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Aunt Pythia’s advice

October 25, 2014

You guys know how much Aunt Pythia loves you, right (answer: a ton)?

OK, good. Because that means I can be honest with you. The truth is, I’ve been getting some very weird questions recently, and I’ve had to throw out a bunch of them, sifting through the weeds to find some tulips.

It’s not that I mind it when you guys make up questions. By all means, make shit up! It’s just that the made-up questions have to actually be interesting, or at least they have to have an embedded question which I can answer. So please, no more fantasies of poop in pots, thank you very much!

And just to get that image out of your minds, let me brag about my most recent knitted gift for one of my best friends:

Pattern available here: http://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/elfe

I also knitted a matching cap. Very very cute.

Pattern available here, yarn here.

OK, all good? Fantastic! I hope you enjoy today’s tulipy column, and after you’re done,

please think of something interesting, reasonable, and non-excrement related

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.


Aunt Pythia,

My partner (female) and I (also female) have been together for about ten years now. Over that timespan, she’s gained about 100 pounds. Not due to any illness, or pregnancy, just to inactivity and poor eating habits.

I don’t know how to put this any better, but I’m just simply not attracted to her in her current state. I’m actively turned off by her body shape. I know we’ll grow old, and our bodies will change naturally, but we’re not *that* old just yet. And it frustrates me that this is a result of her poor choices–this is ultimately under her control.

I have no desire to leave her. We have kids, she’s my best friend, I love her. I wish there were a switch I could turn on to be… well… turned on. From all the advice I’ve found online, I’m an asshole for feeling this way. I know weight issues are deep rooted and difficult to tackle, I’m empathetic. But this doesn’t change the fact that I’m just not attracted to the weight.

Sincerely not an asshole

Dear Sincerely,

Does this mean you guys aren’t having sex? And neither of you having sex with other people? And are you staying together because of the kids?

Look, there are plenty of marriages that become, over time, not very sexy, and for various reasons. When that happens and there are no kids, I always suggest breaking up. Because yes, it’s great to have a best friend, but if you are also a sexual person it just won’t do to live with your best friend and never get laid.

When there are kids, like there are with you, I’d suggest (possibly) staying together for the kids but (definitely) having sex with other people. The hardest part of this plan is the initial conversation, but if you aren’t having sex right now then it probably won’t really come as a surprise to anyone.

It’s not really a single conversation, of course, and it also isn’t really a negotiation: you are telling your partner that you need sex in your life and you’re going to go find it. And there’s no need to tell her all the details once it’s happening. It can be hard to say, but it’s likely still the kindest and most direct route.

What you don’t say is that if she loses 100 pounds you will be faithful. That would be hurtful and, if you’ve ever examined dieting data, useless. The truth is, it doesn’t really matter why you’re not having sex, just that you’re not having sex. Plus, other people will find your partner super hot.

Once you have that conversation, you will both be free to go be desired and be desirous, which is a better place for both of you.

Good luck!

Aunt Pythia


Dear Aunt Pythia,

Is data science an IT function, or a business function?

I work at a large financial services firm as a data scientist. At our company, we have data scientists on both sides of the wall, integrated into a data architecture group (me) or in analytics hubs across the lines of business (others).

I often question why I’m in IT. I and my business counterparts are often doing very similar work, but sit in vastly different cultures. And I personally feel the culture of business (at least in our company) is more agile and responsive than IT, which is far slower-paced and more monolithic.

Where do you see data science groups sitting? And how can I make the best of my position sitting close to IT?

Caught between two worlds

Dear Caught,

Interesting, for various reasons. First, I think of finance quants as the original data scientists, so it’s funny to me that finance firms are explicitly hiring “data scientists.”

Second, I think of data scientists as living in a third group, outside either IT or business. In some sense the modern data scientist’s job is to translate between those two worlds without being in either of them. But since that’s obviously not how they thought about it in your company, I think the best advice I can give you is to look around for another job. Turns out there are quite a few jobs out there for people with data skills.

You might have to take a pay cut, though. Finance firms tend to pay IT people well, partly for the experience of working in what is often a massively boring place.

Auntie P


Dear Aunt Pythia,

My friend is going for a doctorate at a top department. He has the chance to work with a world renowned scientist who scares the living daylight out of him. He knows he will never possibly be able to meet his advisor’s expectations. So my friend will do everything he can to work on the challenging problems he’s assigned alone, but he does occasionally relent and ask a question. In a few key diagrams his advisor shows him how the problem could be solved. My friend says its like an epiphany, so beautiful and simple, and that he just dreams of possibly ever be that good someday.

Meanwhile I go for a doctorate at a reasonable good department. I am working with a well funded professor who is known for landing her students top notch postdocs with amazing mathematicians. All good, except that she is very demanding and I never seem to be able to meet her expectations. I do everything I can to work on the obscure problems she assigns me but do occasionally give up and ask a question. In a few key diagrams she shows me how the problem could be solved and, boy, I feel like a complete idiot and wonder if I should even be getting a PhD.

Should I find a new advisor or should I just quit?

Brainy Incensed Adolescent Student Earning his Doctorate


Wait, what? Am I supposed to believe these stories? Or is this some kind of test about how things seem when it’s a man versus a woman that is your advisor? I’m a bit confused.

In any case, the options you’ve given – find a new advisor or quit – is missing the most obvious option, which is to continue, because being a graduate student in math, whether your advisor is a man or a woman, is a period where you constantly feel like an idiot. Constantly. So you have no perspective whatsoever.

The most important information you have given me about your future prospects is that your advisor has successful students. So just close your eyes and pretend you might be one of them someday, and keep trying, and keep asking questions, and keep feeling like an idiot, because that’s what learning feels like.

Aunt Pythia


Dear Aunt Pythia,

What are your thoughts on John Cochrane’s post on inequality?  I’m especially curious given that you two seem to have the exact opposite view of e.g. Dodd-Frank.

Fake Name

Dear Fake,

I have trouble reading stuff by people who only refer to taxes as “confiscatory”, so I only skimmed this. But my general feeling is that this man has spent a lifetime figuring out how to use fancy language to avoid the very simple concept of fairness. Particularly when he says:

Maybe the poor should rise up and overthrow the rich, but they never have. Inequality was pretty bad on Thomas Jefferson’s farm. But he started a revolution, not his slaves.

Sounds pretty smug to me, almost like an invitation.

Aunt Pythia


Dear Aunt Pythia,

I read some of your posts on working in a hedge fund. Working as a quant, is there a difference between working for a hedge fund vs. investment bank – in terms of feeling ok about the work that you do? Is that possible at all? And how do you recognize a good, honest hedge fund?


Dear T,

Hahahahahaha! Good one.

Aunt Pythia


Dear Aunt Pythia,

You call yourself “super healthy fat woman”. What is your definition of healthy? How is that different from your definition of “super healthy”?


Dear NYC,

Most days I bike 12 miles. I just got a checkup and all my tests and levels are perfect. I feel incredibly strong and healthy on a daily basis and I haven’t yet reached the period of my life where I get easily injured. For me, that qualifies as “super healthy.” I’m not saying I couldn’t be healthier, say if I had better endurance running, which is hard for me because of my weight, or biking up steep hills, again hard for me.

I usually only mention this stuff because I am, happily, a counter example to the tired stereotype of the lazy fat woman. I have never been lazy, and my weight has basically nothing to do with my exercise levels.

Auntie P


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Categories: Aunt Pythia
  1. Keating Willcox
    October 25, 2014 at 8:11 am

    I was disappointed in your answer to the couple where one member has gained so much weight. Rather than begin the ruinous and trust busting process of dating out, why not suggest a partnership based on the slim partner taking over the kitchen and stocking it with healthy fruits and vegetables as an act of love. The overweight partner will now have the option of losing weight and getting healthy, and the children can learn how to eat healthy as well. As the weight comes off, the entire family can begin the process of more exercise so that will help keep the weight off. Even if it fails,it is an act of love. And in the meantime, the slim partner can be the recipient for intimacy, close her eyes and hope for a better future. Once the kids are out of the house, then comes decision time.


    • October 25, 2014 at 9:51 am

      No, no, no, no, no. Well-meaning – perhaps – but totally wrong. I am by all means for healthy food but controlling someone’s eating, above and beyond judging them and blaming them for their fatness, is a recipe for an even worse and more shaming relationship (and it’s already bad enough!). That is the opposite of what we want to model for out children.


    • Auros
      October 25, 2014 at 4:29 pm

      “Rather than begin the ruinous and trust busting process of dating out”

      “[T]he process of dating out” is not necessarily “ruinous and trust busting”. Many people (perhaps as many as 10% of Americans) handle it perfectly well.



  2. October 25, 2014 at 9:52 am

    You’ve hinted at this in past AP responses, but I’m still surprised to see this much emphasis on sex relative to other factors in a relationship: “…marriages that become, over time, not very sexy, and […] I always suggest breaking up.”

    Maybe I’ve quoted unfairly since I deleted the clause about kids, but the follow-up suggests that this doesn’t meaningfully change your advice. Is that fair?

    To me, a relationship spans emotional, social, financial, sexual, and logistical dimensions. Almost everywhere, compromise in some area is required to make the thing work. Perhaps this attitude is hopelessly dated.

    Also, how would someone have a sexual relationship outside the marriage without unsettling all the other aspects that are working well? Perhaps this is where professionals come in? As the quip goes:”you don’t pay them for sex, you pay them to leave.”

    BTW, cool shirt, especially love the blue!


    • October 25, 2014 at 9:58 am

      I am absolutely in agreement that I emphasize sex more than most people. That’s just my honest opinion. When you don’t have sex in a marriage, and you don’t figure out how to get it outside the marriage, then you’re generally miserable, at least if you’re someone who cares about sex, which most people are.

      And yes, relationships span all sorts of dimensions, but I’m not talking about generalized relationships, but rather intimate partners.

      In answer to your question about how such things work, the answer is in all sorts of ways, all the time, and no they don’t have to be unsettling. Go incognito and google search this stuff and all will be explained.


  3. Chris
    October 25, 2014 at 1:40 pm

    Dear Sincerely,

    “She’s gained about 100 pounds. Not due to any illness, or pregnancy, just to inactivity and poor eating habits.”. You don’t gain a hundred pounds just from inactivity and poor eating habits. There is generally something wrong and a doctor can help check the thyroid and other possible causes. And why does she have poor eating habits: stress? lack of time? a desire for some sort of physical gratification? And why is she inactive? Is it hard for her to walk? Does she have the time? Is she depressed? Forget blaming her for her weight gain and just chalk it up to your low libito and suddenly the tables are turned on you. Anyway she needs to lose the weight for her own health and not for you. There are plenty of people who will find her attractive if you give her the freedom to look elsewhere for sexual happiness. Maybe she’ll lose weight when she’s free.


  4. quasihumanist
    October 25, 2014 at 3:34 pm

    Dear BIASED,

    Mathematics is finding out how much of an idiot you were yesterday (or 5 minutes ago).


  5. Auros
    October 25, 2014 at 4:22 pm

    Just FYI, Paul Krugman has repeatedly pointed out the willful ignorance of John Cochrane. (So you don’t have to!) Try a Google search for “site:krugman.blogs.nytimes.com john cochrane” for a sampling. Or, here are a few choice links:





  6. October 25, 2014 at 8:40 pm

    Regarding BIASED, my suggestion is to talk with your advisor about the situation. If you feel you cannot talk to your advisor (perhaps because you are frightened how your advisor will respond), maybe you can talk to the director of graduate students in your department.


  7. cat
    October 27, 2014 at 2:34 pm

    “I feel like a complete idiot and wonder if I should even be getting a PhD”
    Imposter syndrome IMO. Unless they started letting idiots into graduate Math programs.



  8. noneya
    October 28, 2014 at 3:34 pm

    Re inequality: what do you think about his suggestion that inequality is not a problem but only a symptom of a problem?


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