I have been following the kerfuffle over Susan Patton’s letter in the Daily Princetonian, in which the former Princeton grad and mom to two Princeton-educated sons advises Princeton women to nab a hubby on campus before they graduate:
“Princeton women, we have almost priced ourselves out of the market … you will never again be surrounded by this concentration of men who are worthy of you.”
Needless to say, it caught the attention of everyone from the Huffington Post to the Daily Beast to MSN to a bazillion bloggers. After everybody and their mother went ballistic, Patton tried to defend herself:
I sincerely feel that too much focus has been placed on encouraging young women only to achieve professionally. I understand that this can be seen as retrogressive, but for those women who aspire to what used to be thought of as a traditional life with home and family, there is almost no ink addressing personal fulfillment outside of the workplace. Specifically, finding lifelong friends and the right partner with whom to share a life and raise a family.
Again, I understand that all women don’t want marriage (to men or other women) and or children, but for those that do, identifying the right partner is critical. One of the criteria by which I am defining the right partner is someone with shared educational and intellectual appreciation. Yes, that can be found after college and outside of Princeton, but the concentration of outstanding men (and women) will never be greater than it is as a student. I wanted to encourage the wonderful young women on Princeton’s campus to take advantage of this while they can. From a sheer numbers perspective, the odds will never be as good again.
Is she wrong? In some ways, yes. Looking for your intellectual equal doesn’t mean he has to have a degree from Princeton — or even a degree at all. There are many smart and successful people who never went to college or who dropped out, Bill Gates and Richard Branson among them. OK, very few of us are a Gates or a Branson. But there are many smart men who went to a community college or a state college or a trade school who would make nice husbands, if someone were so inclined.
But is she wrong in other things? Not really. Not in “defining the right partner is someone with shared educational and intellectual appreciation.” I wouldn’t say that’s the only criteria in a choosing a right partner, but it’s part of a healthy mix, especially if you plan to have kids.
Is she wrong that “the concentration of outstanding men (and women) will never be greater than it is as a student. … From a sheer numbers perspective, the odds will never be as good again”? Not really. If you’d like to marry one day and especially if you’d like to marry and have kids one day, it ain’t all the easy finding someone in your 30s and beyond, as many others have noted from Lori Gottlieb to Penelope Trunk to Juliet Jeske to Kate Bolick. We may not want to hear it, but men in their 30s who are interested in marrying skew younger, just as Patton indicates.
Which leads me back to Bolick’s article, “All the Single Ladies,” in which laments the realities of her age:
I am fully aware that with each passing year, I become less attractive to the men in my peer group, who have plenty of younger, more fertile women to pick from. But what can I possibly do about that? Sure, my stance here could be read as a feint, or even self-deception. By blithely deeming biology a nonissue, I’m conveniently removing myself from arguably the most significant decision a woman has to make.
That “most significant decision a woman has to make” is an important one, and one that can’t be easily shoved aside assuming IVF or adoption will be easy, available and successful. Although she she didn’t express it that way, it sure seems to me that this is part of Patton’s Princeton plea: if you want to have kids, you have a limited window of opportunity.
But here’s where Patton and Bolick aren’t so far apart in what they see. As Bolick writes:
American women as a whole have never been confronted with such a radically shrinking pool of what are traditionally considered to be “marriageable” men—those who are better educated and earn more than they do. So women are now contending with what we might call the new scarcity. Even as women have seen their range of options broaden in recent years—for instance, expanding the kind of men it’s culturally acceptable to be with, and making it okay not to marry at all—the new scarcity disrupts what economists call the “marriage market” in a way that in fact narrows the available choices, making a good man harder to find than ever. At the rate things are going, the next generation’s pool of good men will be significantly smaller. What does this portend for the future of the American family?
Bolick is worried about “marriageable” men, and defines those men as those “who are better educated and earn more than” women. Read that again — the men to marry are better educated and make more money than the ladies.
And there’s the problem right there. Oh, not that women are facing a shrinking pool of marriageable men, but that she — and society — is still defining men by how much they make and how smarter they are than their wives, a very 1950s, “Mad Men,” retro and misguided way to think.
For all our talk about being equal partners, and marrying men who will think outside the marital box, like men who want to stay home with the kids, we still expect men to be the breadwinners. Not only women, but men expect it, too. And until that thinking changes, advice-doling “Jewish mommas” like Patton aren’t really lying. We may not like the message, but in many ways she’s speaking the truth.
- Should men and women look for a spouse in college?
- Should a husband be better educated and make more money than his wife?
- Is it harder, easier or the same to meet someone who’s good “marriage material” once you’ve left college?