A Letter On Finding A Husband Before Graduation Spurs Debate
More than a week after Susan Patton's letter to the editor of The Daily Princetonian prompted heated criticism, the 1977 Princeton alumna says she still stands by her words.
"I have never had a problem voicing an unpopular opinion if it's heartfelt," Patton tells NPR.
In her letter, Patton wrote to young women attending her alma mater, "Find a husband on campus before you graduate."
Patton is the divorced mother of two sons — both "Princetonians." She says the older already "had the good judgment and great fortune to marry a classmate." She says her younger son is a junior with a limitless universe of women he can marry.
"Men regularly marry women who are younger, less intelligent, less educated," writes Patton. But, she argues, Princeton women should marry a man who is their intellectual equal.
"Simply put, there is a very limited population of men who are as smart or smarter than we are," she writes.
She goes on to argue that the supply of such men dwindles as Princeton women get older. Patton advises young women to look for a husband now because "you will never again have this concentration of men who are worthy of you."
The letter has sparked conversation and criticism on campus and across the country.
"I kind of really think that it was an article that didn't need to be written," says Pallavi Koppol, a freshman who intends to major in computer science. Koppol says Patton's language seems out of place in today's world; others on campus agree.
"I don't think that she has framed this debate in a particularly helpful manner," says Liz Ramey, a second-year master's student at the university's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.
Ramey says Patton raises important issues, though, such as balancing personal and professional lives. But she says those discussions already were taking place on campus. Now, because of Patton's controversial letter, the conversation is happening across the country.
Nina Bahadur, who graduated from Princeton last June, wrote a column in response to Patton's advice for The Huffington Post, where she is an assistant editor.
"Girls who are still in school don't want to be defined by the person that they might end up marrying," Bahadur says. And she argues that most college graduates just aren't prepared for marriage. "They aren't ready to be looked at as a unit made up of two people because they're still figuring out who they themselves are," she says.
Heather Havrilesky, a 42-year-old columnist, wrote the memoir Disaster Preparedness, which includes her search for love during her 20s. She received advice similar to Patton's and took it to heart in her dating life.
"Every single guy, I wanted to marry," Havrilesky says, "and, thankfully, none of them wanted to marry me, because I'd be married to the wrong person right now."
Havrilesky waited until her mid-30s to marry. She suspects Patton's heart is in the right place but says waiting was a better option for her.
Instead of focusing on the criticism, Patton prefers to talk about the letters she says she has received in the past week from mothers who tell her, "This is just what I wanted to tell my own daughters."
"I could not be more sincere in my belief that this is sound advice," Patton says. "But, as is the nature with any advice, take it or don't take it."
In any case, Patton says, she's pleased her letter is prompting widespread discussion.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
A Princeton University graduate is advising young women studying at her alma mater to find a husband now. Don't wait, she says. Susan Patton offered that advice in a letter to The Daily Princetonian. Now, you publish a letter like that, and you are guaranteed to start a debate. NPR's Jeff Brady reports.
JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: Susan Patton graduated from Princeton in 1977. In February, she attended a Women in Leadership event at Princeton, where she offered this advice.
SUSAN PATTON: And I said to all of these women, let me tell you something that nobody is telling you: Find yourself a husband before you graduate. And their jaws all dropped, and one said to me, you can't be serious. And I said, I am absolutely serious.
BRADY: Patton expanded on that in her letter, published last week. She's the divorced mother of two sons. One's still attending Princeton. Patton says men regularly marry women who are younger, less intelligent and less educated. But she says Princeton women should find a man who is their intellectual equal, one who won't be threatened by a woman's success.
PATTON: Which is why I'm saying to them, take a good look around you on campus, while you're there. You'll never have this concentration of extraordinary men to choose from, as you do during those four years.
BRADY: On the Princeton campus, Patton's letter sparked a lot of conversation and criticism.
PALLAVI KOPPOL: I try to like, rationalize it, and I just have no idea why someone would offer the advice that she did.
BRADY: Pallavi Koppol is a freshman, and says Patton's language seems out of place in today's world. Nearby, graduate student Liz Ramey agrees.
LIZ RAMEY: This notion that you should be looking around to find a marriageable person as if you just sort of have a checklist of what you're looking for, that you know when you're 21 or 22; and oh, there he is, I'm going to grab him while I can.
BRADY: Ramey says Patton raises important issues, though, things like balancing personal and professional lives. She says those discussions already take place on campus, formally and informally. Now, thanks to Patton's letter, the conversation is happening across the country. Nina Bahadur graduated from Princeton last June. She's an editor at the Huffington Post, and wrote a column in response to Patton's advice.
NINA BAHADUR: Girls I went to school with don't want to be defined by the person that they might end up marrying. They aren't ready to be looked at as a unit - made up of two people - because they're still figuring out who they, themselves - individually - are.
BRADY: And, Bahadur says, most college graduates just aren't ready for marriage. Heather Havrilesky is 42 years old and writes the "Ask Polly" advice column for The Awl. She wrote a memoir about her search for love in her 20s. Havrilesky says she received similar advice to what Patton is offering, and she took it to heart in her dating life.
HEATHER HAVRILESKY: Every single guy, I wanted to marry. And thankfully, none of them wanted to marry me - because I'd be married to the wrong person right now.
BRADY: Havrilesky waited until her mid-30s to marry. She suspects Patton's heart is in the right place, but she says waiting was a better option for her. Still, a little more than a week after Patton's letter was published, the Princeton alum says she stands by it.
PATTON: I could not be more sincere in my belief that this is sound advice. It's good advice. But as is the nature with any advice, take it or don't take it.
BRADY: In any case, Patton says she's pleased her letter is prompting widespread discussion. Jeff Brady, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.