When Princeton alum Susan Patton penned a letter to her alma mater's female students urging them to find a husband in college, she cancelled our appointment with the Love Doctor and scheduled one instead with the Inclination PhD. Aside from leaving many people feeling frustrated, she did get me to remind my sons that higher education isn’t a place to shop for a mate and love can’t be distilled into a formula of marriage-mind + Megamind = Pi in the sky happy ending.
“For most of you, the cornerstone of your future and happiness will be inextricably linked to the man you marry, and you will never again have this concentration of men who are worthy of you,” Ms. Patton, the divorced mother of two sons, wrote in a letter specifically aimed at Princeton’s female students. “Here’s what nobody is telling you: Find a husband on campus before you graduate.”
Trying my best to find something in her letter that will not make me want to fling crockery, I can say I like that Patton is empowering young women to value their intellect over their body image. It’s also good to tell a child of either sex to place value on intellectual connection above more transient, physical attractions.
After that I have to shake my head and walk away because Patton didn’t just twang the love and marriage chords, she set up an elitist paradigm that is at war with everything we believe about love and marriage.
It strikes down Disney princess and geekette alike.
The Disney version has a girl of humble but pretty origins marrying the man who owns the university, while the geekette script has the captain of the football team falling for the nerdy, unfashionable, smart girl. Both of these are Kizmet-based with nary a mention of anyone’s Mensa status.
In her letter, Patton references attending an event and how the “girls” of Princeton at the event took on “glazed looks” while they listened to academic issues discussed but changed dramatically into attentiveness when dishing about how to find the right mate. While this immediately explodes the perception of what an intellectual Princetonian woman might do, I am willing to roll with it.
To get intellectual on this issue I can say that college (at least undergraduate level) the statistics show marriage is happening post-graduation no matter where you meet your mate. According to the Census bureau in a 2013 online posting,the median age at first marriage in 2012 was 28.6 years for men and 26.6 years for women.
Before the princesses and geekettes become collateral damage, however, Patton’s letter lays waste to the love lives and apparently future happiness of any non-Ivy Leaguer while simultaneously bashing them as “unworthy.”
I don’t like the elitist side of the letter at all. My eldest son currently attends a state school because Ivy League isn’t affordable. However, having met many young women from Virginia Commonwealth University I can say the gene pool there is quite wealthy in intellectual young women and men. Anyone would be wise not to exclude them from the romantic running unless the plan is to breed a Princeton Tigers-only populace.
I’ll look on the bright side and hope that maybe Patton meant her letter to apply to any “intellectual” at any university.
After the letter made the lightning round of critics, Patton told The Huffington Post, “The extreme reaction to my letter is astonishing. Honestly, it was intended as little more than honest advice from a Jewish mother. And, yes, this is exactly the advice I would give my daughters.”
While Patton has no daughters, only sons, like me, I am not holding that against her. As a woman who has experienced marriage, divorce and Princeton (not necessarily in that order) she has some experience and possibly regret as a basis for her advice.
My advice to my sons after having read Patton’s opinions is that they should find someone who makes them happy. Fall in love, not with your eyes or ears, but with your nature and hers.
There are so many things in life that look good or bad on paper, and I can tell my sons that love is not something you can bind with ink and paper, or on a computer screen via ones and zeroes.
I have read and re-read the letter all morning and shared it with my spouse of 25 years. We met in college and married three months after my graduation.
We met when I was a college senior and he a recent graduate of the same institution, Monmouth College in New Jersey and instantly disliked each other. On paper, even after 25 years of marriage and four sons we don’t look like we’re possible or likely.
My father-in-law, God rest his soul, was so horrified when he heard we were to be married after knowing each other only three months bellowed, “Hell can be fun for three months!”
What’s the secret to 25 years of door slamming, heart hammering, crazy love?
Neither of us thinks we’re smarter than the other and we deeply appreciate the skill sets we each bring to the table that are non-degree or Mensa measurable.
He can repair anything and turn trash into treasure. He makes old bike wheels into giant pinwheels using colorful Duck Tape to ornament my garden. When he’s over-thinking life and getting angry I make him laugh at something totally absurd.
As the lisping Sid the Sloth tells Manny the mammoth in "Ice Age 2: The Melt Down" about Ellie the girl mammoth who drives him crazy, “She’s tons of fun and you’re no fun at all. She completes you.”
I tell my sons and anyone who’s interested, all it takes to live happily ever after is finding someone who is not your equal, but who helps you complete the sum.