Most people wax nostalgic when you ask them about their college days, but Susan Patton took it one step further and published a letter in The Daily Princetonian, forty years later, advising female undergrads to waste no time shopping for a husband. Since then, she’s taken a lot of heat for what she calls just some “motherly advice.” I get what she’s saying – it’s easier to meet and date in college because you’re all trapped in one place. In the resulting backlash from the article, a lot of people have already said that 22 is too young to get married, and that college is for learning, not dating. I want to add, however, that not every woman is hell-bent on getting married.
Patton must be in her sixties now, so perhaps she is feeling lonely, or anxious that her daughter should get married as to avoid years of painful searching for a mate. But from where I sit, if I had married a fellow student, I would have missed out on ten years of loneliness – but also ten years of FUN. I wouldn’t change my 20s for anything. Now that I’m married, it’s the memories of all that fun that keep me going!
The other thing that struck me about Patton’s piece is that she attended Princeton when just a handful of women matriculated. When I was a student, the ration of men to women was still 2:1. Now at first I thought that was a boon – I’d have tons of guys competing for me. But it doesn’t work that way. 18 year old boys are chronically insecure, so faced with those odds, and the grueling schoolwork, they tended to prefer getting drunk with their buddies on their off time. Sometimes they’d take road trips to find girls at another college. Of course there was dating, but mostly there were hookups, which I think is pretty typical of young men and women.
Patton says that women will never have such a great, smart pool of men to choose from in later life. But isn’t marrying a smart guy – assuming you want to get married – just one part of the equation? When I was in my 20s, I dated a very smart guy. He was a writer, like I am, and very competitive. He also wasn’t very nice. I remember an older woman, my boss at the time, told me, “There are a lot of smart guys out there. Find a nice one. That’s a lot harder.” Smartness started to fall a little lower down the list when living together. Sharing chores, equality, kindness, compatibility all came into play, and eventually degraded smart from pole position. I still think intelligence is important, but not at the cost of everything else.
I would revise Patton’s article to say keep in touch with classmates – they might come in handy later. Also, the most challenging part of finding a mate for me was not just finding someone smart, but more importantly, finding someone who wasn’t intimidated by my intelligence. Turns out, even smart guys don’t always want smart girls. Find a mate that likes it that you’re smart, and wants you to succeed instead of tear you down.
And if you happen to find him/her in college – great. Two of my closest friends found life-long matea at Princeton. One started dating while they were seniors; the other, a few years after graduation. Both couples have been married over ten years and from the outside at least have successful relationships. I guess that’s nice. But it also seems boring.