On Finding a Husband

As a female, a Princeton grad, and former editorial Chairman of The Daily Princetonian, I have observed with fascination the brouhaha surrounding the publication of a letter by Susan Patton ’77 in the Prince.

Here is the text of the letter.  Here is the excerpt creating all the controversy: 

When I was an undergraduate in the mid-seventies, the 200 pioneer women in my class would talk about navigating the virile plains of Princeton as a precursor to professional success. Never being one to shy away from expressing an unpopular opinion, I said that I wanted to get married and have children. It was seen as heresy.

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.

Here’s what nobody is telling you: Find a husband on campus before you graduate. Yes, I went there.

Predictably, the feminists went wild. Jill Dolan, Princeton’s Director of the Program in Gender and Sexuality Studies, wrote in with a rebuttal. Gawker chimed in with a predictably nasty piece. The Huffington Post’s Women’s Editor, Margaret Wheeler Johnson, posted an attack on the Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto, who had the audacity (and good sense) to point out the merits of Ms. Patton’s advice. 

So what has the feminists so exercised? Contrary to the claims of some of her critics, Ms. Patton never says the only reason for women to come to Princeton is to find husbands. She simply observes that many of the intelligent women there will never have such a large supply of intelligent potential mates from which to choose. If women care more than men about marrying someone who is an intellectual equal or superior, this is certainly an important consideration for female Tigers.

Certainly, evidence suggests that women are prone to hypergamy (as James Taranto has pointed out). But on a practical level, Patton’s advice is also relevant when one considers the male ego. Although women aren’t likely to want to marry “down” in terms of intellect, it would likewise take an unusually secure man to want to marry a woman who is his undisputed intellectual superior.

Patton is simply articulating crisply a truth that I suspect most Princeton women already vaguely grasp. As a verbal, highly opinionated Princeton and Harvard Law grad, I knew I wanted to marry a man who was, at least, my intellectual equal — not only because that would be necessary in order for him to gain and retain my respect for a lifetime, but also because I had no interest in downplaying or hiding my own talents to “level the playing field” in the interests of marital harmony.

I was blessed. At 30 — while living in St. Louis, Missouri — I met an accomplished, wonderful Californian who has all kinds of business, mathematical and practical brilliance I totally lack.  He’s a Stanford guy, not from Princeton or Harvard. And we fell in love and got married. Theoretically, it can happen. But for a while, I wondered whether it would. And — as women who are waiting until their late 30s to have babies are learning — sometimes it’s best not to rely on beating the odds. That’s all Susan Patton is pointing out.

Keep in mind that this isn’t a new issue for intelligent women. Remember the advice Elizabeth Bennett’s father gave her in Pride & Prejudice — back in an era when “marrying up” was defined primarily in terms of wealth and social status, not intellect:

I know your disposition, Lizzy. I know that you could be neither happy nor respectable, unless you truly esteemed your husband; unless you looked up to him as a superior. Your lively talents would place you in the greatest danger in an unequal marriage. You could scarcely escape discredit and misery. My child, let me not have the grief of seeing you unable to respect your partner in life.

Feminists may hate these truths, because they defy the feminist narrative peddled to women for decades now, centered around the precepts that: (1) “equality” (defined as sameness) is the indispensable aspect of male-female relationships; and (2) professional success is — or should be — the primary defining aspect of everyone’s life.

If they were smart, feminists would pay attention to a different part of Susan Patton’s letter:

You girls glazed over at preliminary comments about our professional accomplishments and the importance of networking. Then the conversation shifted in tone and interest level when one of you asked how have Kendall and I sustained a friendship for 40 years. You asked if we were ever jealous of each other. 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. A lifelong friend is one of them. Finding the right man to marry is another.

In other words, the feminist monomaniacal focus on career is failing women by ignoring and downplaying one of the most important aspects of their lives: The quality of their relationships. And this is costing them credibility and relevance with the cohort they most want to attract.

Ultimately, whether feminists like it or not, the truth is that (1) Deciding whom (or whether) to marry is a key defining aspect of a woman’s life; (2) Most women genuinely like men and want to look up to and love one of them for a lifetime; and (3) Many young women have concluded that  happy marriages, homes and children are (or can be) as rewarding as paid jobs — if not more so.  

Today’s young women are smart and savvy enough to suspect they are being sold a bill of goods. They know there is more to life than having what the world defines as “success” — and they are looking for guidance in making those sorts of decisions that no one is offering them. Susan Patton tried, but by offering politically incorrect advice that threatens the conventional feminist narrative about life and happiness, she stumbled onto a hornet’s nest.

  1. Mollie Hemingway

    On occasion, I speak to college students or recent grads about journalism careers. Mixed crowds from a variety of backgrounds. Invariably they ask me to speak about being a spouse and parent. This is not just something the female students crave information on but something that many male students have been deprived of, too. They are not idiots. They know they want fulfilling vocations inside and outside the home.

    That people are outraged on this topic is outrageous. But very funny to watch.

  2. Pseudodionysius

    I notice a peculiar silence from the Princeton FLOTUS: a woman who is not usually shy about telling everyone to eat their vegetables.

  3. Richard Finlay
    Carol Platt Liebau: …They know there is more to life than having what the world defines as “success” ….

    This is true for men, as well, although publicly proclaiming it in one’s life can be taken as sour-graping.  The near-universal ability of humankind to be bitterly dissatisfied with — and resentful of – life’s circumstances, no matter how comfortable they may appear to an outside observer, must have an evolutionary survival value or the race would be extinct by now.

  4. The Mugwump
    Pseudodionysius: I notice a peculiar silence from the Princeton FLOTUS: a woman who is not usually shy about telling everyone to eat their vegetables. · 7 minutes ago

    The first family is a good example of mediocre minds promoted by affirmative action.  The president combines personal charisma with animal cunning, but he’s no intellectual.  The main characteristic of the first lady is an assumed superiority based on status, which is a rather typical response from a small mind that lacks a capacity for self-reflection.  The low moral standards of the first couple would be worth an entire post in its own right (I won’t write it today, but somebody should).  These two are not “elites” in any true sense of the word.  In reality, they demonstrate behaviors that are prosaic and base.  Such are the flaws in a democratic republic that such a pair could be promoted to the highest office in the land.   

  5. Fricosis Guy

    Second point first: I’d agree, especially when it comes to conflict. I thank God I didn’t marry my first love because she often would not fight fair…and she outgunned me as it was.

    A big deal is made of female hypergamy, but every woman “marrying up” needs a man “marrying down” to make it work.

    There is far too much male whingeing on this front. Guys, you’re someone’s catch… though perhaps not that trophy wife-to-be you’re ogling.

    Carol Platt Liebau: Certainly, evidence suggests that women are prone to hypergamy (as James Taranto has pointed out).  But on a practical level, Patton’s advice is also relevant when one considers the male ego.  Although women aren’t likely to want to marry “down” in terms of intellect, it would likewise take an unusually secure man to want to marry a woman who is his undisputed intellectual superior.

  6. Giaccomo

    ~ Paules: I would go further:  far from being ‘elites,’ the First Family are behaving like nouveau riche arrivistes, sheltered from embarrassment by the captive media.  

  7. Duane Oyen
    Fricosis Guy: ……………….

    A big deal is made of female hypergamy, but every woman “marrying up” needs a man “marrying down” to make it work.

    There is far too much male whingeing on this front. Guys, you’re someone’s catch… though perhaps not that trophy wife-to-be you’re ogling. · 1 hour ago

    Carol Platt Liebau: C…………..  Although women aren’t likely to want to marry “down” in terms of intellect, it would likewise take an unusually secure man to want to marry a woman who is his undisputed intellectual superior.

    My daughters, who are advanced professionals in high academia, struggle with this one all the time, though I hasten to act modest and stress that the correct description is “his perceived undisputed intellectual superior.” 

    One daughter in the past dated a guy who had a crisis with the fact that she was reasonably settled but he hadn’t yet finished his PhD, or (obviously) settled on a particular job.

    Here is another take on marrying, young, old, whenever.

  8. Matthew K. Tabor

    Isn’t it ironic?

    Shaming the ladies who are keen to earn that MRS degree when it’s by far the most useful thing available on campus.

  9. JamesB

    Making marriage work is mostly about Love.  As in, I decide to sacrifice something of myself for someone else.  There are other things as well – some of them fun – but it won’t last without the sacrifice.

    Professional success is mostly about power.  Who has control – who submits. So at the bottom of the whole discussion is a question of substituting power for love as a primary goal in life.

    According to the Christian God, God is Love.  So if you are a believer, Feminism is a form of Idolatry.  Power is substituted for God.  If you are not a believer, I’m not sure how you sort that out – have a healthy balance of both – I guess.

  10. Franco

    There is something quite sad about the state of women today, and it lies in their conflicted needs. It is as evident with the non-feminists (or default feminists) as it is with the hard-core feministas.

    Why the fixation of finding a husband?  This, “I’m a woman, and therefore I have special needs and special perspectives”, reveals the sad truth. Women are needy and dependent as well as especially solipistic. Nothing has changed. 

      Any woman who goes to Princeton should be able to find a decent husband unless she is especially ugly inside and out. I don’t feel sorry if she can’t find the ideal mate. Not at all.

    This highlights how utterly deluded and greedy women have become. It never ends. You got into Princeton and now you need to marry up?  Boo freakin’ hoo.

    And the idea that women should be dispensing advice on this matter to younger women, as though they are “helping” them is offensive. The poor shlub that allowed himself to become the mark of the schemeing woman who is perenially unsatisfied, is a victim who doesn’t count. See, he’s a guy. Guys are the marks.

  11. MMPadre

    In my (observational) experience, I have come to understand that when a couple is truly in love, both members believe they are marrying “up” in some sense; each has secured a prize, if not a trophy.

  12. Tommy De Seno
    C
    Although women aren’t likely to want to marry “down” in terms of intellect, it would likewise take an unusually secure man to want to marry a woman who is his undisputed intellectual superior.

    Are there such women? 

  13. Amy Schley
    Franco: 

    Why the fixation of finding a husband?  … Women are needy and dependent as well as especially solipistic. Nothing has changed. 

    And the idea that women should be dispensing advice on this matter to younger women, as though they are “helping” them is offensive. 

    Why the fixation on finding a husband?  How about because a female’s body is designed to do one thing — have children — and the safest and best way to do that is with a mate who will be a partner and protector instead of just a sperm donor.  You can try to replace that biological urge to reproduce with careers and hobbies and cats, but that urge is there because without it, the species doesn’t survive.

    And yes, older women (of which I guess I’m one for the purposes of this discussion) can and should be giving younger women advice on the importance of settling down.  Most women will eventually succumb to the urge to reproduce, and therefore it’s far better for them to marry and reproduce while their odds of getting a suitable mate are good and their bodies can handle the strain.

  14. Jojo
    Franco:  You got into Princeton and now you need to marry up?  Boo freakin’ hoo.

    Well put.

  15. Amy Schley

    One of my best friends has an aunt who hit 35 or so and married the last available man in her social group.  I wouldn’t trust my cats to this man due to his flaky irresponsible behavior.  But she didn’t focus on getting hers while the getting was good, and so she ended up with one of the leftovers.

    Tommy De Seno

    Although women aren’t likely to want to marry “down” in terms of intellect, it would likewise take an unusually secure man to want to marry a woman who is his undisputed intellectual superior.

    Are there such women?  · 2 minutes ago

    I make more than my husband, and I have more and more varied education.  My GPA and standardized test scores are better.  Our IQs are pretty closely matched, though we haven’t gone in for testing lately. :D

    I can’t speak for how many of us there are, but there are smart women willing to marry “down,” particularly if the man is “up” in other directions. (E.g. I love that my husband is large enough to make me feel feminine and petite. At 5’9″ and 160 lbs, that doesn’t happen much.)

  16. Fricosis Guy

    My wife’s beauty and brains are obvious, while her choice in companion is a testament to her charity.

    Fake John Galt

    Fricosis Guy: Now we’re getting somewhere…  · 34 minutes ago

    MMPadre: In my (observational) experience, I have come to understand that when a couple is truly in love, both members believe they are marrying “up” in some sense; each has secured a prize, if not a trophy. · 16 minutes ago

    Yes, this bothers me also.  I would / could not think of my wife as inferior to anybody or anything.  If anybody were to suggest such a thing in my presence I would most likely stick them in a wall. · 13 minutes ago

  17. Amy Schley
    Fricosis Guy: My wife’s beauty and brains are obvious, while her choice in companion is a testament to her charity.

    Fake John Galt

    Fricosis Guy: Now we’re getting somewhere…  · 34 minutes ago

    MMPadre: In my (observational) experience, I have come to understand that when a couple is truly in love, both members believe they are marrying “up” in some sense; each has secured a prize, if not a trophy. · 16 minutes ago

    Yes, this bothers me also.  I would / could not think of my wife as inferior to anybody or anything.  If anybody were to suggest such a thing in my presence I would most likely stick them in a wall. · 13 minutes ago

    6 minutes ago

    One of my husband’s favorite Shakespeare lines:

    They say the lady is fair: ’tis a truth, I can bear them witness; and virtuous: ’tis so, I cannot reprove it; and wise, but for loving me:

  18. Joseph Stanko

    By most measures women in their prime marrying and child-bearing years are better educated and more professionally successful than their male counterparts these days.  If women need to “marry up” to be happy, that suggests many of them will inevitably be disappointed since there aren’t nearly enough educated, successful men to pair up with.

    That further suggests that women will be happiest in a society where men are, on average, better educated and more successful in careers.  In other words, the very thing feminists have been calling unjust and fighting against for decades.

    No wonder feminists consider this letter such a threat…

  19. Water Chestnut

    I find these never-ending articles on how “feminism” is to blame for everything and a too-educated woman is society’s bearded lady very tiresome and offensive.  Too many people are making assumptions about what women want and should be without asking the actual women.

    I myself would have no problem marrying down as long as the guy could carry on a decent conversation, liked to read and was an ethical person.  Get that last part, please: I look up to a man not because he’s my surrogate father and superior in every way, but because he is decent and moral.  Sure, there were some studs in college, but far too many of them liked to liked to talk about what ethnic group they’d like to get rid of or how “selfish” women who didn’t sleep around were (that latter even said that in front of class in a presentation!)  Yeah, real prizes, so sorry I missed out on those intellectual giants.

    This Princeton woman can take her advice and stick it.  I have well-educated friends who married down and are perfectly happy.

  20. CuriousKevmo
    MMPadre: In my (observational) experience, I have come to understand that when a couple is truly in love, both members believe they are marrying “up” in some sense; each has secured a prize, if not a trophy. · 2 hours ago

    ^This! My wife hasn’t the college degree that I have nor the professional accomplishments, but she is a far better person than I can ever hope to be and full of what I’ll call “life intelligence”.  I suspect you’d find we both think we married “up”.