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.
1. The Story Of Us: Celebrating 15 Years Of Black Love and Marriage
3. Mission Possible: A Black Mom Trades In “Having It All” For “Having What Matters”
4. Postponing Motherhood: Is It Possible To Build A Family and A Career?
4. Are More Black Women Saying “No” To Motherhood?
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.