By now, you’ve probably heard about the letter from Princeton alumna Susan A. Patton (class of 1977). She wrote a now infamous letter to the editor for The Daily Princetonian titled “Advice for the young women of Princeton: the daughters I never had.”
“Forget about having it all, or not having it all, leaning in or leaning out — here’s what you really need to know that nobody is telling you,” she says.
She then goes on to say, “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.”
And then she drops the bomb, “Here’s what nobody is telling you: Find a husband on campus before you graduate. Yes, I went there.”
She uses the letter as an opportunity to tell the women of Princeton what she claims no one else is telling them — find a husband on campus before you graduate. The reason? She claims that once these women graduate they will never again be surrounded by the same caliber of men “worthy” of being with them.
“Smart women can’t (shouldn’t) marry men who aren’t at least their intellectual equal,” Patton advises. “As Princeton women, we have almost priced ourselves out of the market. Simply put, there is a very limited population of men who are as smart or smarter than we are. And I say again — you will never again be surrounded by this concentration of men who are worthy of you. Of course, once you graduate, you will meet men who are your intellectual equal — just not that many of them.”
On top of it all, if you are reading the letter and you’re already a college senior, according to Patton your chances of finding a potential husband on campus are even slimmer. Why? Because according to her, you shouldn’t date younger men! Yes, she actually says this– and she’s standing by what she says even after all the criticism.
“As freshman women, you have four classes of men to choose from. Every year, you lose the men in the senior class, and you become older than the class of incoming freshman men,” Patton writes. “So, by the time you are a senior, you basically have only the men in your own class to choose from, and frankly, they now have four classes of women to choose from. Maybe you should have been a little nicer to these guys when you were freshmen?”
It’s still difficult to believe that this is real. Is this 1950 or 2013? It bothers me that so much of the responsibility of this mission falls upon the women. Patton has two sons and she says quite frankly they can marry whomever they choose, no matter their age, and no matter their education and still be happy. For women, she says, this is not the case. The choices are limited and time is of the essence, she says, because the older you get the less choice there is and once you graduate, the pool becomes even shallower.
Marriage is likely the last thing on the mind of 18-24 year old men and men are not shamed for their lack of desire in finding a potential mate. Meanwhile, if a girl is successful, educated and single, she is looked at with pity or worry. Something must be “wrong” with her.
This whole conversation reminds me of the time I went to visit an aunt who lives down south that I hadn’t seen in a while. She is one of those aunt’s that is always super supportive of what I do, and is quick to rattle off all my accomplishments adding “and she’s pretty too” — to her statements. It’s as if she’s saying — ‘can you believe it, pretty and smart!?’ Then one day, we were in the car and she asks me “do you have a male friend?” I laughed, asking what she meant by “male friend”– she said a boyfriend. When I said no, she asked me if I wanted one or if I maybe went the ‘other way.’ I laughed again, but the funniest thing about that conversation was that she was serious. The fact that my focus as a young “pretty” girl is my career and not finding a husband means to society that something is ‘not right’ with me, not the other way around.
The responsibility always falls on the woman to find a man, think like a man and get a man. But the truth of the matter is when it comes to the science of love and mate selection, until a man is ready to settle down, nothing the woman does will make him change his mind. It’s rooted in the evolutionary theory of men’s main role as a provider. According to certain anthropological theories men are pretty much biologically incapable of settling down until they’ve acquired a certain amount of security in life. It’s not until they know who they are, and have become settled or at least on track within their careers that they can settle down. They need the assurance of knowing they can provide financially — even though his potential ‘mate’ might not need it. This trait stems from our ‘hunter gatherer’ roots and the instincts stemming from our primitive ancestors.
Demetria Lucas, dating & relationship expert and author, agrees that too much of the responsibility falls on women. In a response piece published by Clutch Magazine she says “You see, as much preaching as there is for hetero women or all colors to marry men, if the guys aren’t being prodded to start looking for wives in undergrad or at any other time, then this conversation is for naught. As many women would like to force men into marriage (or any other commitment), they can’t. They, you know, have to want it to.”
Following the release of the letter, Patton’s story becomes a bit more clear in a few follow up interviews. She was married (to a non Princeton grad) and the relationship ended in divorce. Maureen O’Connor spoke with Susan A. Patton for an interview in NY Mag’s The Cut.
“He went to a school of almost no name recognition. A school that nobody has respect for, including him, really.”
She believes if she had married a Princeton man, she would still be married, and her husband’s less elite educational background created tension in their relationship.
“I’m not suggesting everyone marry at 22,” she told NY Mag. “But take a good look around at the men you meet at Princeton, because these are amazing men. These are the kinds of guys you want to spend your life with, raise a family with.”
She says the reaction to her letter is surprising to her. “Honestly, I just thought this was some good advice from a Jewish mother. It’s not that I’m anti-feminist… I’m just saying, if as a young (Princeton) woman, you are thinking that you would like to have not just professional success but personal success as part of your life happiness, keep an open mind to the men that you’re surrounded with now. Because these are the best guys. You’ll meet wonderful men outside of Princeton, but you’ll never have the numbers in your favor the way you do now.”
Patton tells The Princetonian in a follow up interview, “The truth of the matter is, work-life balance means it’s not just work,” Patton said. “All I’m saying is to look around now because if you invest the first 10 years after college doing nothing but developing your career, you find yourself in your early 30s with a wonderful career and nothing to balance it with.”
Patton’s letter has certainly leaned the conversation about women and career in a different direction than Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook. Her letter serves as yet another attack on millennial women who are continuing to prioritize their careers over their love lives. Millennial women are not against finding love while building a career, but they are against sacrificing who they are and who they want to be in exchange for the title of MRS. When society produces men who can handle ambitious, educated and career driven young women, perhaps then you’ll see less single ladies who choose a career over a boy. Why? Not because they chose one over the other, but because they can finally have both.