Dear Princeton Mom, Stop Telling Me To Husband-Hunt
Hello, Susan Patton aka the endearingly self-named Princeton Mom. It has been far too long since you trolled young, single women with your font of knowledge under the guise of an older, wiser fairy godmother who only wants us to have a life of happiness earning our M.R.S. degrees.
Thankfully, Valentine’s Day is the perfect time for you to take to the pages of the Wall Street Journal to patronize us, slut-shame us, and put the entire blame on your supposed daughters for not being happily married. You write exactly like a woman who has not raised or loved a daughter, which you haven’t, as you have proudly extolled the virtues of your two sons who can have anybody.
You mock us for spending Valentine’s Day “ordering in sushi for one and mooning over ‘Downton Abbey’ reruns,” instead of…cooking duck à l’Orange for a Harvard MBA in nothing but La Perla underwear.
Based on your simple—and simplistic—advice, I actually do get the impression that’s exactly what you want us to do. As you write, “You should be spending far more time planning for your husband than for your career—and you should start doing so much sooner than you think.”
That’s right! I should be spending more hours on JDate and waiting by the elevators of Morgan Stanley or the Columbia Law library in a fetching dress and stilettos and less time in the office building a career that will sustain me financially and emotionally in the nightmare chance I don’t find a husband.
As you said in the original letter that brought you infamy and a book deal, “It’s amazing how forgiving men can be about a woman’s lack of erudition, if she is exceptionally pretty.” Indeed, it is, but why is that our fault? Why is the onus on smart women then to hustle and entice these men? Why don’t you start telling young men to change their values, instead of young women?
I hesitate to respond to the re-hashing of your antiquated guilt trip on women to get married. But, for some reason, I hope that since I fit the bill of the designated audience—single twentysomething women who went to elite universities—that you claim to be trying to guide, you will listen.
According to you, I have already missed the boat. I graduated from college without an engagement ring or even a boyfriend. As you write, college is “an environment teeming with like-minded, age-appropriate single men with whom you already share many things. You will never again have this concentration of exceptional men to choose from.”
Patton, I like that you assume all these college boys are as eager for relationships and marriages as you are. The “exceptional men” doing shots of Maker and grinding on anonymous girls at house parties are not always looking for a wife. That’s okay. Plenty of us women were enjoying the same behavior (clutch your pearls); it was fun.
Also, some of us—men and women—were studying our asses off because we loved learning and wanted to do well and to show our parents or professors why we were grateful to be in strong academic environments. As a result, we weren’t devoting as much thinking to dating and romance.
I apologize that I will not follow your advice of shuffling back to the supposed love nest of an Ivy League university for the sole purpose of finding a mate. I am sure—or at least, hoping—you meant it tongue-in-cheek when you wrote “if you fail to identify ‘the one’ while you’re in college, don’t worry—there’s always graduate school.” Yet, even as a joke, that is an insult to your education and the women who worked hard to make Princeton a co-ed institution.
For many, many good reasons, school is not an ideal time to shack up with your soul mate. It is wonderful if it happens. It did happen to a few of my friends. But most of us graduated from our respective elite universities without a ring, sometimes even without a single date with those eligible bachelors.
Both sexes could put a lot more effort into dating in college if they thought it was fruitful, so stop, stop placing the entire onus on women for not being engaged. It takes two to tango.
On that note, please, stop blaming women who enjoy casual sex. You write “Casual sex is irresistible to men, but the smart move is not to give it away. If you offer intimacy without commitment, the incentive to commit is eliminated. The grandmotherly message of yesterday is still true today: Men won’t buy the cow if the milk is free.”
Just as women shouldn’t be pressured to have sex just because a man wants to, a woman shouldn’t be judged for wanting to have sex. Unfortunately, even if we all act like good educated women without sex drives, getting a man to commit is not as simple as keeping our legs closed until we get a Tiffany’s box and a promise. People want to test their sexual compatibility before they move forward in our relationship. I don’t know if men won’t buy the cow if they can get the milk for free, but many man and women don’t want to buy a car until they test-drive it.
Again, this is a topic where you could be preaching to men about valuing women as sexual adults, but instead you are criticizing women for enjoying the same behavior you give your sons a free pass on.
I will agree with you on one thing. You write “There is nothing incongruous about educated, ambitious women wanting to be wives and mothers,” and I completely concur. I, and most—not all—of my female undergrad peers want to get married and have children. I know that my personal life will many times—if not the majority—provide greater fulfillment that my professional.
But finding someone to fall in love with cannot be as easily planned for as you think. Even if women followed all of your advice, dropped their careers, and flirted and primped away all day long, I am not convinced those eligible Ivy League bachelors would bite because there isn’t a science to falling in love. You can’t plan and schedule it the way you can a career.
In the areas we—men and women—have greater control over, from our careers and our friends to our travels, we can shape ourselves into adults that we are proud to be and will be proud to share with future romantic partners, or even just with ourselves.
I will not worry, as you suggest, that a man will view a high-paying career as a “form of emasculation” (though that is largely a non-issue for me as I pursue journalism).
I recognize that my male peers will “probably do very well for themselves.” Guess what? So, will my female colleagues, as well. Perhaps, my male classmates’ “desirability will only increase” because of their professional success. If the same doesn’t hold true for my female friends, then we should work to change that mentality rather than imply women should lower their ambitions to trap a man.
I appreciate that you’re trying to protect me and keep me from making the same mistakes you did, Ms. Patton. But, perhaps the problem wasn’t that you married the wrong, non-Princetonian man, but that you spent so much time thinking your life depended on Mr. Right. Besides, as you regularly remind us, you managed to get two sons into Princeton, so by your standards, things couldn’t have been that bad.