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Aunt Pythia’s advice

September 19, 2015

Readers, Aunt Pythia is quite pleased with herself this morning. She has come up with an amazing solution to the problem of teenage dissipation and slovenliness.

Now, don’t get Aunt Pythia wrong: she’s got some amazing teenagers. They even do their own laundry, and take turns doing the dishes (when prompted!). But one thing they haven’t been able to do, no matter the level of coaxing, is to put away their clean clothes in their dresser. What invariably happens is they put their clean clothes in a bag, which gets turned over onto the floor in the following morning’s search for a clean sock.

Bottomline: their floors are always entirely covered with clothes.

Solution: get rid of their dressers altogether and replace them with a large “clean laundry” bin. These are the bins I bought which have just been delivered:

Strangely enough, their father doesn't seem as excited as Aunt Pythia. Something about the aesthetics.

Strangely enough, their father doesn’t seem as excited as Aunt Pythia about the “clean laundry bin”. Something about the aesthetics, or the size. His tune will change when there’s no laundry on the floor, though, I assure you. I promise to update you on this miraculous cure to all things slipshod and/or lackadaisical.

OK, on with the advice! And after you enjoy said advice, 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 stuck in an interpersonal pickle and I need some insight from someone totally removed from the situation. Most of the time I have a pretty strong moral intuition but this has me at a loss.

I’ve known this woman, “Beth,” since high school. She has always been a difficult person to be a friend to, and I think I’m reaching my limit. (We’re both in our early 30s now, to give you an idea of the timeline.) Beth is difficult because she is a self-centered person, which is exacerbated by mental illness. Beth has been on medication for OCD since high school and for bipolar disorder since college.

While she is currently seeing a psychiatrist, she definitely never visited a mental health professional in high school and probably didn’t in college, either. According to her, she “diagnosed herself” with OCD, depression, and bipolar, then talked to her GP (a close friend of the family), who agreed with her assessment and wrote out the prescriptions. I don’t know how prevalent this kind of “self diagnosis” is, but I think this part of her background is relevant, so I’m including it.

For what it’s worth, I don’t doubt for a moment that she suffers from mental illness. I just worry that she is getting the wrong treatment, since she doesn’t seem any “better” after ten years of this particular cocktail of medication. (But I haven’t said any of this to her, and wouldn’t dare, because IMO that would be presumptuous and maybe she’s coming off worse online than IRL. That’s the job of a mental health professional.)

At the moment I am one of two people she talks to who aren’t her family (husband, in-laws, mother), her psychiatrist, or her current lover. (She has been having an affair for almost a year; this is not an open/”monogamousish” marriage.) I feel morally obligated to remain in her life to at least some degree, since I imagine she is probably very lonely, especially since she is in the middle of an argument with her only other friend. This “only two friends” situation is also something she’s told me; I’m not making any suppositions here. Otherwise, I would have cut ties a while ago.

I don’t like the person I become when I talk to her and I don’t think I have the right skillset or knowledge to help her. The only thing that happens as a result of our conversations is that she gives me minute-by-minute updates on her moods/activities, trash talks her husband, relates the sexcapades she’s having with her lover, and asks me for advice that she doesn’t follow. Occasionally she shares random news link with a few throwaway comments on them, and once in a while she asks me what I’m doing, but after a few lines of conversation everything is back to her.

Most people I think I could say, “I want to support you, but I’ve got a lot of stuff going on my self and it’s taking all of my cope just to deal with that. I’ll let you know when I’m feeling better.” or “You know, you tell me a lot about what’s going on with you, but you don’t seem to be displaying any interest in my life. I know that you care, of course, but it would be nice if you could show me that you do.” and, while it would sting, they would be able to handle it. But she is fragile enough that I think even that would crush her, considering that she is angry at her only other friend for essentially saying just that.

The silver lining in all of this is that I am hundreds miles of way and will remain there for the rest of my life, so I only have to interact with Beth online. At the moment I am basically checked out. I’ve limited myself to blase responses like “that sounds annoying” or “that’s good” to most things and outright ignoring what I think is the most harmful/unhealthy stuff she says, or the things that sound like a bid for attention or validation. Is this the best I can do? Should I tell her I need some alone time (or full-on ghost her) and reduce her social outlets by half? Am I overestimating my own importance? Am I underestimating her resilience? Am I making myself a martyr?

Thank you for your input.

Confused Friend

Dear Confused,

A few things. First, sympathy: your friend sounds really hard to deal with, and it’s kind of you to stick with her.

Second, I agree that she sounds like she has real problems, and I’m no professional so I wouldn’t hazard a guess what her problem is, but I’d suggest you spend some time looking at personality disorder profiles. I say that because it has helped me enormously in the past; when you encounter someone with a personality disorder, you feel bewildered and confused – and sometimes even partially responsible to help – but then, reading about the disorders, and the support groups for people who are married to people with them, you realize that you are not alone in your confusion, and that you are not capable of curing them.

Finally, advice. You are at risk of getting so fed up with your friend that you leave her entirely. Instead of letting your last ounce of true goodwill drip out of you slowly, I suggest you tell her about the difficulties you’re having, and asking for her help to remain friends, while you still can do it. Too often, people only express frustration at the point of no return, so the underlying message is, “you cannot convince me to be your friend anymore, it’s too late.” I would love to see your message be something more like, “you need to be a friend to me as well or else you’ll lose me.” It’s a much kinder message.

So, if you can do it, tell her truthfully what’s frustrating you, and be sure to tell her that you still want to be friends, and see what happens. In other words, don’t be a martyr, and don’t underestimate her resilience. If she cannot hear you, and gets upset and refuses to talk, then wait a few months or a year or two and get back in touch, because people often need time to recover, and their disorders often oscillate in terms of severity. Above all, keep careful track of what you’re thinking and doing versus what she accuses you of thinking and doing, because you’ll need to stay calm and reasonable, and that might be hard, but it’s what a good friend does.

Good luck,

Aunt Pythia


Dear Aunt Pythia,

I have been close friends with a guy from undergrad for six years. We met my freshman year and became best (platonic) friends that year. He was dating a girl from his hometown, but they were never very close. He felt obligated to stay with her for intense family reasons, but the emotional bond between them was minimal. They fought often and had very little in common. There was no sexual relationship.

They broke up during our sophomore year and he approached me about starting a relationship. I was in a bad place and was not ready to be in a relationship. They got back together about six months later.

We remained very close throughout college – ran together, studied together, went backpacking together. We both told each other everything. I thought that we were really just friends, and that the people who thought we were dating or should date were reading into things (professors, friends, etc. frequently assumed we were).

After graduation, we remained very very close and he remained dating his girlfriend, still under strict family pressure. I realized after we both graduated that I was in love with him. I was/am very physically attracted to him and emotionally bonded with him. I didn’t say anything to him. We both started doctoral programs in New England (in the sameish field) and are both two years in. We don’t see each other much (about every 2 months), but talk on the phone once a week, write, and text often.

They broke up about four months ago and I’m at a loss of what to do. They definitely won’t be getting back together, but at this point, I’ve lived in stagnation for so long that I’m afraid to tell him. I don’t want to lose my best friend, and the long wait has left me more scared than ever. I don’t even know if I want to tell him. What do I do? Help me, Aunt Pythia! I dreamed of this for so long, but now I don’t know what to do.

Perplexed and Frozen

Dear Perplexed,

OK, so two comments. First, nobody writes to Aunt Pythia so that she can say, “don’t go for it, it’s a trap!”. That doesn’t happen. So obviously what you’re looking for here is the green light. They don’t call me Aunt “Go For It” Pythia for nothin’.

Second, I’ma give you the green light here. Not necessarily because I think it will work out – although it well might! – but mostly because I need you to move the fuck on. Holy crap, lady, you gotta get your love life moving here, and it’s been according to my calculations 6 years of this platonic friend crap at least. You didn’t mention how many love affairs you’ve been having on the side in the meantime, so I’m going to imagine at least a few, but jeez. How can you be so patient?!

As for my advice, it’s the oldest and simplest plan in the book. Invite your friend to stay with you for the weekend, get everyone out of the area with strict instructions never to return, and drink a ton of booze. Easy peasy lemon squeezy, with an emphasis on the lemon squeezy. And please do it quick, my patience is completely worn out. And then please write back and tell me what happened.

Aunt Pythia


Dear Aunt Pythia,

I’m a liberal arts/sciences undergrad focused on the obstacles to just climate and economic policies. I’m also interested in economics/finance, the political process, and social justice, among other things.

I want to get work experience related to my interests before I graduate, so I’m planning not to take classes in Spring 2016 so that I can do an internship (or several), but I’m not sure about how to find the right opportunities. I’ve reached out through some social connections to folks who might be interesting, but I should do more.

Do you have any tips for finding internships? Or even better, do you know of any great people who could use a smart research assistant this coming Spring? I do good research.

Thank you, Idealistic Human

Dear Idealistic,

Great idea, and I’m sure my commenters will weigh in with ideas. Personally I’d find underfunded organizations that do good stuff and I’d simply ask them if they need help. The ones that advertise for internships are way too overstaffed and organized.

Aunt Pythia


Dear Aunt Pythia,

So, as a not young in body person (half a century, woohoo!) am a little surprised to find myself:

  1. with a job after almost 12 months out of work,
  2. excited like I was starting fresh, and
  3. worried about the future – aka ai/robots getting the work.

The job I am about to start shouldn’t last more than 5 years. The goal is to set up a reporting system for a variety of KPIs drawing on data from a variety of external organizations.

On the one hand, if I don’t manage to automate most of this, I would see it as a failure. On the other hand, what work will be left for others when I succeed?

I will be fine. After 5 more years of earning, I should be mortgage free and healthy savings. Should I feel a bit bad that I am helping software eat the world?

Frumpy Old Graduate Excitedly Yearning


A wise man (Suresh Naidu) once said to me, “protect the people, not the jobs.” I think he’s right. We are going to have to deal with the robot/ automation revolution sooner or later, and so instead of pushing to avoid automation, a futile gesture to save unnecessary and outdated jobs, we should be thinking about pushing for free college and training for the jobs of the future with all the money we’re saving as a result of this nifty automation revolution.

So, in short, no, don’t feel guilty. But be sure to do your part in figuring out what the future should look like for young people once you retire. Be an advocate for a fair and equitable future!

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:

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