Penelope Grundle is a life coach, New York Times best-selling author and twice-Editor of Australian Vogue. She is also NUPSA’s resident advice columnist, in accordance with the terms of her Community Service Order (Crimes [Sentencing Procedure] Act 1999).


Welcome back, my darlings! Here we are again: another year, another chapter, another step into the unknown. Another 31,557,600 sparkling seconds of life, laid invitingly before us. Don’t waste a single one of them on anything you don’t a) enjoy, b) require, or c) believe in. We far too often complicate our lives, when the key to them is just that simple.

I hope you all had a fabulous holiday during the festive season (and didn’t spend it working – have I taught you nothing?). I spent a rather memorable fortnight at El Arbol Ardiente, a small volcanic atoll and resort in the middle of the North Atlantic. I often take a lover when I’m on holiday, though I can’t reveal their identity on this occasion; they’re preparing for political office (and have a book coming out soon), so I’ve been sworn to secrecy, darling.

El Arbol is the perfect romantic getaway. It’s surrounded by a constant, choking hurricane of glass and ash that one can only penetrate by submarine, so even the most intrepid paparazzo never sets foot there; one is afforded absolute privacy. And there is nothing quite so erotic as a futon resting on a bed of coals, suspended above an active lava stream at just the right height to avoid incineration.

Once I was home again, however, I did get to enjoy some me-time as well. I keep my panic room stocked (when I’m not using it to outfox an intruder) with a healthy supply of cabernet and chocolate ice cream for a quiet night in, and I’ve compiled an enormous list of Netflix recommendations from friends – usually something they’ve starred in recently and would like me to promote, bless their hearts.

Marie Kondo, for instance, has been badgering me to watch her latest show on ‘tidying up’, but I’ve no patience for her anymore. The last time I invited her over, she tried to throw out the bulk of my library (including a number of best-selling works written by me), and then almost took a chainsaw to the century-old elm growing through the ceiling of my study. The nerve of some people! When she asked me if Cernunnos, my 12th-century Celtic fertility idol, ‘sparked joy’, I was forced to remove her from the premises.

While we’re on the subject of fiery romance, our question this month comes from a student with that most maddening of afflictions: unrequited passion.


Dear Penny,

Since I started my PhD six months ago, I’ve been sharing an office on campus with another student, Ben*. He’s a total hottie, and really funny – I love talking to him, and I think I’m really starting to like him. But no matter how many hints I drop, he doesn’t seem to notice me that way!

Help me, Penny. How do I find out if he’s interested? And how do I win him over?

Sincerely yours,

Little Miss Frustrated


*Hottie’s name has been altered for privacy.


Dear Little Miss,

Ahh, the office tryst. A fantasy as timeless as Tristan and Isolde, and a staple of any advice columnist (or romance novelist) with any degree of experience. There’s nothing quite so delicious as mixing business and pleasure; it’s the ultimate mélange of seduction, danger and taboo. And if this Ben is as delectable as you say, it’s little wonder you’re so ravenous in his presence. Let’s see what can be done to satisfy the both of you.

You’ve asked two questions here: how to gauge his interest, and, if there’s a spark there, how to fan it to a flame. For the latter, I might suggest an actual fan (since a woman is invariably more alluring while peeking out from behind one), but we’ll come to that.

To start, you’ll need to do a little detective work: find out if he is (in descending order of priority) attracted to women, single/available, and personally compatible. You’ll forgive my assumption from your nom de plume that you are a woman; if you identify differently, it may be necessary to tweak some of these instructions to suit. (You may, for example, prefer to peek out from behind a copy of Men’s Health, rather than a fan.) But the order of priority remains the same: attracted, available, compatible.

Facebook will make this task considerably easier (so add him if you haven’t already), but don’t rely on it too much. Many people advertise their relationship status online, but many do not, and it’s all too easy to scroll through a series of photos from parties and holidays – without context – and jump to the wrong conclusion. It’s better to strike up a conversation, over lunch or during your break, and ask him a leading question: ‘Don’t you just hate dating apps?’ or something of the kind.

This will not only tell you what you need to know (‘Actually, my girlfriend and I met through Tinder,’ or, ‘Absolutely! It’s like turning a rusty corkscrew slowly through my anus, but how else am I going to meet someone?’), but you’ll be an active participant in his day, and not just some invisible phantom, haunting his profile page.

As for compatibility… well, that’s a more complicated affair, darling, and will take some time to establish. (Ideally, once you start dating!) But there’s no reason you can’t write a list of deal-breakers – Is he a white supremacist? A serial killer? Vegan? – and start to test the waters on these. Remember, though, that what appear to be flaws might actually be strengths, so don’t judge them immediately; an acolyte in the cult of Kali’gos the Devourer, for example, might seem unlikely boyfriend material, until you consider that ritual sacrifice demands intense physical and mental discipline, so he’s probably in the best shape of his life. (It takes a lot of upper-body strength to overpower and slaughter a bull, let me tell you.)

Which brings us, finally, to the fan. The fan is not merely an accessory, but a symbol: of coy seduction, of holding back, of restraint. It allows you to hide or reveal any part of yourself at will; to draw him in with but a look; to step closer, or pull farther away; to hold him, spellbound, in the palm of your hand. It is also (with some additional training) an elegant and deadly weapon, and easily concealed up one’s sleeve while walking home, or catching a bus or train after dark.

I never go anywhere without my favourite sensu – sandalwood and vermilion silk, and bladed, of course, for efficiency – and neither do I ever find myself without an avalanche of male company, when the mood takes me. Is it coincidence? Think again, darling.


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