Pricing myself out of the market…or not

297821451_b761e9128e_mIn the ongoing debate over women’s life choices, one biological fact is not disputed. For most women, it is easier to get pregnant in your 20s and early 30s than in your late 30s or early 40s. This time line doesn’t mesh well with certain aspects of modern life. The age of first marriage for women has risen into the late 20s, and tends to be later for women with bachelors’ and professional degrees. While it is entirely possible to have and raise children without a partner, most people retain a fondness for the traditional order of things.

So what to do about all this? For some, the answer is to tell women to start the mate hunt young. Very young. The latest missive in this genre is a letter in the Daily Princetonian (Princeton’s student newspaper) from Susan Patton (class of ’77) called “Advice for the young women of Princeton: the daughters I never had.” Patton calls for female Princetonians to find a husband before graduation. And to do that? You should start the hunt freshman year.

“As Princeton women, we have almost priced ourselves out of the market,” she warns, adding that “you will never again be surrounded by this concentration of men who are worthy of you.”

And you should definitely be focused in that hunt because, let’s face it, Princeton guys have their pick of women beyond Princeton. Princeton ladies, on the other hand, risk sending men from elsewhere scurrying by dropping the P-bomb. Writes Patton, “My younger son is a junior and the universe of women he can marry is limitless.”

(The Daily Princetonian site has been crashed for days, so unfortunately, I can’t link you directly to the letter; here’s a piece at the HuffPo about the kerfuffle. Also, for fun, here’s an IvyGate profile of Patton’s son.)

I assume Patton’s heart is in the right place, and this article at The Daily Beast by Eveline Chao gives a bit more context. Patton’s parents survived concentration camps, and wanted her to marry a butcher because then there would always be meat on the table. She applied to Princeton as an emancipated minor, paid for it herself, married a non-Princeton guy but went through a “horrible” divorce recently in which she felt her Princeton education was somewhat held against her. As she told Chao of Princetonians, “These are the guys who will never be resentful of your Princeton education. They’ll value it, they’ll applaud it, they’ll come back to reunions with you without making a face.” Her advice, she says, was offered as a “nice Jewish mother.”

So I won’t be criticizing Patton personally, as some people have unfortunately done. However, as someone who survived the Princeton undergraduate dating scene, I think there are certain practical problems in hunting for a husband there at age 18. Many of the young Princeton men I went to school with turned out to be lovely people (I know women who married them!) but for many of us, the late teen years are not necessarily the most inspiring. A friend recounts a gentleman inviting her back to his room by telling her he had a sandwich from the Wawa there. Maybe he thought she’d be hungry.  

We all grow up, often quickly after graduation when there are bills to pay and jobs to wake up for. But as men’s age of first marriage creeps up too — perilously close to 30 — one’s classmates still might not be the right pool for finding a match if you want to get married young enough to avoid the ovarian cliff. After all, if your classmates aren’t ready to get married until 30, then you’d be 30 too. And that compresses the timeline a lot.

A number of people have commented on the anti-feminist nature of Patton’s letter, but there’s plenty that’s insulting to men in here too. Like the insinuation that only at Princeton can a Princeton woman find a good crop of her intellectual equals. Plenty of Princeton women and men attend graduate schools that feature smart people who were educated elsewhere. Sometimes even at state schools! My senior year it seemed everyone was getting jobs at banking and consulting firms. I assume many of these companies — which pride themselves on rigorous recruiting — also offered a lot of mate choices. And then there’s the internet, with its myriad ways of allowing you to sort potential dates by, say, interest in astrophysics.

I wound up meeting my husband through a friend who was working at one of those elite consulting firms. He didn’t go to Princeton (he’s an Aggie), though judging by the number of Ivy League sorts who work for him, I don’t think he finds my degree intimidating. But best from a practical perspective is this: unlike my classmates, he’s 10 years older than me. Back in 2003, at age 34 going on 35, he was looking to settle down. There was no dithering. He introduced me to his parents on our third date. He’s come back to reunions without making a face — a great many now, since I got married shortly after my third reunion, which turned out to be a good enough time line for having my third kid at age 32. I think that’s something even a “nice Jewish mother” like Patton would approve of.

Did you meet your spouse in college?

In other, completely unrelated news: My project on blended and digital learning has just been published by the Philanthropy Roundtable this week. You can download the free, short book (or individual chapters) here.

Photo courtesy flickr user base2wave

35 thoughts on “Pricing myself out of the market…or not

  1. I met my spouse in high school! Funny thing is I always thought I’d meet my husband in college. I guess I just bumped into him a couple of years early.

    College can be a good place for meeting good friends and future spouses because of the concentration of people in your age range/educational level, but you can’t force it. All you can do is to remain open to the concept/idea, and if you meet someone great, then great. But if you don’t, it’s ridiculous to think that you have bypassed your one good chance to couple off. What about graduate school? What about friends of friends later in life? What about college reunions and alumni retreats?

    And seriously, why is this letter only aimed at women?

  2. We went to the same college but met through mutual friends AFTER college. For the reasons you mentioned, we would not have been impressed with one another in college 🙂

  3. Seems that in order to “find” a husband, one has to first find men who want to be married. College “boys” (men, I guess) don’t typically seem to want to be married. I guess that can vary by geography and religious affiliation, since I know some conservative Christians and Mormons tend to marry earlier than the general population. Sometimes that works well; sometimes it doesn’t. I was raised in a very conservative religious home/community, and more than half of the people I grew up with are now on their 2nd marriages, with a divorce occurring in the early-mid 20s and the second marriage happening in the late 20s. We were all taught the “divorce is wrong in all circumstances” thing (which I find problematic but that’s a different story), so the number of divorces is surprising to me. Most people seem to have gone to have (apparently happy) 2nd marriages, so hopefully it’s all worked out for them, but it was really surprising.

    It was also hard to feel “left out” when I did not marry in my early 20s. In fact, I didn’t marry until two weeks before my 30th birthday (to a man four years older than me). We don’t have children yet, and I do wonder/worry sometimes that I’m too old (or if my eggs think I’m too old, anyway).

    I guess I have a hard time reconciling the idea of the boys/men I knew in college with marriage. Granted, I went to a local state school, not even close to an Ivy League, but I just don’t see the typical 22 year old man wanting to marry and get started on the baby making. I know there are exceptions, but in general, I’m just having trouble wrapping my head around that idea. I don’t know if it’s social conditioning, male privilege (since some men seem to think they’ll be attractive to all women forever), the economy or what, but in my experience men just aren’t ready for a mature relationship until at least their mid-twenties, if not later.

    1. @Pamela – interesting that the second marriages, started in the late 20s, turned out to be the right ones. Maybe we do just mature enough to make decisions by then that we can’t at 21. The problem for religious communities, of course, is that most people don’t want to wait to have sex until age 27.

      1. I think sex was a big factor in the early (wrong) marriages. At some of those weddings, a huge deal was made about the virginity of the bride and/or groom. I do think it’s interesting that the very teachings that were supposed to protect us from making bad decisions led (in my opinion) to people rushing to the alter just for the sex. Sad really.

        (I should add that I think people should make the sexual decisions that are best for them, and if that’s abstinance until marriage, that’s their business. However, when your virginity is the thing your community values about you the most, it skews your view of relationships and marriage, and that’s not healthy, in my opinion)

        1. @Pamela- this is an interesting thought experiment — and definitely part of the changing ways we view marriage.

  4. I just was not ready to marry when I was an undergraduate so I can’t believe I could have made a good choice in a husband.

  5. I did meet my husband in college. I still didn’t get married until my late 30s and had my first (and only) child the year I turned 40.

    We were both pretty immature then, and I was not the least bit interested in him – partly because he did not meet some of the standards I thought were important at 18, some of which were very superficial. By the time we got back in touch, 15 years after I graduated (he was one year ahead of me), not only had I matured and had better expectations of adult relationships, he had also matured and was more attractive in other respects (less arrogant than in his college days, for starters, which I think is fairly common).

    I think it would have been disastrous for me, personally, to try and follow Ms. Patton’s advice. I was a later bloomer in many respects, and while it would have been nice to marry and start a family sooner than I did, I don’t think I would have been ready any earlier than, say, 28 or 29. Certainly any choice of spouse I made back in my late teen years would have been unlikely to be wise.

  6. Also high school. He’s a month younger than I am. I dated a lot of losers in college. On top of that, in the US college is majority female now, so only women at ‘tech schools have an advantage if we’re just looking at one’s own school as a potential dating pool. (And there’s that phd comic: The odds are good, but the goods are odd.)
    You’re the first Princeton grad I’ve met (though maybe virtually doesn’t count) who it has taken a year to find out from you that you’re a Princeton grad! Do you also grocery shop or work out in your orange and black like my colleagues here do? (That’s a lot of reunions! I think our school just has 5, 10, 20 etc.) Aggies also have that same kind of school spirit… they seem to be the Princeton of public schools. My undergrad has school spirit but ours is more subtle.

    1. @NicoleandMaggie – the Princeton of public schools. I think he’ll like that. But yes, they have a lot of school spirit too. We do have a full complement of Princeton and Aggie shirts for our children, though the Aggie ones are refreshed more regularly, as my mother-in-law also worked there for years. I’ve never thought that orange was a particularly flattering color on me, so I have tended toward more muted Princeton paraphernalia. I have a nice gray work out shirt that has subtle orange flecks.

      1. We have some hand-me-down Aggie baby clothing too (also a very cute blanket)– one of our returning students gifted me with all his daughters’ baby stuff. (We also have a number of other schools from when everybody was getting rid of their baby stuff when I had DC1– that’s what happens when you’re an academic, I guess.) DC2 looks pretty good in Maroon. But even better in Northwestern purple. (Today she’s wearing green of some school I’ve never heard of in Louisiana.) Many other schools have also been represented in t-shirt and onsie form, from community colleges to ivy league universities. And my MIL had matching onsie/shirts made that have my husband’s last name followed by University. (Also Husband’slastname Hunting Camp.)
        I’m rambling… Obviously I am not finding this article I’m supposed to be reading for work to be compelling.
        But, come to think of it, none from my alma mater. I wonder if I should fix that. The problem with going to a SLAC is that sometimes one doesn’t like the limited choices in alumni apparel.

        1. @NicoleandMaggie- the internet is a beautiful place when one does not find the work one is supposed to be doing compelling…

  7. Well, no, I’m not married. One doesn’t, of course, need to have a husband to have a child.

    I have two (children, that is), as a single mother by choice. And I started trying to conceive in my 20s. Not easy, but it’s certainly worked out. I’m now 40 and still uninterested in having a husband. A live-in housekeeper might be nice, though.

    1. @gwinne – A live-in housekeeper does sound nice! Certainly, one doesn’t need a husband to have a child. I think most young women would still consider that their first choice, but it is interesting to see the trends play out as single motherhood becomes much more culturally acceptable.

  8. I met my husband at my first job after graduate school. So quite late, by the letter writer’s standards! I had a couple boyfriends in college (University of Chicago, so while men outnumbered the women 3:2, we were all incredibly geeky and not so good at the dating thing), and had a serious boyfriend in graduate school. I thought the grad school relationship was heading toward marriage but it ended painfully instead… and then I met my now husband. He is 3 years younger than me but says he knew when he met me that he wanted to marry me. He is also the one who first talked about kids- my previous boyfriend hadn’t wanted them and I’d convinced myself I was OK with that. I probably would have been OK with that, but I’m glad I have kids now.
    I think the diversity of the responses shows the dangers in generalizing on this topic. I’m sure there IS research that gives the average, but the outliers can be delightful!

  9. I met my husband on the internet, back in the 1990’s before it was as common as it is now. As a Princeton alumna, I also regard myself as more of a “survivor” than connoisseur of the Princeton dating scene. I think that had a lot to do with the 2:1 male/female ratio back when I was there. Neither men nor women are at their best when the ratio is that skewed.

    When I read Patton’s letter I had an unpleasant flashback to a silly Newsweek article that was published while I was an undergraduate that said that an educated woman over 30 was more likely to be killed by a terrorist than get married. This letter seemed like more of the same kind of fear-mongering. It made many of the same assumptions that Patton does, that women should marry someone older and “smarter,” for example. After I got married at age 31, instead of getting killed by a terrorist, I wished I could have gone back and reassured my 21-year-old self that it was going to be okay.

    I think it’s interesting that you’re pointing out that one’s husband doesn’t have to be the same age–you can widen the pool by considering people outside 1 or 2-year radius, and that’s maybe a way to avoid the whole problem. I’d agree with the basic principle, but my experience has been quite different, in that my husband is 4 years younger than I am. I dated several older men–7, 8, or 9 years older–before meeting my husband, and I couldn’t quite put my finger on what wasn’t working. When I finally did meet my husband, I realized that my having been hung up on dating someone older than me had been a real problem. As a Gen-Xer, I was just getting tired of all the Boomer cultural references that just didn’t resonate. Like, I wasn’t born yet when Kennedy was shot. And I didn’t spend the rest of the 1960’s at Woodstock, I spent them at nursery school.

    The funniest thing was that when we were married, everyone thought he was older than me, and they still do, 15 years later.

    1. @Karen- I am glad that your 31st year featured wedding bells and not a terrorist attack. Yes, how horribly silly an article, yet it clearly stuck with people for years. Thanks to the internet, we now have some interesting data on what people are seeking in mates. I remember interviewing someone from one major dating site a few years ago and he found that when you looked at people willing to consider someone much younger, women weren’t under-represented in this group.

  10. I’m glad you wrote about this. When I saw an interview with that mom on CNN, my reaction was, “Well, yes, there’s the woman’s biological clock, but is it really wise to tell people to marry at 22?” I would think that Princeton grads are more ambitious and career-focused than the general population. But it seems to me that marriage requires some self-knowledge (where you want to live, how many kids you want to have, how important faith is to you, etc.) that even the best college education can’t give you. More life experience may be required for some college students to make that important decision. And I agree with you–there are non-Princeton men who would date a Princeton woman.

  11. I know many people of “unequal” educations that are happy. Obviously if the man is threatened by the woman’s intellect, that doesn’t work. If I had married that young, my choice of mate would have been very different.
    Truthfully the best advice for younger woman who want to marry by late 20s and have kids is to find an older man. I find that most of my male friends/colleagues are not ready for kids in their 20s!

    1. #2 on our blog’s partner dropped out of school to become a computer programmer. She has a PhD. It seems to be working just fine! (They’re also high school sweethearts.)

    2. My husband and I are like that. He never finished college the first time around (he’s now working on that), and I have a Ph.D. We’re quite happy.

  12. My hubby of all people told me about that article/letter. We met in college but didn’t start dating until about 5 years after graduation, and got married just before I turned 30 (days before!).

    If I had married the guy I dated in college, I’d be divorced by now for sure. So I’m not sure husband-hunting at 20 is a great idea unless you’re prepared for the possibility that it’s a “starter marriage”. (wasn’t there a book about this?)

  13. I didn’t find Princeton to be much of a marriage incubator–if I had $5 for every time someone told me that boys in my class thought I was intimidating I could have hired a professional actor to take me to Houseparties. After college I met my (non-Princeton) husband and when he turned out to be mature and funny AND didn’t flee when I dropped the P-bomb, I figured lightening might not strike twice. I do miss not being able to reminisce about college and I don’t often attend alumni events, but I don’t think Reunions requires a date if one has good friends around.

    And I don’t fault Patton for her motherly pride. Don’t most moms think their kids are awesome? I think any girl would be lucky to wind up with my little boy, even if she would have to wait 20 years for him to be grown up and who knows where he’ll go to school. 🙂

    1. @Alanna – ah, yes, the *point* of college. To, you know, learn something. Funny how that gets lost both in the credentialism mindset and in thinking about finding a spouse.

  14. I met my husband at the law firm where we were both working at the time. I had finished law school, he was working as a case manager. I came from Utah, where all my friends had married and even had children by the age of 26 and I felt like a genetic freak for not finding a mate. I think it is unrealistic to put a time frame on anyone else’s life. I wasn’t ready and I hadn’t found the right person in my early 20’s. My friends had. I didn’t have kids until my 30s and some of my friends have high schoolers at the same age. There are benefits and drawbacks no matter how you do it. I think the real thing to remember is that you shouldn’t panic if your life doesn’t fit someone else’s model. Your own timeline is there for you to discover. While I appreciate Patton’s advice, I respectfully disagree and would even invoke Tim Kreider’s advice here:

    One of the hardest things to look at is the life we didn’t lead, the path not taken, potential left unfulfilled. In stories, those who look back – Lot’s wife, Eurydice – are irrevocably lost. Looking to the side instead, to gauge how our companions are faring, is a way of glancing at a safer reflection of what we cannot directly bear, like Perseus seeing the Gorgon safely mirrored in his shield. It’s the closest we can get to a glimpse of the parallel universe in which we didn’t ruin the relationship years ago, or got that job we applied for, or made that plan at the last minute. So it’s tempting to read other people’s lives as cautionary fables or repudiations of our own, to covet or denigrate them instead of seeing them for what they are: other people’s lives, island universes, unknowable.

  15. I met my husband the summer after undergrad. I”m a scientist, he’s in sales. He didn’t go to college, I have a Ph.D. from an Ivy. In grad school, I countered many a comment about my non-scientist mate. His strengths are my weaknesses and vice versa. He has taught me so much about negotiation and reading people that I may not have learned otherwise.

    If I had geared up to find my husband in college, I would have missed the love of my life.

  16. I was hoping to meet my future husband in college, but that didn’t happen. I had a serious boyfriend in high school and long distance through the first year of college, but I realized he wasn’t right for me. Then I didn’t date at all for the rest of college (not for lack of trying). I agree that college is not the best time to meet your potential partner. In addition to immaturity and other reasons mentioned, there is also this cultural attitude that college is when young people can go crazy. I think boys/men in particular think it’s their time to go crazy and party and “sow their wild oats.”

    I met my husband while I was in graduate school, and he was six years older than me. We dated for two years, he proposed, we got married a year and a half later, and a year and a half after that we got divorced. I want children and he decided he did not. I was very clear with him before we got married that I wanted children; he said he would be fine with kids and changed his mind after we got married. It is interesting to note that I have a master’s degree and my ex has a bachelor’s–it didn’t matter to me but in small ways it did to him, even though he still made more money than I did.

    I think with some men there is also a bit of the Peter Pan syndrome–they don’t want to grow up and deal with life. I would argue that part of the reason that marriage occurs later is because men aren’t proposing before their mid twenties (and usually much later).

    The thing I found really frustrating about this letter is that it makes it sound like women aren’t trying to build a life and find a partner. Again, for most women it’s not for lack of trying. I was living my own life but still trying to find someone to share my life with. Now I am doing the same thing all over again, except now I’m 27, not 22. I have decided that I will have kids on my own in the next few years if I don’t meet someone. It’s not ideal because I know having kids can be a lot of work, and of course it can be expensive (and I’m a public librarian–no bonuses or raises for me), but I’m not willing to give up one of my life’s dreams because I can’t find someone, or because guys my age (or even older) can’t get their sh** together.

  17. Ms. Patton was right about me! I first met my DH during my junior year/his senior year – we attended the same college. He’s a year younger than me, but was a year ahead of me in school. We were always in the same large group of friends, and had maybe a handful of conversations during college, but we were always dating other people. Three years after I graduated from undergrad we ran into each other in a bar, quickly determined we were both unattached, and hooked up that night in my apartment. I thought it was just a one night stand, but he called the next morning and never stopped calling. Apparently he had a crush on me for years. We got engaged 6 months later.

  18. Yes, I did meet my spouse in college, my sophomore year. I was 18, he was 19. I’d never had a boyfriend before that. We started dating a few months later, when I was 19 and he was a few days shy of 20. We got engaged about a week after I graduated, at 22, and married six months after that. But we only had our first child recently, for financial reasons. She was born a week before my 30th birthday.

    I certainly wouldn’t recommend my path to everyone, but it’s worked well for us, and (a similar path) for some of my friends, too. I think there were some things that made us a little more mature for our ages, in some respects at least. He had been homeschooled, and then started college early, so even though he was only a year ahead of me and took long enough in college that he didn’t graduate early, he’d kind of gotten some of his “crazy” out already. For myself, my parents were a little bit neglectful, and while that obviously hurt me in some ways, it grew me up faster in others, too. The “freedom” my classmates celebrated didn’t mean much to me. All-nighters? No thank you, been there, done that.

  19. I met my EX HUSBAND in college. So yeah, marrying the one I met in college obviously didn’t work out…

    I think the problem is that women expect the goofy guys that were just in high school a few months prior to be well…men, I guess. But just because these guys have been out of high school for 3 months does not make most of them mate material (at least, not for awhile).

    My ex was out of high school for less than 2 years when I met him and was really immature (although I was a bit, too). And I expected that to fade with age (like mine) but it didn’t. I think that most of us need a few years after graduation to mature a bit (like a fine wine) before we can commit to anything (this includes careers, marriage, kids, etc). Therefore I highly recommend delaying marriage until at least age 25.

    I have since remarried. I love my husband, but I don’t know if I would have appreciated as much at ages 18-22. I thought I wanted the computer programmer type of guy, but obviously that did not work out for me. I was almost 29 before I realized that I needed someone whose strengths are my weaknesses and vice versa.

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