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Aunt Pythia’s advice

January 18, 2014

Aunt Pythia is getting some help this morning from a fellow math nerd whom she loves dearly. Feel free to try to spot the advice that comes from yours truly versus from this adorable snoring freak. And please,

think of something to ask Aunt Pythia at the bottom of the page!

By the way, if you don’t know what the hell Aunt Pythia is talking about, go here for past advice columns and here for an explanation of the name Pythia.


Dear Aunt Pythia,

How unprofessional is it, in academia, for the spouse of an applicant to contact the department with questions about the search process? My husband isn’t really comfortable making any contact besides submitting the applications through mathjobs.org. I’ve been told by his colleagues that personal communication with the places one would really, really like to be is actually welcomed – but I’d better not try to do it instead of him. Any thoughts?

Desperate To Move To Washington State

Dear Desperate,

First, I’d like to corroborate your suspicion: if it’s really a job your husband wants, then it’s a very good idea for him to contact the schools directly, even if it makes him uncomfortable. Second, let me corroborate your guess that it’s not okay for you to do this. If I’m a professor on a search committee and someone’s spouse contacts me to ask how the process is moving along, I’m wondering why I’m not talking to the applicant instead.

Feel free to show this to your husband if it helps! He’s gotta take one for the team here!

Aunt Pythia


Aunty Pythia,

I read this heartwarming article this morning. However I disagree that androgyny is not helpful at the office. I am a female geophysicist working in corporate Canada (the oil industry even) and I feel like both the male and female aspects of my personality are engaged and developed daily, for which I am thankful. The male aspects are obvious but I find so-called female aspects such as empathy, compassion and communication skills are golden. Success in an office depends on relationships and the female aspects of personality are strong in that. Please share your opinion on the article. How does being an alpha female (which is androgynous by definition) help you achieve awesome results? What male traits do you cultivate? What female traits do you prize?

Pat from Canada

Dear Pat,

As for the article, this is an example where less research might be good. And I don’t think Madonna is androgynous, by the way, she is and always was very female. If people interpret her power as male then they are just being narrow.

As for being an alpha female, I’m doing it without conscious effort, and as you might remember just recently realized I do it at all. I think that’s part of what makes it work. If I got anything out of the article at all it’s that people get considered “creative” if they successfully ignore stereotypes.

And in that vein, I don’t categorize my many traits as male or female. Why should I? They’re all mine.

Before I leave it there, let me mention that, when I’m around men I notice I think differently from most men, and when I’m with women I notice that I think differently from most women. And I guess if I had to define my own psychological gender I’d be confused and somewhere in the middle (although I definitely strongly identify physically as female). But it’s not clear that most people don’t feel exactly the same way as I do.

In other words, don’t most people feel like freaks on the inside? I think so. The trick is to own the inner freak, and freaks transcend categories, including gender categories.


Aunty Pythia


Dear Aunt Pythia,

I appreciate and respect that there are many advantages to people having different values and points of view, like innovation and entrepreneurial spirit. But, I find that it’s just so much more cheerful when everyone around mostly wants to be like everyone else.

How can a person who comes from a place that strives for a harmonious society live contentedly in a Western country?

Kind regards,


Dear Alien,

How would I know?


Aunt Pythia


Dearest Aunt P,

I was wondering if you’ve seen the game Clusterfuck developed by the Cards Against Humanity Team (introductory video here).

What do you think?

With love,

A Curious Thing…

Dear Curious,

I love the idea, but it’s not clear from the provocative video that anyone ever actually gets laid. Please confirm I am wrong by re-sending question with a new homemade video.


Aunt Pythia


Dear Aunt Pythia,

I recently started a new relationship with a woman who is into some dominant/submissive stuff in the bedroom. It’s all new to me, and I’ve been pretty careful to discuss anything I’m leery about, get consent, have safe words, and that kind of thing. It turns out that it’s something we’re both *really* into, and that’s interesting in itself. (I’m 37 and just discovering this about myself.)

Here’s my question, though. After 3 months of dating, I’ve become concerned for my partner’s emotional health, based on an on-going medical issue which has, in the past, caused severe depression. She also has some slow-motion family tragedies that would really do a number on someone’s self-esteem. She’s a strong, accomplished woman, but over the past week she’s been nearly bed-ridden with anxiety, missing work and occasionally meals.

It’s a scary situation, and I’m trying to give her as much support as I can until her new job’s health insurance kicks in. But she still wants sex, occasionally the submissive kind (rape fantasy, etc.).

How on God’s green Earth do I (consensually, with safe words) sexually “mis”-treat somebody who’s going through a crisis like that? I can’t figure out if going through with it would be a comfort for her, or make things worse; neither can I figure out whether saying no would be seen as a painful rejection. In the meantime, I’ve been trying to keep things vanilla with a bit of aggressive talk, until we can stabilize the situation.

Any advice would be appreciated.

Bernoulli honored Descartes eventually, Steltjes learned Minkowskian parabolas

Dear BhDeSlMp,

First, nice acronym.

Second, I think you are super thoughtful and nice to be worried about this, and I would encourage you to bring these things up with her very directly and double-check that kinky sex isn’t a threat to her emotional well-being. But my guess is that it’s a release and an escape from her problems rather than an addition to her problems, especially when she’s engaging in it with someone who is looking out for her and keeping her safe as you are doing.

In other words, the quotes around “mis” are there for a reason, and I don’t think you should feel abusive if she’s asking for this and you guys are both consenting and into it. That said, there are certainly ways to be unhealthy about this stuff, like any stuff, so keep your eyes peeled for danger signs. In the meantime snuggling up afterwards and engaging in thoughtful pillow talk might be just what she needs.

And have fun!

Aunt Pythia


Please submit your well-specified, fun-loving, cleverly-abbreviated question to Aunt Pythia!

Categories: Aunt Pythia
  1. Ben Thyr
    January 18, 2014 at 8:01 am

    Regarding Desperate, is there a common acquaintance of both of you at the department in question? If so, you might be able to contact that person informally to let them know that you both would be happy to join their community. I think that could be appropriate. In fact, it could help the process to learn that both spouses would be happy with the move.


  1. January 26, 2014 at 8:30 am
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