Why the 'find a husband' letter touched a nerve

The advice from the so-called 'Princeton Mom' raises issues about women's college and career goals.

By Kim Peterson Apr 2, 2013 1:52PM
No one would blink if a mom advised her children to marry their intellectual equals. But when a mom takes that advice, applies a 1960s-era veneer and tells college women to "find a husband on campus," there's hell to pay.

That's exactly what happened to Susan Patton, the so-called Princeton Mom whose letter was published Friday in The Daily Princetonian, the university's campus newspaper. At its heart, the letter makes sense: Ladies of Princeton, you're smart and will want mates who are just as smart. You will never again be around such a high concentration of smart men.

But it's the way Patton wrote it that's provoking reaction from all corners. "Here's what nobody is telling you," she writes. "Find a husband on campus before you graduate."

That tone harkens back to the days when young women went to college to get an "MRS" degree. It hints at the long-abolished notion that single women in their late 20s and 30s were on their way to becoming old maids with little marriage potential. It's the kind of idea that infuriates women today.

Patton's letter also has an undercurrent of intellectual elitism that's hard to ignore. Princeton women have "almost priced ourselves out of the market," she said, because there aren't many men smarter than they are.Image: College graduates -Ariel Skelley / Blend Images/Getty Images

And Patton seems to think that women can't marry younger men. Freshmen women have four classes of men to choose from, she writes, but by the time women are seniors, they can choose only from their senior class, while men can choose from four classes of women at any time. Huh?

But the basic idea of Patton's letter, the idea of assortative matches -- finding a mate like you -- has been well-established in research, The New York Times reports. And women seem to feel stronger about this than men do.

But one potential problem with assortative matches is that they contribute to income inequality, writes Catherine Rampell. The rich and educated marry each other, and the poor and uneducated marry each other or, as is increasingly the case, stay single longer.

Patton, who this year divorced her husband, told New York Magazine she is astounded by the criticism that has surfaced on Facebook (FB), Twitter and other sites. "Yes, I wish I married someone who went to Princeton," she said.

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74Comments
Apr 2, 2013 4:45PM
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Interesting how most of e posts on here are anti-education.  The majority of jobs related posts on this site also are about the lack of good jobs.  Frankly folks, don't kid yourself into thinking staying uneducated is the way to go.  Look at the wage gap between the educated and uneducated 10 years down the road.  Heck, look at the employment gap between those groups right now.  These anti-education posts smell a bit like sour grapes to me...
Apr 2, 2013 5:47PM
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Certainly, marrying the one you meet in college can work. However, the point of obtaining a degree is to have something that can never be taken away from you- a higher education. With your degree, you have the freedom to be able to take care of yourself no matter whether you are married or not. The simple truth is  the majority of college men today are NOT looking for spouses- they have their eyes on good times and their own degrees. Women classmates should be under no illusions about that. Also, crushing tuition debt and feeble job markets do not exactly encourage a rush towards matrimony for either gender.

Apr 2, 2013 8:09PM
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Why would you take advice from a women who is scorned and recently divorced about how to have a succesful marriage? It's like they say if you want to learn how to be a doctor don't ask someone that flunked out of medical school, they can only teach you to fail.
Apr 2, 2013 4:18PM
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They always say; women have 2 chances of succeeding.  By their own merit or marrying into it.
Apr 2, 2013 9:13PM
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This is the most disgusting form of social snobbery.  What this mom is really saying to her daughter is "you should only marry someone like us," and "anyone who isn't a Princeton man isn't worth of consideration."  Whoa!  Aren't there educated guys from Harvard, Yale, Columbia, and for that matter, NYU and a lot of state universities across the country?  If a woman wants to marry an educated man, she has plenty to choose from beside a lot of stuckup richies from Princeton.  Having a degree from a non-Ivy League college is not a guarantee of poverty or stupidity.   Ladies, maybe there's a "prince" out there who didn't get to go to an expensive college.  If you marry, you should marry whomever you love and not the guy with the fanciest degree or the biggest bankroll.
Apr 3, 2013 10:21AM
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I never dated anyone I went to college with. For one, the college I went to had a higher percentage of girls, but aside from that, I just never had much in common with any of the boys, and there was never any real attraction. The man I've been dating for the past 5 years never graduated college, he dropped out twice due to financial reasons. What's important, though, is that he works hard, has a great work ethic and has always had a job, and even though he doesn't have a degree, he's very intelligent and capable of holding engaging conversations. He's not threatened by my degree, or ,y salary. We accept each other for who the other is, and together we make a good team, each bringing something to the table. That's what matters.
Apr 2, 2013 5:29PM
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Sounds a little gold diggerish to me

Apr 2, 2013 2:57PM
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After spending 20 years abroad in the Military, I have come to find that education does not make a man. The most influential people I have met were self educated and had the common sense that too much education sometimes weans out. Apparently Ms. Princeton had no concept of how to find the common man that not only has education (possibly not college approved), but also experiences in life that would make her education pale by comparison.
Apr 2, 2013 8:56PM
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Makes sense to me.

A large commonality is the appreciation for higher education.

Apr 2, 2013 11:48PM
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That is the advice which I was given over a generation ago--: women can get an education, career and a mate; a few of my friends did not take this seriously and ended up with none of these.
Apr 3, 2013 1:15AM
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Educate a man and you educate an individual .........Educate a woman and you educate a whole

 family.

Apr 2, 2013 6:00PM
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If a young lady finds a guy or man in school going to College and falls in love, him with her also...

Sounds like a plan to me...

Two people to start out life together with and sharing the cost, maybe of their Educations??

Yup, sounds like maybe a good plan.?

Apr 2, 2013 8:49PM
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The lack of respect for all stabilizing institutions and wonton desire to drive us faster into the train wreck we inevitably are headed for, will change all perceptions of "career" women. What specifically would be the purpose of attaining giant heights without someone to witness it and share the moment? Sorry but your fellow woman won't do. Learning how to cooperate in a partnership with gives and takes, not just takes and/or righteousness is the key. "Career" women are an isolated defect in our society. Now... women with jobs that contribute to dynamic lives with partners, children, pursuits and aspirations that deliver are worthwhile. Men too. What particularly is different between sitting in a cell for 50 years and sitting in an office suite for 50 years? Variety is the spice of life, not the sabotage of all for a career. A hollow pursuit makes a hole, not wealth that exceeds the grave.
Apr 3, 2013 9:45AM
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It sounds like good, practical advice to me.  Both sexes may find it beneficial to keep their eyes open during college, even if they don't marry at that time.  Contacts that you make there, whether marriage potential or not, can be of very significant benefit to the student in the future.  Whether the advice agrees with current political correctness is of little importance... it is advice from someone who has experience and opinions about this, so I don't really understand why it would make waves. 
Apr 3, 2013 9:27AM
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She doesn't say not to make a success of college. Of course the women should get their degree, and take advantage of everything college has to offer. But she says don't concentrate solely on a career.

 

Look at all the women in their late 30's who still want children and husbands, who spent all their time on work.

Apr 3, 2013 10:04AM
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Their potential husbands don't have to be braniacs. I think it's honestly more important to marry someone who will hold your hand during a cancer diagnosis, stick with you when the times get rough and be a great father to your future kids.

 

Smarts are nice but they ceraintly aren't everything.

 

I second the gold digger comment.

Apr 3, 2013 9:58AM
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PS:  if you attend Princeton or another school of this stature, you'd be a fool if you didn't try to find a partner from a similar background.  Marry for love, etc., etc.... sure, but why not find someone you can love at Princeton, or among similar grads?  Those who advocate marrying outside that are idiots.  Once you start working, your time and exposure to eligible men may be much more limited than while in college.  Of course, if one is not ready, then you're not ready.  Each individual must cope with this.  The point is that you shouldn't squander your time there without considering what you want long-term, and whether contacts at school might be appropriate to meet those needs.  Guidance by elders on marriage is essential... one of the problems in our society is that we've thrown out the idea of marriage approval by parents, etc... at 20, you don't know hardly anything about how to choose the right partner and how important it is that you do so... so many serious mistakes are made.  It may be clear to everybody else, your friends, parents, siblings, that you're making a mistake and the match is bad... but you can't see it.
Apr 3, 2013 9:47AM
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"You will never again be around such a high concentration of smart men."  I have to agree with this stmt.
Apr 3, 2013 12:01PM
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In my experience, Ms. Patton is full of it. Yeah, she had a marriage that turned bad and wishes she'd done something different. Over half of all marriages turn bad and folks hopefully learn from it. I agree her contentions are the height of snobbery and based on stupidity. I'm from a poor family, but ended up with a PhD from a respcted university after serving as a USMC officer (Viet Nam). I'm blissfully married to a hippy chick from a wealthy family who has maybe 30 semester hours from a community college. We're pushing 35 years together as total soulmates. In my science I'm widely respected. At home and with finances, she thinks circles around me. Sure glad neither of us were snobs
Apr 3, 2013 10:57AM
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I thought women's lib was supposed to empower women, make them free to break from the expectations of society.

I would expect that a woman that makes a lot of money shouldn't care if her man does...she is free to marry for love and companionship instead of a pack-mule breadwinner. Instead, the wealthier women become, the wealthier their mate needs to be. Talk about pricing yourself out of the market!

It's a good thing men don't think this way or the human race would have gone extinct hundreds of years ago. Can you imagine how the world would be if men refused to date or marry women that were not as wealthy or highly-educated as themselves?

Here's reality...a wealthy, highly-educated guy can take his pick of women. You better be one smoking hot in-shape woman (no matter your education) and stay that way for the long haul. Otherwise prepare to get divorced by your dreamboat so he can replace you with a 20-something hottie. Mark my words.

Or, you could keep an open mind, find a man that truly loves you and that you truly love and not treat marriage as a business deal. Worry less about his education, family, and status and more about his heart.

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