In 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