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Aunt Pythia’s advice

August 22, 2015

Readers! Aunt Pythia is extremely pleased to tell you that she’s on vacation in beautiful but arid northern California. This morning we’re planning a walk to the Santa Cruz boardwalk, and Aunt Pythia is even imagining a ride on a roller coaster.


It’s all flights of fancy and whimsy over here, if you catch my drift, which is perfect for doling out the advice. Honestly, every Saturday is a vacation for Aunt Pythia, but giving out advice whilst on vacation just can’t be beat.

If you want to be kind to Aunt Pythia, let her know! Please please please:

ask Aunt Pythia any question at all 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,

I’m in my early fifties, and my kids are teens. I’ve lived in a small, boring city since they were born, and would like a change of pace. I have a job that would allow me to spend two or three months per year elsewhere, but I would have to pay rent. Should I go for it, or is it my duty to save every penny for my kids’ futures?

If it helps, there’s more than enough to pay for (European) college for everybody; there’s by far not enough for them to live of it.

Inverted Matrix

p.s. I ran exercise sessions in linear algebra for so many years you can wake me up at 3am and I would remember the formula for inverting matrices.

Dear Inverted,

It occurs to me that “The Inverted Matrices” would be a good band name.

It is by no means obvious that we should make ourselves miserable for the sake of college costs. Even so, I’m wondering if it’s possible to think differently, and less dramatically, about your nice plan.

In terms of the economics: have you considered subletting your apartment while you’re away? That could easily earn you some money which could offset your travel costs. Or you could think about what other way you could either save or make more money, and imagine it going directly to the “travel pot.” Would that make it easier to plan for?

In any event, it’s not just economic; your kids will also benefit from seeing interesting places. Maybe they’ll get into the planning parts of it with you. Or maybe, being teenagers, they’ll find a friend back home to stay with while you go. That would also be great!

Also, consider going away for three weeks instead of three months, it might be enough for you. For myself, in spite of my nearly daily fantasies about travel, when I’m actually away (like I am right now) I long for the comforts and familiarity of home after about 5 days.

If you decide none of this applies to you, and you’re going to blow the college savings accounts on an awesome summer in Paris, just remember this: you won’t be nearly as badly behaved as my friend’s parents who didn’t help pay for college at all and even stole her identity to take out credit cards in her name while she was away, resulting in her having terrible credit from the get-go. Don’t be that person.

Aunt Pythia


Dear Aunt Pythia,

I have reached a point where I have pretty much exhausted all my emotional currency for finding romance. I’m at the love casino with my last $10, and I can risk gambling it away or cash in my chips and leave.

I have been at this point for several years now, sending men away rather than open my heart even a little bit. I know what I’m doing is self-destructive, that I’m taking the slow path to suicide with self-destructive behaviors that stem from lack of love and affection.

I should be a winner at this game. I’m smart and pretty and funny and well-liked. Do men just assume that women like that don’t have feelings or that we cannot be hurt? More importantly, what does a person do when they have nothing more of their self-esteem to invest in this game? I have so much confidence in so many areas of life, but I am shaken and defeated by the roulette wheel of dating.

Given Up Real Love

Dear GURL,

My heart aches for you. Knowing nothing specific about you, I can promise you that you’re not alone. This dating system we have is ruthless and defeating. I’m sure you’ve read this recent article from Vanity Fair about the dating apocalypse, and just in case you missed it the reaction from Tinder. The article is likely too painful to read, but I’ll give you a quote from a young ex-Ivy League investment banker in the first paragraph explaining his multi-women night’s plans: “You can’t be stuck in one lane … There’s always something better.” Barf.

The truth is, it’s not fair to say that Tinder that’s doing this to dating; Tinder is just making it more obvious. We’ve entirely commoditized sex, love, and even affection, and especially in places like New York where there are so many beautiful and single women, the single man feels like an idiot for settling with one. And Tinder is making every place feel like New York.

Now to your questions. Do men assume women don’t have feelings, or can’t be hurt? In some sense, yes. Here’s why I say that.

I think (many) men are better at learning the rules of a system and exploiting them viciously to their benefit. It may be purely socialization here, I don’t want to be sexist, but I’ve always been amazed how quickly the men around me adapt to the petty and arbitrary rules of power and status, whether in academics, finance, or engineering startups. Maybe it’s the testosterone? Whatever the reason, it’s pounding one’s chest stuff everywhere you look.

Not all men, mind you. But enough for one to imagine that there is in some sense a standard approach to putting your brain and your heart on hold, and just following the rules for all you’re worth. It makes sense when you’re in the army, kind of, but it also seems to hold in the mating game, where’s it’s downright obnoxious.

So in other words, I think those men have repressed their feelings, often, in the name of “winning” dating. So they (might) imagine that anyone they come into contact – i.e. other men who they’re competing with, or women who they’re attempting to woo – will also have done the same.

Let’s talk about the other men now, though. The ones that aren’t on Tinder, and that find themselves actually feeling stuff like loneliness and also – gasp – consider other people’s feelings. They exist but they’re harder to find. You want to meet them somehow, though, so I’d seek them out at meetups, bridge clubs, Nerd Nites, and other places where – gasp!! – actual ideas are being discussed.

And I’ll give you the advice I give many people in your position: meet people with the expectation of being friends, and open your heart to that. You might have only $10 to spend on love, but you might have thousands of friend bucks in the bank. And who knows, you might find that friend bucks are (eventually) convertible currency.

Oh, and read Why Love Hurts to understand more about the sociology of the love market.

Aunt Pythia


Aunt Pythia,

  1. “modified because I use salted butter”
  2. “1 slightly rounded teaspoon of salt”

Why the extra salt?

And, Aunt Pythia, what kind of butter did Marlon Brando’s character use in The Last Tango in Paris? Salted or unsalted?

Maria Schneider

Dear Maria,

I’ve decided you’re referring to my recent recipe for identity crisis crepes. However, you misunderstood. The recipe calls for more salt, but I cut it down because I use salted butter.

Never watched that movie because it seemed nasty. And now that I have read the wikipedia article about it, I’m sure I’m right. But as you’re a character in it, I should think you’d remember the kind of butter used. Sheesh.

Auntie P


Aunt Pythia,

Do you like big butts, or can you lie?

Music Is eXcellent – Always Like Appreciating Tunes


Sir, I love big butts, thanks for asking! Also, I can absolutely lie; I’m amazing at lying, thanks for reminding me!

But I’m not lying about my love for big butts. Here’s how I feel in song:


Aunt Pythia


Readers? Aunt Pythia loves you so much. She wants to hear from you – she needs to hear from you – and then tell you what for in a most indulgent way. Will you help her do that?

Please, pleeeeease ask her a question. She will take it seriously and answer it if she can.

Click here for a form for later or just do it now:

Categories: Aunt Pythia
  1. revuluri
    August 22, 2015 at 11:34 am

    It wasn’t clear to me that Inverted intended to take his/her teenage children along for those two or three months on the vacation…


    • CG
      August 22, 2015 at 9:25 pm

      The note said nothing about vacation, maybe it was an opportunity to work for a period in a city he could find to be not boring. I say why not. As to how much he owes his kids, mustn’t every parent determine their own burden? I struggle with guilt between doing something to please myself whatever the economic costs to me and with passing assets that could help my descendants in a world I believe is becoming much less accommodating than it was for my generation.


  2. revuluri
    August 22, 2015 at 11:36 am

    And on the optimal duration for a vacation, this recent article cites some interesting findings: “The Smartest Way to Take a Vacation” (Sumathi Reddy, WSJ; may need to access via a search engine to not be paywall-blocked): http://www.wsj.com/articles/smartest-way-to-take-a-vacation-1437406680


  3. kcm
    August 22, 2015 at 11:58 am

    On GURL’s dilemma and the behavior of some people with respect to others… I liked the analogy made recently on the Crooked Timber blog (http://crookedtimber.org/2015/08/21/best-sexism-analogy-ever/) that some people seem to think others are non-player characters in the game of life.


  4. Christina Sormani
    August 22, 2015 at 12:35 pm

    “And I’ll give you the advice I give many people in your position: meet people with the expectation of being friends, and open your heart to that. You might have only $10 to spend on love, but you might have thousands of friend bucks in the bank. And who knows, you might find that friend bucks are (eventually) convertible currency.” I love this so much it should be a meme.


  5. cat
    August 22, 2015 at 8:58 pm

    “I’m taking the slow path to suicide with self-destructive behaviors that stem from lack of love and affection.”
    Firstly, please seek out a licensed therapist if the quote isn’t just hyperbole. Being single can be very tough since the lack of emotional and physical intimacy isn’t something you can just ‘take in stride’; its hard, you’ll need help.

    Secondly, even if you aren’t in a romantic relationship why don’t you have deep friendships? They should also provide love and affection of a platonic nature. Like Auntie says, get friends.

    Thirdly, Learn to love yourself without the validation of others.

    Fourthly, this list is in the wrong order. 🙂 Romantic love is the hardest relationship to maintain so until you master your relationship with yourself and then platonic ones you won’t have much success with romantic love.

    Painting in broad strokes here, but imagine people on a scatter plot with two axes, “Attractiveness” and “Assholeness”. Only you can’t see the second axis, “assholeness”. It takes a lot of practice to figure out where someone lies on that axis.

    Good luck. Its hard work.


  6. Malcolm
    August 22, 2015 at 9:45 pm

    Gotta put in a good word for “Last Tango in Paris” here. Schneider and (especially) Brando’s performances in this film are the most emotionally raw and direct I have seen. The pain and nastiness are human and full of human complexity.

    If you are interesting in sexuality, emotion, relationships, and cinema and acting as art forms, I recommend you see it.


  7. Hedgehog
    August 24, 2015 at 2:25 pm

    Some men may feel much as you do, if that’s any consolation.
    My plan is to minimize self-destruction, try to do something I love to do for at least part of each day, and keep in close touch with old friends.
    With that plan in mind, I’d cash in my chips, get out of the casino, and go for a walk while the weather is nice.


  8. elkern
    August 24, 2015 at 6:41 pm

    thanx for the lead picture – the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk! – where I worked for one long summer in a previous incarnation. Best job I ever had: refereeing fights between teenagers & pinball machines in “Funland”! Bonus: working swing shift, I could sleep late EVERY MORNING!

    ..but every summer ends…

    Do they still have the old mechanical music machine behind the Carousel, driven by air?


  9. OV
    August 25, 2015 at 10:48 am

    “It may be purely socialization here, I don’t want to be sexist, but I’ve always been amazed how quickly the men around me adapt to the petty and arbitrary rules of power and status, whether in academics, finance, or engineering startups. ” So you’re saying that women are not as capable to adapt as men in academia or workplace?


    • August 25, 2015 at 12:38 pm

      Of course women are capable of adapting to rules!

      I just don’t think – and maybe this is just my experience, which again is in mostly male-dominated fields – that women are quite as on top of exactly what signals status as quickly as men. Women pick up rules very quickly, but they aren’t as obsessed with status signaling as men. They learn about that stuff eventually, of course, just as they learn eventually how the coffee machine works and what everyone’s name is.

      It’s also possible that I just have a biased experience. And it’s also possible that in a female-dominated culture, it’s the women who invent and spread the status signal, and that they’re more on top of them in that context.

      And again, it’s not all men. But I’ve definitely learned to watch how the “alpha males” interact with the “would-be alpha males” in a workplace and it is fascinating and foreign to me.


  10. OV
    August 25, 2015 at 1:44 pm

    There seem to be a contradiction between “Women pick up rules very quickly” vs “They learn about that stuff eventually” . Is it quickly (implying as fast as), or is it not as quickly, but eventually (implying not as fast as)?


    • August 25, 2015 at 1:48 pm

      So what I mean to say is that there are tons of rules. Tons. The question is which ones do you hone in on.


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