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Aunt Pythia’s advice

October 4, 2014

Has Aunt Pythia mentioned recently how much she loves you people?! Well, if not, then let it be known: Aunt Pythia loves you people.

Aunt Pythia asked for new questions last week, and you guys fucking delivered. Outstanding. I counted 21 questions when I started today’s column, which is a good 18 more questions than I had last week. Granted, some of them look like really long stories continued over multiple submissions, or even spam, but I was just skimming so I don’t know that’s true.

Here’s the thing. It’s 47 degrees outside and rainy, and you might think that’s a bad thing, but I am inwardly celebrating the weather. Why? Well, I’ll tell you: it’s knitting weather my friends! There’s nobody gonna stop me from sorting my yarn and knitting the fuck out of it all day today.

Yessirree. I’m barely gonna get up from my chair except to make my kids crepes. Oh, and to boil some water for a pot of tea. Holy crap that sounds cozy. That’s the plan, people, and I hope you have an equally delicious plan yourselves. Having said all this makes me want to mix it all up and show you a knitted tea cosy which I must assume is flannel lined:


Technically this is crocheted but I do that too.

Are you with me? Flannel bathrobes and comfy chairs! Right now! You!

(pro tip: if you don’t have a flannel bathrobe, a flannel sheet wrapped around you will do in a pinch.)

OK, all comfy? Good. After enjoying today’s column, please don’t hesitate to:

submit yet more stolen question from old Dan Savage columns

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,

What is your opinion about monogamy and respect in a partnership?

I fell into a relationship with the most wonderful, intelligent, kind human being, whom I cherish very much. But I have always found monogamy difficult and sometimes unnatural. I tried from the start not to “define” things, but said wonderful human being is very much against “open” relationships and follows a more traditional conservative view of partnerships. I have no complaints about our own sex life, W.H.B is open minded and open to being tied up, etc., it’s just that sometimes I like to be involved with more free-floating. Thus, I have been committed and loyal to W.H.B, but I am beginning to feel restrained and worry that because of this will end things entirely.

What do you suggest I do? Should I suppress these feelings entirely? So far I have succeeded but it has left me restless. Should I end this relationship? But I care very much for this person and want neither of us to get hurt. Should I try as much as possible to negotiate threesomes? (Although that requires a willing and trusty third person, which might be difficult to find, although potentially worth it, but morever W.H.B. might not be into repeated trysts.) Should I work within the boundaries of what W.H.B. draws as a baseline “OK” aka, making out is okay, but no penetration etc., but in the end might those lines get shady? Should I just flirt my pants off with people without touching them?

I find that many people hear the word “open” and see it as a death sentence for a partnership, and I don’t want to drop that bomb for either of us. In the long run I do believe in life partners to which we remain emotionally faithful, but I have a hard time balancing that with my restless spirit, which frustrates me, because I do care deeply for said being.

Physically open woman engineer regretting Self limited unity tie

Dear PowerSlut,

Great question! And I’m impressed that you’re asking this question now. Most people who ask me something like that have already been through the “flirting their pants off with someone” phase (more about this phase below!), by which time things have gotten way more complicated.

OK, so I notice you didn’t mention children or marriage, so I’m going to assume that you’re not married to this guy and that there are no kids involved, which honestly makes a huge difference, because it means you have much less at risk.

Now I will make an observation, which is not meant to be a philosophical nor moral statement about slutty people in situations like yours. Just a fact. Namely, those situations don’t last long. It’s a very unstable equilibrium.

In my experience, with my slutty friends and acquaintances, the following tends to happen sooner or later, with emphasis on sooner: you, the slut, start “flirting your pants off without touching” – possibly the sexiest thing in the world to do – and then quickly find yourself with your pants off, on the floor of a bathroom at a club or a bar somewhere. It’s not pretty, but I’d argue it’s a testament to what happens in this modern age when we feel repressed and simultaneously feel entitled to get what we want.

And that’s not to say we shouldn’t feel entitled. Entitled isn’t a bad word here. After all, what was all that progress we made in the last 50 years for if not the rights of the slutty women to go be sluts? Amen to entitlement, sister. It’s time women got what they really want without threat of death or social isolation.

Bottomline, when my slutty friends start complaining to me about not getting enough sex in their current love relationship, I kind of just look at my watch and start the countdown. It averages about 12 months before the inevitable bathroom floor story (or equivalent).

So here’s the thing. Instead of wondering whether that’s going to happen if things go on as they are, you might want to think of whether, when you’re picking yourself up from that bathroom floor, where yes you used a condom, you can go back to your adorable partner W.H.B. and not feel like a shit. There are a few scenarios you might consider:

  1. Lie to him and never tell him about the bathroom floor incident. This depends on your ability to lie and your guilt levels. And this is frankly impossible if you don’t practice safe sex, so please do.
  2. Decide to tell him about the bathroom floor incident. If you go this route I’d suggest waiting a few weeks and then being sure you can convincingly say that the sex was safe and that you don’t care about that guy at all, and he’s not a threat to the relationship, and you haven’t seen him since. This requires that you actually think those things and that you are basically informing him of your persistent sluttiness, which he might not be able to handle, but then again he might. Another possibility is to tell him in advance that such a situation might happen, but then it’s theoretical and he might not believe that people can do that without it being a big deal.
  3. Break up with your dear W.H.B. because neither of these options are doable.

There’s another option which some eagle-eyed readers might have noticed I omitted, which is to never get onto the bathroom floor with some random dude at a club to begin with. I agree that, theoretically speaking, this is an option for some people, but not, in my experience, for sluts. Having said that I might be cheating slightly and defining “sluts” ex post facto.

Notice I haven’t given you advice here, exactly. Because the truth is, I don’t know enough about who you are and who W.H.B. is to know what might work. If I were forced to choose, I’d go for #3, because from the outsider’s perspective, there are far too many young couples that are sexually incompatible but decide to stay together anyway and then are really really frustrated for a very long time. But again, really not sure what’s right for you, and despite that I hope I’ve still been somewhat helpful.

Aunt Pythia


Dear Aunt Pythia,

Please don’t rebuke me for not asking you a question. (Yeah like that’ll stop you! 🙂

It’s just that, I thought you’d find this link worth knowing about in case you don’t already.

By the way, I have been reading The New Jim Crow like you said to do. It is both fascinating and totally depressing, but the mere existence of the book makes it a little less depressing. Michelle Alexander is an exceptionally skillful author and a perfect one to have written this amazing book. Many thanks for the great reading assignment.


Elvis Von Essende Nicholas Friedrich Lester Otto Widener IV

Dear Elvis,

Thanks for loving The New Jim Crowif anything since shit went down in Ferguson I think it should be required reading.

For those of you who didn’t bother to click on the link, it’s an article about an app building organization that focuses on helping low-income smartphone users with their daily problems. The most promising app they mention is called “Easy Food Stamps,” and makes it easier for people to apply for foodstamps.

I like the idea. It reminds me of my last visit to Silicon Valley, where I heard one entrepreneur tell another entrepreneur about this amazing app he was using that turned on his air conditioner before he got home, thus saving him the trouble of being in his apartment for a full 5 minutes with the famously unbearable San Francisco heat. I think I heard him describe it as “solving the most important problem of my life.” Which says a lot about these guys’ problems.


Aunt Pythia


Dear Aunt Pythia,

I recently started my Ph.D. in a math-intensive male-dominated field, and I find myself surprisingly hurt by some of the subtle sexism I’ve found in my department. For example, when asking questions the (male) TAs twist themselves into mental pretzels in order to find a hint of correctness in the guys’ answers – even when, frankly, there is nothing right about them – but dismiss as trivial and/or fail to understand the women’s answers, even when those answers are almost perfect. I’ve also noticed that when the whole cohort is working on homework together, my fellow women only have their ideas taken seriously after a guy pipes up and seconds their suggestion.

Yesterday I was working on homework with one of the guys in my cohort (let’s call him Tim). Tim and I were trying two different approaches to a proof, and mine ended up coming out really well while his fizzled out. I explained my way to him, we got really excited about it, and I felt great about the whole exchange. When the topic came up later in a group-wide email chain, I said, “Tim and I already worked this one out!” and then proceeded to explain how. Today I arrived at school to find the whole group abuzz about how elegant and great “Tim’s” proof was. I feel like this early stage is when the cohort slowly establishes mental lists of who is good at what (and this area really is my strength), but somehow the credit never ends up going to the girls. How can I build a reputation as a student when my good ideas aren’t good until a guy appropriates them? And what can I do to make sure the other women in my class get the credit they deserve?

Craving Recognition Ensures Disappointment, I’m Told Meanwhile, Everyone Exhibiting Extra Estrogen Experiences Exiguous Encouragement


First, amazing sign-off.

Second, yes, yes, yes, YES. An incredibly important point, and thanks so much for expressing it so well.

This is exactly what I am always explaining to people when they argue against my “Great Men With Big Ideas” rant, whereby I complain that people who explain the history of ideas in terms of Great Men With Big Ideas are using a narrative crutch which is both sexist and inaccurate. Nonetheless, it is a tradition, and people like traditions. It particularly irks me when you see pictures of these Great Men With Big Ideas. It’s one reason I like to focus on ideas rather than the so-called “owners” of these ideas, because I know that, behind the curtain there could very well be an uncredited woman.

As for advice, I’ll tell you what I’d do. I’d take every opportunity to correct people in person: “actually, that was my idea, but then Tim and I worked it out together.” I’d also go to Tim and ask him to do the same and tell him you know he knows how sexist other people are and how this stuff gets out of hand. Depending on whether Tim is a good guy, he’d be happy to do that. And if he isn’t, don’t work with him again.

In other words, this is a cultural practice, which needs to change, but that kind of change is hard, and you just have to do your crummy part in making it change when it concerns you. Another think that you should definitely do is tell other women in your program that, if similar things happen to them, you will be more than happy to advocate for their work. Make an explicit pact with the women and the cool guys that this cultural practice is bullshit and needs to stop.

And, just in case you’re wondering if you’re alone (harhar), make sure you check out this webpage.

Good luck, I’m 100% behind you!

Aunt Pythia


Dear Aunt Pythia,

Having gotten over my divorce, I’ve recently turned to on-line dating, like any other introverted nerdy technologist. If I don’t miss my guess, I’m older than your usual audience, let’s say somewhere past you, so I’ve come to accept that the dating process is capricious, and fate or luck, call that as you may, is sometimes the difference.

I’ve found the on-line bit more confusing than the tried-and-true methods of dating simply because it seems that the scoring systems are not working well for humans even if their computations seem fine on their side. Or maybe it’s better stated that they get 75% right and 30% is not just wrong, it’s wacky. For example, they’ll match me with a woman in my area, of the age range I prefer, and our lifestyles seem to match up, but she doesn’t want kids, which is the opposite for me. Or maybe, she loves cats, has cats and is allergic to dogs, where I have a dog. Or, even though I’ve stated a preference for monogamy, they pair me with polyamorous types.

My current approach is simply to get ‘close enough’ on the scoring and then fire away, but I’ve also thought that maybe approaching those who *really* don’t fit my score, just to see if the silly algorithms are working at all.

Your thoughts?

Creature Feature

Dear Creature,

Well, one thing about getting older is that we know what we like way more. This is good and bad. So for example, even just in my 40’s I’ve been figuring out all sorts of things about myself. And that’s cool for me, and make hitherto baffling things from my past way more clear, but that also make me less and less compatible with would-be dates. Luckily my husband and I are happily married, or else I’d be thoroughly undatable.

Or would I? Let me put it this way. When we were 18 we wouldn’t let “she is allergic to dogs” be the reason we were separated from our true love. We wouldn’t give two shits about dog allergies, in fact. So maybe the real problem here is that we somehow get convinced that petty incompatibilities matter deeply. Maybe we should just stop looking at categories that we decide our 18-year-old selves wouldn’t give two shits about.

And that’s the problem with dating sites, as I’ve complained about before. They ask the wrong questions, and the shitty irrelevant data which comes out of those wrong questions get us all confused about what’s important to us. I even made a new set of questions I thought would be better.

Here’s a suggestion: decide on a few things that matter in a strong way (straight woman, for example) and think about dates as things you actually do that exhibit compatibility. For example, propose to go to a musical event of an artist that you actually like, and see if she’s into it. Worst case you get to see a great performance. Or go to a movie you actually want to see with her. Build shared experiences that might bring you together, and explore that side of things. The dog allergies can be overcome if other stuff works.

Good luck!!

Aunt Pythia


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

Categories: Aunt Pythia
  1. pwsiegel
    October 4, 2014 at 2:27 pm

    I couldn’t help but notice that PowerSlut never mentioned the gender of WHB. I’m curious if your answer would be any different if WHB were a woman.


  2. Auros
    October 4, 2014 at 3:56 pm

    Speaking as somebody who has been known to associate with the kind of person asking that first question, I *really* do not like your answer. (Feel free to substitute other words for “associate with”. 😛 )

    Non-monogamous relationships are not situations where “it’s better to beg forgiveness than ask permission.” At least, not if you want them to be functional over periods longer than a couple of years, and NOT end in massive explosions of anger and recrimination. She needs to seriously evaluate whether, if her partner insists on monogamy, eventually her resentment of that restriction is going to build up, her willpower and commitment are going to crack, and she’s going to have a fling.

    If so, no matter how hard it seems, she ought to inform her Wonderful Human Being that this is just not an option for her, and he should start thinking through what kind of open might work for him (occasional threesome? DADT? etc?) as well as how he might actually enjoy some of the opportunities that affords on his side. If she’s going to have a “bathroom floor incident” eventually, when it happens, she should already *know* whether to tell him or ignore it. And if she does tell him, there should be an understanding that this is *expected*, not some kind of betrayal. He has no right to be shocked, shocked! or try to make her feel guilty over it.

    If there were already kids involved, I might think otherwise — staying sane and muddling through a decade might be acceptable in that case. But if not, and she’s still got time on her biological clock before she HAS to have somebody nailed down with whom she can have them if she wants to? Live honestly. The chances of “converting” a defaulted-to-monog relationship into a non-monog one through *dishonesty* are vanishingly slim. Sure, it happens, but much more often the non-monog half of the couple gets dumped, and painted as a villain throughout their shared circle of friends.

    (I assume that one was stolen from Savage Love? I’m curious whether Dan’s answer is closer to my own…)


    • Auros
      October 4, 2014 at 4:02 pm

      I guess really this is a matter of emphasis. You do eventually settle on kinda similar advice, but you basically dismiss “declare your sluttiness in advance” as a minor subsection of your option 2. Whereas I see that as the Blazingly Obvious Thing She Should Do — tell him, and if he can’t cope, *then* break up.


      • October 4, 2014 at 4:05 pm

        Well yes it is a matter of emphasis and I think she already has declared her sluttiness.


        • Auros
          October 4, 2014 at 4:15 pm

          You think? I get, from the “Thus, I have been committed and loyal,” line, and the part where she says, “I find that many people hear the word ‘open’ and see it as a death sentence for a partnership, and I don’t want to drop that bomb for either of us,” that she has *not* actually had a conversation in which she said something to the effect of, “Sooner or later this relationship *is* going to be open; do you want to negotiate rules for that, or just declare a ‘play safe and don’t tell me’ type policy and never hear about it?” And I think she should.

          Declaring a relationship to be open is not a death sentence — there’s research suggesting that upwards of 10% of US adults are consensually non-monog in one way or another, and many of them are in long-term relationships — multi-decade long, with kids, etc. However, *pretending* a relationship is closed, when it isn’t? *That* is a death sentence, or at least a very proabable one. It’s just slightly longer term. A time bomb, instead of instant death from above. 😛


        • October 4, 2014 at 4:28 pm

          Honestly I’ve seen it both ways in terms of death sentences. And yes I think she has basically told him who she is based on how she said she tried to keep things undefined. I guess my view is that, when two people don’t have the same view on these things, it shouldn’t automatically be the person who is more conservative that gets their way. The question is whether they really want it like that or whether they want to think it’s like that. Or another way to say it is lots of great marriages I know are _unofficially_ open.


        • October 4, 2014 at 4:29 pm

          We agree mostly.


        • Auros
          October 4, 2014 at 4:16 pm

          Also, it makes me sad on her behalf that she effectively defines “committed and loyal” in terms of sexual monogamy. Plenty of non-monog people are VERY committed and loyal to their partners, friends, and families.


  3. Min
    October 4, 2014 at 9:55 pm

    @ Creature

    I am old enough to remember the start of computer dating. The algorithms sucked then, and I suspect that they suck now. Why do you think whoever it was experimented on their users?

    You have the opportunity to meet people. I wouldn’t put too much faith in any scores, though.

    Good luck!


  4. revuluri
    October 5, 2014 at 3:45 pm

    CREDITMEEEEEEEE’s submission made me (unfortunately) think of this comic: http://xkcd.com/385/. This is the second such experience I’ve heard in two days (not counting what I’ve read on STEMFeminist or elsewhere online). Which brings me to *my* question: what can we do when we hear of these situations (and we are not immediately present), other than get mad?


  5. cat
    October 6, 2014 at 2:07 pm

    “actually, that was my idea, but then Tim and I worked it out together.”

    I find that people who concluded it was Tim’s idea when it was clearly stated that it was a partnership will still think Tim contributed that ‘good’ bits and CREDITME played a minor supporting role.

    Does reasoning with people to get them to understand their biases work? I have this problem at work where the PhD’s get undue credit for my work because they are the ones who write up the work and I don’t feel like blowing up the working relationship.


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