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Don't Leave School Without a Husband!

Vivia Chen

April 2, 2013

Every_Girl_Should_Be_Married_FilmPosterMy, my, my. Those Princeton women are at it again. Just a few months ago I wrote about a Princeton student named Molly who harbored the secret ambition to be a housewife after graduation. I was pretty hard on her. I thought she was taking women's struggles for granted and making a mockery of feminism.

Well, lo and behold, a Princeton woman from the golden age of feminism is now speaking up. And her message to all you bright young women is this:

Forget about having it all, or not having it all, leaning in or leaning out—here’s what you really need to know . . .

Here’s what nobody is telling you: Find a husband on campus before you graduate.

That "nab a hubby before it's too late!" message was delivered by Susan Patton '77 in a letter to The Daily Princetonian. Patton, who's a career coach, apparently first dispensed that wisdom at (of all places) a women's leadership conference at her alma mater. Well, that certainly beats the tired advice about networking!

Why the rush to find a husband in college? Patton says it's because "you will never again have this concentration of men who are worthy of you." Exquisitely educated women "can’t (shouldn’t) marry men who aren’t at least their intellectual equal," writes Patton. The pickings are slim for bright women, says Patton, while men have loads of choices:

Men regularly marry women who are younger, less intelligent, less educated. It’s amazing how forgiving men can be about a woman’s lack of erudition, if she is exceptionally pretty.

Plus, warns Patton, women have to be mindful of their ever-shrinking shelf lives:

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. 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?

For those who think that Patton was part of an extended April Fool's Day joke, she assures us in a follow-up article in The Huffington Post that she's totally serious. She writes that her words are "honest advice from a Jewish mother," and "exactly the advice I would give my daughters." Divorced from a man who went to a college of "almost no name recognition," Patton also voices regret that she did not marry a fellow Princetonian.

It's easy to make fun of Patton because she's so earnest about getting an MRS. But I know where she's coming from. It's not an explicit goal (except in Texas, where I grew up), but women are conditioned to scout for husbands early in the game. When I was in college (not Princeton, but respectable, nonetheless), I remember girls who zeroed in on guys who seemed steady and driven—ones who would be solid husbands and good providers. Some of these women succeeded in closing the deal and gleefully timed their weddings with graduation—which, in my book, is very uncool.

The upshot? A lot of those idyllic romances brewed during cold New England winters flamed out. Fact is, it's not always easy to make the transition from a college relationship into adulthood. People grow up and grow apart.

So as much as Patton keeps insisting that she's giving young women today the honest lowdown about life's priorities, she's just feeding a fantasy of her own. Even if she had married a classmate, is there any guarantee she'd be married to him today? Her Princeton prince might still have dumped her for one those "younger, less intelligent, less educated" pretty things.

So girls, don't drive yourself crazy if you're facing graduation without a husband in the works. There's still time. Golly, isn't that what law school is for?

Do you have topics you'd like to discuss or tips to share? Email chief blogger Vivia Chen at [email protected]

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I resonated quite a bit with this bit from the original piece "You asked about the value of our friendship, about our husbands and children. Clearly, you don’t want any more career advice. At your core, you know that there are other things that you need that nobody is addressing."

There wasn't a peep about how future family considerations might impact career choice in the business school I attended. Maybe that's a place for parents to provide guidance. Still, interesting.

I love the Margaret Mead quote above and have unknowingly lived by it. I think that Ms. Patton may have been intentionally provocative to gain some good press. That being said, I agree with the sentiment. Women should think early on about the kind of life they'd like to lead. If marriage is a desire, they need to be open to it and create opportunities to meet eligible bachelors. What is eligible varies by the person. However, unless you know your personal standards you have no idea what eligible even looks like. There are lots of hairdressers and girls in Community College seeking to marry Princeton men too. So, there's nothing wrong with setting ones sights on one, especially if they're a classmate. That being said, marrying young is ill advised for most. I married right out of college to a very fine man who attended a respectable school. While my college was ranked higher, our eventual divorce had more to do with our growing up and growing apart than it did with anything else. Not to sound trite, but I think that following your heart is much better advice than girls, be sure not to marry down like I did.

The outrage over common sense is misplaced. All persons (of either gender) have a better chance of finding like-minded folks with which they have much in common from the large pool of available candidates at a college.

So, if you think you would like to be married, it has nothing to do with the "support yourself" fixation, and everything to do with taking a conscious step to assure your own happiness.

I would like to point out one thing to Eileen. Being happily married and supporting oneself are not mutually exclusive traits.

I endorse Margaret Mead's notion that we need different partners for different times in our lives. As we age, intelligence and status matter less than wisdom.

This is so revolting it's hard to believe. Thank god when I sent the article to my college sophomore daughter at another Ivy, she was equally revolted. My husband, by the way, is a Princeton grad, whom I met in the workforce in my 40s. My advice to all young woman, support yourself. You never know where life will take you and you sure as hell can't rely on a man to take you there. So take that, Patton.

The preliminary question is how important is getting married to the woman. When marriage is a personal goal (it was never one of mine, and am happily married for 35 years), strategy advice matters, and thoughtful advice has its virtues. When college age and capable of one's own career success, I like to think bonding with a mate has little strategy. I may well be wrong for the women to whom such advice is given.

The final word is that while her advice is not iron clad, I'm sure there's a higher probability in following her advice than if you weren't to try at all (you miss 100% of the shots you don't take).

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About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: [email protected]

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