Getting That MRS. Degree



By now, you may be familiar with the firestorm around Susan A. Patton’s recent advice to female Princeton college students. After attending a professional women’s conference on campus, Ms. Patton –a Princeton alumna– decided she had an additional message for the women of Princeton University, a message that likely was not covered in the conference.  Ms. Patton wants these female college students to start locking down their future husbands now.

 Ms. Patton wrote in an editorial published in the Daily Princetonian (which has since been removed from the Web):

“Forget about having it all, or not having it all, leaning in or leaning out — here’s what you really need to know that nobody is telling you…

…For most of you, the cornerstone of your future and happiness will be inextricably linked to the man you marry, and you will never again have this concentration of men who are worthy of you.”

Yes, she did.  And she went on to say:

“Men regularly marry women who are younger, less intelligent, less educated. It’s amazing how forgiving men can be about a woman’s lack of erudition, if she is exceptionally pretty. Smart women can’t (shouldn’t) marry men who aren’t at least their intellectual equal. As Princeton women, we have almost priced ourselves out of the market. Simply put, there is a very limited population of men who are as smart or smarter than we are. And I say again — you will never again be surrounded by this concentration of men who are worthy of you.

Of course, once you graduate, you will meet men who are your intellectual equal — just not that many of them. And, you could choose to marry a man who has other things to recommend him besides a soaring intellect. But ultimately, it will frustrate you to be with a man who just isn’t as smart as you.”


I don’t even know where to begin, but I guess I’ll start with that I think Ms. Patton is right, in the narrowest of senses.  If getting married is the primary goal, right now,  of these Princeton students, then maybe they should start auditioning for husbands now.  I just hope it doesn’t interfere with their education and their postgraduate plans, because a plan to get married is usually not enough of a plan in this modern world.

But I believe Ms. Patton is wrong in so other many ways.  Here’s a few:

  • She assumes that where a man goes to school is an indication of what kind of husband he’ll be.  She doesn’t seem say much about what other qualities in men these young women should look for –like maybe a man who is kindhearted and caring– and I wish she had.  To me, where he went to school would not be at the top of the list.


  • Having an “intellectual equal” is probably a good thing in a relationship.  It does help to have similar sensibilities in this way.  I just don’t know that going to the same school means you’re intellectual equals.  Suppose, for example, he’s a legacy admission and is just kind of a mediocre thinker, but got in because of family connections? Then what?  Believe it or not, she might, some day, come across a graduate of a (lesser?) state university who is her intellectual equal. That could happen.  I also don’t think they should narrow down their options by shutting out a guy just because she isn’t an Ivy League grad like she is.


  • I would like her to stop scaring young women into thinking that 120px-Snooki_in_Chicago_crop“they’ve almost priced themselves out of the market.” This is dangerously close to suggesting that they ‘dumb down’ in order to be desirable, and this makes me sad. And mad.


  • But where I really take issue is this sentence: “the cornerstone of your future and happiness will be inextricably linked to the man you marry.”  I really beg to differ.  Of course I know that choosing the right husband can be a pretty good factor in having a good life, but is it the cornerstone of her future and happiness?  Is this the 1800s? Happiness comes in so many forms to women both married and unmarried and, honestly, I believe each woman is responsible for her own happiness.  Do you remember Elizabeth Gilbert, the Eat, Pray, Love woman?  She actually had a nice husband and still wasn’t happy. It happens.  If it were me, I’d say “You are the cornerstone of your future and happiness will be inextricably linked to being true to yourself.”  In fact, Toni Morrison, a Princeton professor, may have said it best in her best-selling novel Beloved.  When Sethe tells her man, Paul D, that he is the best thing that has ever happened to her, he responds “You are your own best thing.”  My hope is that every young woman, Princeton graduate or not, takes this message to heart.


So, I’d like to ask Ms. Patton to make one small amendment to her advice, if she’s insistent on sticking to it: at least insert the word “first” in there, as in “your first husband”.  You see, according to the Pew Research Center, people who marry young are more likely to divorce than those who marry at older ages.  A 2012 study by McKinley Irvin , a family law firm, corroborates this.

It may indeed be true that there will never be another time in life when a young woman has access to so many men, but I would just like them, at this precious time in their life– to think broader (e.g., travel, graduate school, getting to know herself), not narrower (e.g., Uh-oh, gotta find a husband).


Spinsterlicious FINAL coverBut what do I know?  I wrote a book –The Spinsterlicious Life—advising unmarried women how to have a pretty nice life while they’re single.  I guess those who don’t follow Ms. Patton’s advice may be “doomed” to following mine.


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16 Responses to Getting That MRS. Degree

  1. Pingback: It’s Complicated | Eleanore Wells

  2. Lisa Brignoni says:

    I enjoyed your original article here and the additional points. I also thought it was good of you to mention “first husband” which I think is especially relevant for those following the wisdom of Ms. Patton as I recently read that she herself is actually divorced. It was an interview with an MSN reporter and I can’t find the article but I’m sure I read those words because I remember being extremely shocked about that!

  3. Pingback: Ladies: Man, First –> Education, Second | Eleanore Wells

  4. Nissa says:

    “the cornerstone of your future and happiness will be inextricably linked to the man you marry, and you will never again have this concentration of men who are worthy of you.”

    Surprisingly, I see some truth in these statements. My husband certainly made me more miserable than anyone else (except my mother, who deserves a separate category). I certainly made more alterations to my future and lifestyle for him than for anyone else. (Bad choices in hindsight, but still true). It was true for me that since college, I have never since been surrounded by so many single, like minded men who met most of my criteria for dating. That being said, my criterion was extremely simple, as I did not yet know what was most important to me. I would (as Eleanore has pointed out) argue with her choice of the word “worthy” though, as it implies that being a Princeton student inherently confers a host of other qualities such as honesty, intelligence, character, emotional availability etc that does not bear out.

    To her comment: there is a very limited population of men who are as smart or smarter than we are.
    Well, that certainly seemed true in my dating life. I wasn’t meeting men who were great thinkers; I was meeting Adam Sandler / Peter Pan types. It was also true for me, when I was married, I strongly felt the lack of intellectual discourse in my relationship, and turned to platonic relationships to meet that need. I would say that Ms. Patton’s letter reinforces the idea that one can ONLY meet needs in a marriage, which completely discounts the intimacy, love and sharing that come via other relationships (anyone from family, friends or spiritual guidance). This places an incredible burden on one’s spouse and marriage that is completely unnecessary.

    To her comment: ultimately, it will frustrate you to be with a man who just isn’t as smart as you.
    I would rephrase this as “it will frustrate you if you choose someone who wants/chooses/believes differently from you”. However, how can it be the other person’s fault if you choose someone who doesn’t want what you want? It has been said (in the media) that Ms. Patton felt that she could not express her love of all things Princeton with her spouse and that she felt he was less smart than her, and these things significantly contributed to her unhappiness with her marriage. It was perhaps a bad choice on her part to pick someone who wanted a different life from her, but not necessarily fixable with her suggestions.

    I would actually draw a significantly different conclusion from these ideas. I disagree most with making timing the prime issue. I would say that each of us is responsible for our own happiness, and for making the choices that support that, at every age. I like Eleanore’s mention of the idea that each of us is our own best thing. Rather than mourn that we are no longer surrounded by a pool of eligible men, why not create that via internet dating, living a life that includes our passions, and getting out into the world – things that will naturally recreate this pool. The internet provides more opportunities than ever for meeting like minded others and making connections.

    I have to say I like Eleanore’s idea better, that being true to ourselves is the true cornerstone.

  5. Tara says:

    I honestly found her article laughable and a reference to how she deems her own life. She blames the failure of her own marriage on not marrying her class of people. I had a horrendous experience in college so finding a husband was not a priority then recovering was. I still trying to accept happiness within myself. You make your happiness others do not also with fifty percent of marriages failing her advice is moot.

  6. Anna B says:

    OMG. If this is what I’ll learn in college I prefer to remain 2.

  7. Molly S says:

    I too read Susan A Patton’s article and agreed with some of her points, and disagreed also with many.
    You hit the nail(s) on the head with those I agree with, and those I disagree with.
    Thanks for putting it so well.

  8. Goddiva says:

    Eleanor I want you to know that if this is your way of punking your readers, lady you are days passed April Fools. What the…. Seriously??? I am blown. Clearly Ms. Patton is one of these women who attend college to score a husband and if a degree is obtained during her “studies” that’s a bonus. Her message is obviously for those women who feel and believe a husband validates them and therefore makes them worthy to exist. For the rest of us this is a crock of old shit on an Ivy league plaque being served in modern times but the message to women remains the same: we’re nobody until we’ve got a hubby.

  9. Pam says:

    How sad that Ms. Patton is not quite as intelligent as she thinks!!

  10. Vicki says:

    Eleanore, I’m so glad you wrote about this! I love your blog but have never posted before. This article really gets under my skin.

    I went to an Ivy League university, in engineering, so I was surrounded by these “intellectual equals”. Not one of them did I want to marry, and thank goodness – for their sake!! When I think back, I realize that I barely knew myself. All my experiences since college have molded my values, my career ambitions, and certainly what I would look for in a husband (if I were looking!). Society places too much pressure on young people to decided on marriage and kids in their 20s. Perhaps if we gave them time and space to figure out their goals before marriage, we wouldn’t see such high divorce rates. Yes, if a woman wants to have children, there is some timeline, but it certainly doesn’t necessitate having an engagement ring on her finger when she graduates college at 22!

    One more thing… Ms. Patton also writes in her article: “As freshman women, you have four classes of men to choose from. Every year, you lose the men in the senior class, and you become older than the class of incoming freshman men. So, by the time you are a senior, you basically have only the men in your own class to choose from…”. Does she really believe that you can’t date younger men? That, in a nutshell, demonstrates how out of touch she is. Well, Ms. Patton, you’re missing out. My last boyfriend was 9 years my junior and it was my most fulfilling relationship to date! Oh, and he graduated from a state school.

    • Molly S says:

      While I disagree with much of what Ms Patton writes, I do agree with her theory of lessening your chances of finding Mr. Right IF you’re looking for a future husband while in college. (which is a different topic i’m not addressing in this post)

      I think women mature earlier than men, and so a 19 girl dating a 22 year old guy isn’t a stretch. But a 22 year old girl dating a 19 year old guy probably is. He’s just not mature enough and those three years usually show a lot of differences. (not always, I said usually)
      Once we get into our 30’s, the gap narrows, and for example, if the ages of a couple of 35 and 30, I don’t think it matters much which one is the older or younger one as there are less differences in the maturity level. And once people get into their 40’s and 50’s, the gap lessens even more overall – individual preferences aside.

  11. Noca says:

    I work at a university in the southeastern US and getting a ‘Mrs’ is still a huge deal here among young ladies. I’m not married and I try to be a role model for as many as I can that you can be single, not have kids, and be a success as a person. Some of the girls in my class are so blown away that I’m my own person and I don’t have to rely on being someones mother, wife or daughter as my way to have an identity.

  12. SJA says:

    Well said as usual, Eleanore! The notion that a woman’s happiness is “inextricably linked” to the man she marries is Victorian at best. But I think she meant well, and felt that she should encourage women to at least have a look around when the odds are better so they don’t feel compelled to marry “down” later on. But you are spot on in rebutting that point. Some of the smartest men I have met (particularly in my travels) had no college education at all.

    And the thought that college-age women, many of whom are already insecure about their looks and appeal, and which sororities they could possibly get into (I remember those days), need any further anxiety is unfortunate at best.

    So while I believe she meant to help, I don’t think this is the most important message for young women these days.

  13. Kimberlee says:

    well said! Ugh I’ve been wanting to address this controversy but too many damn thoughts came to my head so good for you for breaking down each part of her argument. I’m almost 28, never been married, and honestly have no interest in it anytime soon. I attended fashion school so it was nearly impossible to find a straight man lol its 2013, you would think a woman’s sole purpose in life wouldn’t be just to get married

  14. Drea says:

    It’s people like Susan A Patton that make young women tie their worth to having a man, panic or make bad mistakes. I was never one of those young women who attracted enough male attention for whatever reason. I am doing my postgrad and I look around and there are more women than men in my class and they are also married or young or looking at the prettier girls. I also found that type of thinking in church groups when I was a teenager. There was always an emphasis on finding a future mate and church goers always were trying to set up couples or remarking on the suitability of youngsters based on superficial reasons such as looks.

    A woman’s worth does not come from a having a mate. Inevitably, marriage may not happen for everyone and sometimes we have different purposes in life than getting married and/or having children. Perhaps if we were to embrace life and our lifestate as it is and not focus on what we dont have or who we are not with, eventually we will find our higher purpose and happiness in life.

    • SJA says:

      Right Drea! And if you’re referring to the evangelical churches, lots of the marriage push was, frankly, to permit people to have sex without guilt. Fornication be gone!

      In my day, many people were galloping down the aisle, and many of those marriages did not last.

      By the way, the National Center of Health Statistics now states that co-habitation is way up in the US, so many people are choosing to live together rather than marry after all.

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