Here’s what Susan Patton, a nice, Upper East Side Jewish mom who graduated Princeton Class ’77, wants my daughters to know: when they get to the Ivy Leagues, they better snag that M.R.S. degree while they’re getting that baccalaureate because if they’re not married by graduation, they’ll spend the rest of their lives with nothing but a herd of cats to keep them warm at night—or worse, will end up in a dead-end marriage with a dumb, broke ass, non-Ivy League loser who’ll make life absolutely miserable until the ink on the divorce papers is dry.
Apocalyptic, right? But really, that was the takeaway from the now-infamous page-and-a-half letter to the editor Patton wrote to her alma mater’s student newspaper, the Daily Princetonian—a “find a husband not now but right now” warning addressed to the “girls” of Princeton. Patton insists that “the cornerstone of your future and happiness will be inextricably linked to the man you marry,” and it is absolutely imperative that female Ivy Leaguers get one of their brainy counterparts to put a ring on it before graduation, lest the “very limited population of men who are as smart or smarter than we are” totally disappears. In fact, she adds, freshman women have only four classes of men to choose from—choices that dwindle with each passing semester as Princeton men start bagging incoming freshmen classes and leave the older female classmates to duke it out for the upperclassmen leftovers.
For the sake of my daughters, I’m totally calling bullshit.
See, my girls are thoroughbreds, understand? Two smart, beautiful, thoughtful, curious girls with the ability to be insanely successful at whatever it is they choose to do, provided they stay focused. Key word: FOCUSED. As they wind their way through elementary and junior high school respectively, my babies are being encouraged, schooled, corrected and loved in a way that will ready them for higher education—those crucial years when they’ll have to buckle down and lean in and do what they have to do not only to learn their craft but figure out who they are. What they like. What they can’t stand. And how to… be.
I want my girls to be very clear that they are the prize.
I’m not saying that these things are impossible to achieve if, when they get to college, they choose to simultaneously learn and look for a mate. But really, those of us women who’ve been to college know the deal: learning how to live on your own, get educated AND juggle a relationship is no joke, and the petty foolishness that comes with trying to keep a man who doesn’t necessarily want to be kept can be distracting as hell. Plus, our male counterparts aren’t exactly focused on finding wives. At my alma mater, Hofstra University, they were athletes, screwing practically anything that wasn’t nailed down. They were drunkards and weed heads, way more interested in becoming one with kegs and bongs than with the smart girls intent on making it out in four years with a few internships under her belt and a job offer in hand. If they weren’t pissing in the tulips, they were date-raping inebriated classmates. Those who knew they were a good catch were trying to bag us, the girl in our English Lit class, at least two sorors and our hot-in-the-ass “experienced” college professor—all at the same damn time. The halfway decent ones left? Taken, mostly.
The ones who floated my way? I enjoyed them. But I didn’t know what to do with them. Because I didn’t know what to do with myself—had no clue, really, what I liked, what pleased me, what worked, what didn’t. What, really, was love. Accepting a ring from one of those men at age 22 would have been a mistake. A huge one.
And that was on a college campus that actually had black men on it. How realistic is it that my African American daughters will be able to woo, date and get engaged to black men on an Ivy League campus? Not saying that they’re not at Harvard and Yale and Princeton—I know they are. I married one. But he was one of only a handful in his class, and I sure didn’t meet him on the campus. I met him at work. When I was good and grown and well on my way in my career and ready—really ready—for love. I assure you that his Yale degree had nothing to do with why I married this man. And I assure you that some of the most intellectual, curious, forward-thinking, progressive men I know came from state colleges. Or never went at all.
Of course, if my girls are fortunate enough to meet the guy of their dreams while pursuing their undergraduate degrees, and the object of their desire is a fellow classmate, more power to them. But before they get to that place, they will have heard their mama say to them a million times over: college years are meant for them to learn to love themselves hard and strong, first and foremost. Before any friend. Certainly before any man. And when that is done and they are confident enough in themselves and what it is that they truly want in a man besides a proposal and a ring, then they can focus on finding The One. If. They. So. Choose.
I put the stank on that because just as I need my daughters to know for sure how to love themselves, I also need them to know that neither a man nor his ring define them—that life sans marriage is not the end of the world. Yes, every human craves love. And they deserve it, for sure. And hell, I want my daughters to know love and be committed and give me some grandbabies (eventually). But the Earth won’t stop its rotational axis if they are successful and beautiful and clever and never walk down the aisle.
This, after all, is a reality for women who win. Black women in particular. I intend to make that plain to my daughters. But my solution most certainly will NOT be that in order to avoid being old, bitter spinsters like Patton, they’ll have to hurry up and hop on the first dude who waves a diamond in their faces.
I have an idea, though. Since Patton is feeling so benevolent and “on it” with the relationship advice, maybe she can fire up her typewriter one mo’ ‘gin and toss out some of that sage, ahem, wisdom to the “boys” of Princeton—maybe remind them that they are the lucky ones to be surrounded by so many women with talent and heart and mettle. Maybe put the bong down and open your eyes and focus on who is sitting right there next to you in that Biology 101 class. Let the men feel the pressure. And see the prize.
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Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.
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My husband and I connected as adults, although we had known each other much earlier–and we are both sure that the reason our relationship is strong is that we both were happy with our solo lives. Yes, we each wanted to find someone, but we wanted to find the right someone. And if we didn’t, well, we already had fulfilling lives.
Then again, neither one of us went to an Ivy League school.
Oh my word, thank you. My daughter is more than just a finger on which to place a ring. She, like your girls, is smart, beautiful, thoughtful, curious and has the ability to be whatever she chooses to be. And she doesn’t need to be married, engaged or even dating to follow her dreams.
AMEN!!! This was great. No woman whether young or old should feel the need to be an arm piece to any man. Getting to know one’s self if the best gift of all. How about Patton write that.
i have to say i disagree with you. WHY? because i’ve played the job money game, and when you graduate from school it is more difficult to find a worthy mate. School is a great time to meet with establish relationships and develop a family. Now if you tryna be a baby momma, or deal with dude with a bunch o’ baggage, wait till you graduate and try to find someone. Many men who are not at school simply to catch a disease, want to find a women to help them build their tribe. But if you wait too late for dudes who have little ambition and still tryna get their life in order at 45! You will be trying to piece stuff together that’s broke. I know its not pretty or optimistic but very REAL. God can do anything, but i think women make it harder for Him. #justmyopinion Money isnt everything, as many wise rappers say, ‘you can’t hug your degree at night’. NOW, if you tryna get a degree to get out of POVERTY and use your gifts by all means do it! GO for it. But PERSONALLY, i don’t want to sacrifice my family health on the altar of the ALMIGHTY dollar. #checkthemotives. Ignorance is not bliss but but neither is ending up on maury povich. peace.
LOL. I’ll be a arm piece..*raises hand (me looking at the cat) but i know what you saying, i just don’t think work is everything sorry. #readytobeaMRS.
And what if the young adult, realizes that they do not love men, but women? Or vice versa? Why the presumption or weight of a perceived societal norm when we don’t know what this persons norm will be?
This! All of this! Queer people get ignored so much when it comes to rhetoric surrounding relationships, especially black relationships.
Taking the “Ivy League” requirement out, as well as a few other things, and speaking as a 37-year old single woman who always thought she had all the time in the world.. until she didn’t, I think the author makes very good points- especially for Black women. Sometimes lost in the message to be self-sufficient and independent, is the message of exercising common sense. Ours is a numbers game; our age, the number of eligible black men (including any and all factors such as education or income, whether they date black women, etc.) and many of us are LOSING! Therefore, anytime a black woman, who would like to have a snowball’s chance in hell of finding companionship before they die should use every chance they get (and as early as possible) to take advantage of having a wide selection of potential boyfriends/husbands. It doesn’t mean relaxing your standards, just putting your best foot forward taking advantage of your opportunities.
There are 2 million more black women than black men, everyone isn’t going to get married and there are plenty that don’t even want to marry. I just hate that our lives are being reduced to waiting, hoping and praying that someone puts a ring on it.
I agree with the Princeton mom. In our society we focus to much on women getting their education, career and then maybe a husband. Now if you make the personal choice to not get married know that no one will throw stones. But we need to put marriage back on the map and have our young men and women also thinking about marriage as a way of life too! Marriage is fun and healthy for our society. Moreover, Our community the Black community can definitely benifit from it.
Now as a man I am perfectly prepared to be summarily dismissed from the conversation, but hear me out. If we are just honest, the best place for a woman to meet a college educated man is in college. By and large successful career oriented women want the same in a mate. The problem is as women move away from college the density of those men dissipates. I’m in my 30s and rarely meet women who are not well educated, successful, well employed, and single. They range in ages from 25 to 50 and all have the same story, it is hard to find a good man on my level. Simply put, the numbers of available college educated black men is much smaller than the number of black women in society. It only makes sense to get in early. Add to that the fact that a 30 something college educated black man can date a college educated black woman in her 20s, 30s, 40s or 50s, and marry any of them the numbers become more bleak. I personally had a ball in my 20s and most of my 30s and when I decided I wanted to settle down there were no issues finding a mate. My fiancé and I get married this month. My point, women don’t have the same options men do and striking while the iron is hot and you have the most choices is simply what a SMART woman would do.
Or get that subscription to Cat Fancy. I hear the articles are great!
Peter J – I agree. Its hard out here & that Princeton mom made some valid points also. I am a 50 yr old single woman. When I talk to some of my friends & express a desire for a relationship they look at me like I’m crazy. They say such things as ‘girl, you got it going on. You don’t have to cook, clean or do anything for anybody else. Travel & see the world. Do you.’ Having a wonderful career & making money & traveling is fine, but as Billy Dee told Diana Ross in Mahogany, “Success is Nothing without someone to share it with.’ I don’t see why a young lady can’t go to college & also look for a husband if that is what she desires….
I am 23 years old and I am currently pursuing my bachelors. I am also in a relationship and although my boyfriend and I have been together for 3 years and counting, I am nowhere near ready to be married. I don’t think he is either. I think we’re too young and it wouldn’t work because neither of us know what we really want at this point in our lives. Hell, we’re just trying to get out of college. On top of that, I am dealing with other issues that are unrelated to my schooling. I just know in my heart of hearts that marrying him right now would be a bad idea and would do neither of us any good.
Ironically I just wrote about this topic on my blog on Monday. I didn’t take my inspiration from Princeton mom, but from the author of a NYT Modern Love column. The writer wrote about wanting a baby at 40 and facing life as a single parent because she didn’t find a mate when she was younger.
I titled my post, “The Life You Don’t Want…Until You Do.” I agree that college will be one of the last times we around so many men at once, but does that mean you should nab one right then and there? Nah.
Ain’t nobody got time for that.
Wonderful comments! I really enjoyed reading the differing view points. I see truth in everything I’ve read. I DO NOT want my daughter to go to college thinking her goal is to find a man, but I also don’t want her to miss out on the opportunity on a great guy bc she’s been convinced that finding a man in college is unwise.
I guess I have a different outlook that most others I meet. I got married at 23. Many people say that is too young, but I think it was perfect. I was in graduate school and knew what I wanted and had found it. Why wait longer? Even as a young girl, I had always been marriage minded and knew I didn’t want to just be dating forever.
By marriage minded, I don’t mean “obsessed,” but simply “genuinely interested in marriage as opposed to serial dating.” I saw (see) the benefit in marriage and wanted to take part in it as soon as I was ready–not as soon as possible.
Like Peter J. said above, it is much easier for a man to get a woman than it is for a woman to get a man, so I would want her to keep her eyes open. I don’t, however, want her to have tunnel vision. If she gets a man in college ( a good, worth-marrying man) her father and I will be ready for that wedding, but if she graduates with nothing more than her degree, we’ll be ready for that too!
I agree with everything you just said, and it sounds like we have parallel lives…met my husband in college at 18, we dated monogamously for 5 years, and got married when I was 23. I did not go to college with the idea I “had” to find a man. He was just right for me – we had similar goals, family background, upbringing, thoughts on finance and family, professional dreams – it was almost eery how well we “meshed.” But, like you, I was marriage-minded; my mother taught me early to value strong relationships and I didn’t see myself as a serial dater, either. We talked about everything and really grew to know and love one another over those 5 years. Were we young? Yes. Was it the best timing? Maybe not. But 12 years, 3 kids, multiple jobs changes, 2 house purchases later, we are going strong. In fact, as I type this, I am waiting for him to pick me up for one of our lunch dates. I don’t just love him, I’m still in love. Don’t get me wrong, my career is important to me; I have worked ridiculously hard to acheive my goals, but at the end of it all, it’s not my everything. God, my children and husband are what help to sustain me when everything else fails.
Would I advise another young lady to do what I did? Maybe, but only if she does it on her own terms. If you meet someone wonderful that is willing to get to know and grow with you in college, then perhaps marriage is in the cards for you. If you don’t find that special someone by graduation day? Don’t write yourself off. My experience has been God has impeccable timing.
I really appreciated reading this piece…especially after having to suffer through that hot mess written by the Princeton Mom. Denene, I think you make some very excellent points here without angrily bashing the desire for marriage, commitment, and success – both in familial relationships and career-wise. I especially appreciate the fact that this piece reads like one that doesn’t villianize the fact that many of us women do desire commitment AND successful careers/fulfilling individual lives. I can also see the general idea that the Princeton Mom had, but it was articulated horribly.
Look, I’m a 25 year old woman who had a college sweetheart throughout all four years of undergrad and while our relationship was a serious one headed in the marriage direction, I knew that I wasn’t quite ready at 21 to become someone’s life partner for what I believed to be forever. There were things I wanted to do and things I needed to learn and experience before committing myself fully in that way. I knew that marriage was something I wanted (and still do), but not then. Because of my hesitancy and other factors, our relationship ended, but I don’t regret putting myself first because the time since has proven to be one of the most transformative periods of my life. And, had I walked down the aisle (prematurely), I would have surely missed out on some valuable life lessons that comes with being single in one’s 20s.
I see some of the previous commenter’s points about it being a numbers game and generally, the numbers aren’t in our favor as African American women – especially after we leave our respective college campuses. Yet, I think it’s damaging for us to have this “now or never” attitude when it comes to something so serious. If a woman (or man) who knows they are ready for forever happens to meet their mate on campus…great. But if not, the world is far from over. Even as a single woman hoping to eventually pair up with an educated (but even more importantly, an intelligent) man, I am still optimistic that I didn’t have to get married fresh out of college or find the person I was going to marry in college.
You have taken her letter way out of proportion to make it mean what you want it to mean. You need to relax a lot.
Patton makes some very valid points that you missed because you were so busy trying to put the stank on it. I believe a reread is in order.
My reading comprehension is just fine, thank you. You take that letter whatever way you want to; my position still stands. Thanks for visiting.
I think the woman is right that you have a larger pool to find a mate when you are younger. However, this part of the letter is problematic for me: “For most of you, the cornerstone of your future and happiness will be inextricably linked to the man you marry”
Yes, having a good marriage is a wonderful thing. By referring to it as the “cornerstone” for happiness she is also forgetting the reality that for some people their marriages don’t last, they end. Does this mean that this is the end of everything? Some Princeton women may get the “happily ever after” but many won’t. And what of those who don’t meet a mate? I also find the letter elitist–she seems to think that the only smart people are at Princeton. There are plenty of smart people who did not attend the Ivy League, there are just as many who did not attend any college at all. For me her letter would hold more weight if she encouraged young women to date men who respect them and show genuine interest even as they pursue other goals.