Last week, collegiate women everywhere were offered some advice that seemed to be sent via mimeograph directly from 1955. Author Susan Patton, who dubs herself "The Princeton Mom," released her book Marry Smart: Advice for Finding THE ONE (capitals hers). The book is a self-help guide, if you will, on how to bag a good man early on in life -- when young women are in college. Patton then goes into great detail, based on her own personal experience and that of people she knows, on why this is the best time for such an endeavor.
Some of the advice Patton offers is genuinely sound: Look for good boys because they make good men; don't date married men; if he cheats with you, he'll cheat on you. All of this is fair. The book is broken into parts based on age, college years, twenties, thirties and the differences in finding a "mate" (God, I hate that word) through these times in a woman's life. And despite what we want to say, finding a guy in your twenties is significantly different from finding one when you are 30. But very quickly, Patton's advice turns into a bad episode of The Donna Reed Show, except even Donna Reed wouldn't put herself down like Patton is suggesting young women everywhere start to do.
The crux of Patton's book is that young college women need to be intelligent and find a man while in school. If finding said man gets in the way of your studies or personal exploration, well, that's just fine by her. You'll have plenty of time to get a career going, but so many smart, capable and, most important, single men will never again surround you at once; the time for snagging one is nigh!
Patton is right on the one hand -- being in college is probably the last time you will be living among a plethora of college-age men, but smart? Capable? College guys? Hey, Susan Patton, when was the last time you were in college? That's right: a long, long time ago.
As someone who married late in life, relatively speaking, I can't disagree more with Patton's advice about finding the right guy in college, in addition to some of Patton's other advice.
"It is particularly off-putting when older women suggest that girls be almost reckless in whom they sleep with before marriage..."
Patton goes on to say that the old adage of kissing a few frogs before you find your prince is terrible advice. Date the good guys, she cries, and don't waste your time with the bad boys. While I agree that in the end, the good guy is the one you want, how do you know who's good and who's not until you know? You really can't, and it's not even so much about good guys versus bad boys. The way Patton describes the bad ones is that they are riding up to you on motorcycles in black leather jackets, and they cut class and carry switchblades and they all hate their moms. They are evil! But really, most guys aren't so black-and-white.
As someone who has dated enough frogs to start my own arboretum, I can fully attest that none of them seemed that way from the start (well, maybe that one guy). Bad boys are attractive often after the first few dates; that's how they get you! You have so much fun together, and then they don't call. And then they do and yippee! And then they don't again. You get the point.
Knowing is half the battle, and you can't know who's a catch before you know which ones you should have thrown back in the ocean or gutted with your fish hook.
"You'll never be more attractive than you are as a young woman."
It is very true that young women have skin unmarred by wrinkles and smile lines, their hair has a sheen to it that reflects the sun, their bodies have the uncanny ability to bounce back quickly after things like pregnancy and the freshman 15, and they wear attractive yet uncomfortable clothing and never complain abut their boobs hurting or how they wished they wore more sensible shoes out to dinner.
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But being in her thirties, forties and fifties gives a woman something that young girls don't have: self-confidence; it is one of the most attractive things a person can have. Older women, by and large, know how to eat better for a holistic approach to their bodies; their skin may have a few more wrinkles, but it has far fewer pimples. They understand that exercise is a good idea, and many women find that they get into the best shape of their lives as they leave behind the years of downing cheap-ass beer and Funyuns. And older women may not don the skimpy clothing of their twentysomething counterparts, but their wardrobe and make-up don't make them look like clowns.
I give you evidence A and B.
"There is a very limited population of men who are as smart or smarter than we are. You will never again be surrounded by this concentration of men who are worthy of you."
Again, there is some truth to Patton's assertion that being in college is an easy time to find a guy who is also college-educated; smart, perhaps; and interested in doing something with his life. To this I say, quality, not quantity. Yes, you are living in a blur of academic males, but guess what? That means nothing since most of them are dumb-asses.
I am sure many of you reading this went to college, and I bet you even had a few college boyfriends. Are you still with them? I had one very long-term college boyfriend and on paper, Patton would probably give him a gold star. College-educated, good-looking, bright future, etc., etc. He did have those things, but he also had something else: He was a moron. Patton went to Princeton, where I would assume there are lots of smart dudes. Does this advice hold water at every college? Hell no! You barely have to know how to read to get into a university these days. Just because you're in school doesn't mean you are a genius.
"You're in your twenties, you're no longer a student, and you are hoping to find a husband in a nonacademic setting. Good luck! You'll need it."
It's hard to meet people after college; she's not wrong. Or is she? Is it that much easier to go to a frat party than it is to go out to a bar? Is it that much easier to meet someone in one of your classes than it is to sign up for OKCupid? Remember, "the" Facebook was created for college students in order to help them find out who was in a relationship and who wasn't; this hasn't changed at all, and more and more people are finding their "true one" online.
I met my husband when we were both five years out of college through a friend. That's how many people meet out of college, through social media or through friends, and the vetting process is that much easier. If my friend is your friend, it's safe to think that you are an all-right person. I have also met guys at college parties; you think these guys are looking for marriage? They are looking for someone with boobs who is good at beer pong!
"I know too many brilliant, successful women who invest too many years in developing only their career."
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This is the point where Patton more or less tells young women that they can always have a career but they can't always find a guy. How is that possible when all the statistics say that women's careers suffer substantially when they leave the workforce to have a family? Remember the whole "women are still making less than men" thing going on? Feminism? How Patton can say that it'll all work out fine if you get the guy first then go for the job is beyond me.
Deferring to my own story: I dated a guy in college and we moved in together right after graduation. I thought we were getting married. Quickly I became the breadwinner as he struggled to find a job. I took whatever job would pay the rent, and it really hurt the potential that I may have had if I had moved home for a bit and was able to take a job that would have put me in the direction I wanted to go. I still consider this setback a loss in my career; I could be so much further had I not just needed a paycheck for those few years. I will forever hate my ex-boyfriend for this and lots of other things.
I think that a woman should be able to have it all, but I do not agree with Patton that we can have the family first and the career will automatically follow. Too many studies contradict this.
Look, I understand everything she is saying and I think that if having a family is your priority, then hell yeah, get cracking on that. Why wait? But is this the best advice to be giving girls who are just discovering themselves and the people they may want to become? N-to-the-O.