify what I'm wondering about to the extent that I can then answer it for myself as if I was answering someone else's question, because I know enough about how I answer questions and how other people answer questions. That way I feel like I've thought it through in a way I wasn't before and I also haven't given myself a new thing to be stressed out about. But if I still want to ask, I only ask if I feel like there is a definitive answer that someone out there must have (there is some website or some product I'm not finding), or I'm just looking to hear about what other did in similar situations in case it's something I might also want to do. Questions outside those types haven't gone well for me. When that happens I try to remind myself I have probably not helped a lot of people whose questions I answered, that's just how this free website works. But I have to really *try* to remember that because it is *so* frustrating. Also in some cases I have sent the mods a note, and if they agree they'll leave a note asking people to knock off whatever they're all doing.
posted by bleep at 8:34 PM on November 7 [9 favorites]


I had a longer comment that I accidentally lost and my carpal tunnel is turning my hands too numb to retype it, so this will be a bit shorter: first, you are not alone. I actually have a collection of favorite comments from folks here on MetaTalk about how terrible some Ask threads were for them so I can go back and remind myself derailed or unhelpful Ask threads happen to many people, not just me.

I don’t think there really is a way to avoid it. Too much information? People don’t read it. Too little? People will make it up. I’m still livid about an Ask thread of mine (not on this account) about a bad work situation where a Beloved and Prolific Mefite gave a heavily favorited answer telling me if I hadn’t cried then my boss wouldn’t have treated me so disrespectfully and nowhere did I mention crying in the question because I did not, in fact, cry during the situation I was asking about and then most of the answers after that chastised me for crying even after I pointed out that I didn’t, I kid you not. I don’t know if it’s that helpful to relate this to you, but my biggest growth in this community has been to anticipate that the answers I’m given are usually more about whatever the answerer feels with much less regard for how I feel. I now avoid asking questions very often and I try not to ask too many questions I care deeply about for any reason because it gets me too worked up.

But I hear you — so many questions that you want to post because despite it all, there are incredible folks here with great insights or expertise rarely found on the web. If you must post, two strategies that have been helpful for me: first, reach out via the contact form to the mods as soon as you feel like you’re getting unhelpful answers. They are super responsive and even when I disagree with them about their decisions to not step in, it feels good to involve someone who cares that you get what you need from the site and can help you figure out why that’s not happening.

Secondly, a technique I learned in therapy! Broken record: if you need to clarify in the thread, don’t overexplain or justify your boundary. Just repeat it. “I am not interested in being told to find a therapist for this question. Stop suggesting it.” Repeat as often as needed if it keeps happening. Then when folks keep suggesting it you can just roll your eyes at the people who trampled that boundary and dismiss them entirely and you didn’t waste time trying to argue with them about it. It also helps the mods focus on that boundary more quickly if they’re keeping an eye on the thread and other further answerers see it clearly made instead of taking it as a challenge to argue.

Good luck. You’re not alone and though I haven’t read your previous Asks, I really think this is just the unfortunate reality with AskMe and that it’s the price we pay for the kind and thoughtful answers that do come up so often. And even users I know to be helpful and considerate sometimes misread and give crappy answers for whatever reason so that helps me when it happens in my own AskMe threads.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 12:20 AM on November 8 [15 favorites]


Is there something I should be doing better to ensure my questions get answers that meet my needs?

A. If you mean is there a way to make people read your questions instead of taking them as a prompt for a free-form personal essay of unspecified length, no, there isn't. People will not read things and reliably become furious at the shaming implicit in asking that they do so.

B. If you mean can you pre-dictate the parameters of other people's opinions on subjective interpersonal questions so that they only express what will make you feel good, no, you cannot, because that is not asking a sincere question.
posted by queenofbithynia at 6:32 AM on November 8 [16 favorites]


Since you ask how we know what is worth a question on Ask, I'll have to say that there are a lot of questions that I just wouldn't bring here precisely because of the things that bother you. When you put a question up on a board and literally anyone with an internet connection and $5 can choose to address it, you are unfortunately going to get answers you'd rather not read. It's really too bad because there are many people here who are very wise and very helpful, who read the whole question and pay attention to the things you've already tried or are not available to you. But there are many more people who are going to give you short, simple answers like DTMFA or Therapy, sometimes after only half reading your question, and those people aren't going to go away. It's especially hard because I think you're asking questions in areas in which you already feel vulnerable, so then you come here and you don't feel listened to - and believe me, I sympathize.
The mods have never objected to brief, clarifying updates from me, so that's something that might help when a huge derailing is occurring. I have also flagged answers that are way off the mark (my request for tips after a new cancer diagnosis received one horrifying response about how awful end-stage pain can be and how you need to get on that with doctors and hospice, which was very upsetting to read - I flagged it, and the mods immediately deleted it).
I also think there are times when therapy really is the only answer, and when you say "no therapy," you're pretty much cutting off the one thing that will help. Some personal problems are just too big and involve too much for Ask to be very helpful. Add that to feelings of vulnerability, and posting a question here can sadly end up hurting more than helping. Sometimes the best thing is to recognize the questions where that will most likely be the case.
posted by FencingGal at 8:32 AM on November 8 [5 favorites]


So many good answers here.

I've gone through some pretty heavy family shit in my time on metafilter, have done a lot of writing questions, re-writing and sometimes never actually posting them. I am often helped by reading questions other people have posted on similar matters, and even responding to them. There is something about seeing a commonality, or getting a picture of a situation without any attachment to getting a result, that allows me to see my own patterns and not be tempted to get into too much back and forth and explaining. I also keep an eye out for posters who seem to have a sense of problems like mine and pay attention to what they say to other people.

As far as real-life contact, I have found group therapy and 12-step meetings more useful than friends you meet on a social level. There's a reciprocity in those meetings, and lots of people get help from helping. You don't feel you are constantly sort of going to the well of friends and family for emotional support. Is there something like that that you can fit into? I got into my group therapy through my therapist, and it was rather pricey, but maybe look around.
posted by BibiRose at 9:20 AM on November 8 [4 favorites]


I'm really sorry it hasn't been what you needed. I totally get that feeling so much. The internet being so devoid of face-to-face and tone can let people say things they normally wouldn't but it can also let our minds go wild if they want to read things negatively. I do it all the time. It's a work in progress.

I give a lot of online dating advice just cause I think it's such a huge struggle for people and they deserve to be happy. I read your latest question and thought the answers were pretty solid so I didn't comment. I know if I was in a negative space, that first comment could've hurt my feelings. I think it was trying to be kind and supportive on your search for a therapist. Everyone else has said such great things above, I think, but I just wanted to speak from experience that being here (or on the internet in general) isn't good for my mental health when I am in one of those negative/rumination spirals. If I was talking to myself, my advice might be, "Castle, it's fine to take a break. I think I understand why you're hurting, but I don't think any internet response can actually help right now. People do care about you, so they'll be here when you come back." Because I would always find some way to further my downward view if I was depressed or anxious or just pissed off.

Anyway, that's just me. If it sounds familiar, I hope it helps. If not, I didn't mean any offense.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 10:29 AM on November 8 [5 favorites]


I am new enough here that I’ve only tried a few. I guess I’m inclined to view a question as successful if it got a range of answers, regardless of whether those answers gave me what I wanted initially. Maybe this is an outlier view.
posted by eirias at 2:51 AM on November 9 [10 favorites]


I am wondering if part of the reason one can sometimes feel underwhelmed by the responses on AskMetafilter is that there is such a lot of really good stuff and life wisdom on the site that one's expectations are really high. I also think answers that ignore key information are not uncommon but they are easier to notice (and can feel personal) when it's our own questions and when we already feel vulnerable.

In terms of ways to deal with that, I think one way is to edit the question so that it's as specific as possible and also edit out information that might lead to derails (like asking a side question or any by-the-way type content).

I do remember threads from the past where people more or less looked for emotional support, one that was literally named "Please give me some hope" - it was a very clear request for stories of how people met somebody to love later in life and how it happened, and there were many great responses. I think one reason this thread got so many responses was that it was super specific (tell me stories about X) and not general. In contrast, when one asks a question that is deep down a request for hugs, the answers from strangers can be a bit disappointing sometimes.

I hear you about the therapy thing - it can be frustrating to hear it recommended over and over when it's either not available to you at all, or at least not right now.

In terms of practical advice, I recommend writing as short a question as possible with a clear one-sentence question at the beginning (above the fold). If you find that you are really asking two questions instead of one, pick the one that is more important to you or people will pick the less important one for you.

But also, hugs. Things can be rough sometimes but in the end we are all people who want to be loved. Have a good Saturday!
posted by M. at 1:42 PM on November 9 [4 favorites]


Sometimes a low response or no response is the answer.
posted by michaelh at 10:08 PM on November 10 [3 favorites]


I find the green a very bad place to seek the kind of answers you're talking about, especially the "help me feel better when I feel bad" kind. It's an almost-free Internet board, for gosh sake. And the reason people tell you to get therapy when you ask those questions is that therapy is the exactly right place to go for guidance on how to think through something or how to feel better about something.

Picking questions to ask: the more concrete and specific, the less subjective, the better. The best answers I've gotten here have been for things like "what company offers the kind of service I need." The worst ones have been "how can I feel better about some awful situation." For the latter type, people have been weirdly cruel and many answers bizarrely off point (and there have been good and sympathetic answers as well, to be fair, but... probably not worth the attacks.)
posted by fingersandtoes at 6:48 PM on November 12 [2 favorites]


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