Dear Sugar’s Advice on Life and Love

Dr. Joel Ying, MD

Physician, Educator, Storyteller. He hosts this website for "Living the Present Moment" as a conscious journey of Body, Mind, Emotion & Spirit. Holistic and integrative, his practice includes Tai Chi and Yoga, Craniosacral Therapy, Healing From the Core, Meditation. Always exploring his edges, he shares them in the blog, newsletter, courses, and online study group.

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Dear Sugar,
I’m asking this question as it applies to everything every day.

This is the letter that launched the “Dear Sugar” advice column on as something new and different. In an uncharacteristic style for an advice column, Sugar begins with deep personal sharing and “radical empathy.” She walks right next to her reader and carries them through with the strength of vulnerability, shared experience, and empathy. Her columns tell the reader: “You are not alone. I’ve been there. And you can survive too because you are an amazing and beautiful.” The columns will move you to tears if you let them with their honesty, empathy, and beauty.

To answer this reader, she shares one of her deepest childhood traumas and how she reckons with the memory of it. This is my f*ck, she says. (WARNING: It is pretty explicit. You can read the full advice column yourself.) She ends her response to WTF with this piece of hope:

That question does not apply “to everything every day.” If it does, you’re wasting your life. If it does, you’re a lazy coward, and you are not a lazy coward.
Ask better questions, sweet pea. The f*ck is your life. Answer it.

Who is Sugar?

“Dear Sugar” is an anonymous advice column that is now retired. Her identity was later released to the world as Cheryl Strayed, author of the memoir, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. The “Dear Sugar” columns have been collected and organized in the book, Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar. You can also find most of the columns online in their original form on

In a culture where we do not connect deeply, Sugar connects deeply. She bares her soul to connect to the depth of the questioner, and to us, her readers. She penetrates into the armored loneliness of the modern world. Her columns tackle the deep questions of the human condition through the deeply personal stories of her readers and herself. She tackles grief and loss, relationship and breakup, love and belonging, and many other questions that we all ask at one point or another in our lives.

What is love?

The first question asked in the book:

… when is it right to take that big step and say I love you? And what is this “love” thing all about?

She begins her response from the depth of her experience:

Dear Johnny,

The last word my mother ever said to me was “love.” She was so sick and weak and out of her head she couldn’t muster the “I” or the “you,” but it didn’t matter. That puny word has the power to stand on its own….

She brings us into her life, and then she addresses the reader directly.

…. It is not so incomprehensible as you pretend, sweet pea. Love is the feeling we have for those we care deeply about and hold in high respect. It can be light as the hug we give a friend or heavy as the sacrifices we make for our children. It can be romantic, platonic, familial, fleeting, everlasting, conditional, unconditional, imbued with sorrow, stoked by sex, sullied by abuse, amplified by kindness, twisted by betrayal, deepened by time, darkened by difficulty, leavened by generosity, nourished by humor, and “loaded with promises and commitment” that we may or may not want to keep. The best thing that you can do with your life is to tackle the m*th*rf*ck*ng shit out of love.

…. You aren’t afraid of love. You’re afraid of all the junk that you’ve yoked to love. And you’ve convinced yourself that withholding one tiny word from the woman you think you love will shield you from that junk. But it won’t.

…. You get to define the terms of your life.

…. Practice saying the word “love” to the people you love so when it matters the most to say it, you will.

Read the full column online at

The Book

Check out the beautifully organized book of the collected columns: Tiny Beautiful Things. I picked up a copy from the library to read on an airplane a few years ago on a random search for something to pass the time. Every now and then, I just go to a random section of the library that calls to me just to read something I would not normally pick up. I’ve run into some great books that way.  While this book at times enters a space that I would call sacred, just a warning that heart-opening “damp eyes” and “the sniffles” in a public airplane can be a little embarrassing.