By AMAL CHEEMA ’17
Last year, Susan Patton, a Princeton graduate wrote a letter to the her alma mater’s newspaper urging students to “Find a husband on campus before you graduate.” When her letter went viral, the Internet community, unsurprisingly, was up-in-arms regarding her unsolicited advice. Recently, Patton published another article about marriage and broadened her audience to the entire female population. Although Patton is a provocative writer, there are many flaws with her argument. Let us consider five of Patton’s most egregious straight-talk claims with some real talk.
Claim #1: “Despite all of the focus on professional advancement, for most of you the cornerstone of your future happiness will be the man you marry.”
In her book “Singled Out,” author Bella DePaulo conducted a meta-analysis of 18 studies relating happiness and marriage. Her finding? Getting married does not result in becoming happier or more satisfied. Satisfaction with lifestyles and relationships decreases among couples over time; researchers surveyed couples before, at the time of and during marriage. While couples do experience increased happiness at the time of marriage, the effect is short-lived and they return to the same level of happiness pre-marriage.Nevertheless, while these studies do not focus on being single, it’s important to note that happiness can be equally well founded without ever coming to the point of “defining the relationship.” According to census data detailed in the book, four out of 10 mothers are single. The point of the matter is simple: happiness is not dependent on a person other than yourself.
Claim #2: “When you finally get around to looking for a husband you’ll be in your 30s, competing with women in their 20s. That’s not a competition in which you’re likely to fare well.”
Regardless of demographic, marriage rates for women in their 20s have fallen and risen for those in their 30s, according to a study published by the ESRI and University of Limerick. Moreover, only 14 percent of the 20 to 24 year old demographic has ever been married. This percentage increases to 42 percent among 25 to 29 year olds. Beyonce married at 30, as do many celebrities of our time. While celebrities may not be the best role models, they remain examples of women with successful careers who choose not to chase after marriage. As the age of marriage increases for both genders, marrying at age 25 doesn’t necessitate the label “spinster.” There is little rationality in rushing into a marriage simply because of past expectations.
Claim #3: “Those men who are as well-educated as you are often interested in younger, less challenging women.”
In a study conducted by the University of Iowa, researchers noted that “mutual attraction, dependable character, emotional stability and intelligence” are the top four characteristics men desire most in a partner. In heterosexual relationships, there is a stereotype often associated with women. Women will dumb down their speech when conversing with love interests to avoid emasculating them with their intelligence. Coming out of a co-educational environment in high school, I often saw my fellow female classmates act in such a nature: disclaiming all answers in class with “I’m probably wrong but…” and phrasing all responses as questions. At Wellesley, we are surrounded by incredibly intelligent women and in my conversations with classmates, there is a reduced pressure to portray ourselves as “less challenging” as females. For Patton, a graduate from a similarly prestigious institution, to imply that women should portray themselves as less challenging to compete for a spouse is an insult to the education we receive at Wellesley. The problem with Patton’s statement is that it is devaluing to women’s career successes; it implies that we have to choose between academic and social success.
Claim #4: “If you offer intimacy without commitment, the incentive to commit is eliminated.”
Despite Patton’s assertion that “Men won’t buy the cow if the milk is free,” the aforementioned University of Iowa study found that men ranked chastity as the least relevant characteristic. The Victorian age of societal obsession with virginity is far gone; most couples do have sex before marriage. It is hard to prove that in American culture, people chose not to marry someone because of past intimacies.
Claim #5: “You should be spending far more time planning for your husband than for your career.”
According to Pew Research, the average age for marriage in 2013 was 27 for women and 29 for men. The University of Virginia’s National Marriage Project found that college-educated women who marry later make more money than those who marry young. Women who marry after 30 will, on average, earn more than women who married in their early 20s. In contrast, men who marry in their 20s make more money than men who marry after 30. While marriage might be more appealing to financially driven men, women have more to benefit by focusing on their careers. Today, women are likely to be the breadwinners of their families; Pew Research found that in four in ten American households, women are either the primary earners or sole earners.
While Patton makes a passionate argument for young college women to focus their attention on finding a man, her article is misleading. Marriage is a private choice, not a business transaction. In no matter should our approach to marriage be one that discourages ambition.