Single women at USC probably hear it all the time from their parents and single older friends and family members: Find the man you want to marry in college, because if you don’t, it gets much harder to find “the one.” Now, Susan Patton is saying it as well in a letter to the Wall Street Journal. In her second controversial piece on the subject published last Friday entitled “A Little Valentine’s Day Straight Talk,” Patton boldly states to college-aged ladies everywhere: “for most of you the cornerstone of your future happiness will be the man you marry.”
Patton points out the tendency of the modern woman to dedicate “too much” of her time to hard aspects of professional development during her college years, but imprecisely comes to the conclusion that a husband is the key to a woman’s happiness. And though Patton’s conclusion is murky, her assertions do have some merit.
The fact that so many young professionals are turning to online matchmaking services is evidence that people aren’t finding “the one” in college. After all, what guy wants to date a girl who puts her professional happiness above her relationship? The reality is that many men do. They want caring, deep and rewarding relationships just as much as any woman would. An independent woman is a woman who makes love a choice, instead of a socially reinforced obligation.
But for many college-aged students, the reason behind not being in a relationship is simply time — time that could be used for classes, internships and networking, and time for leading or participating in on-campus groups to round out their resumé. That all-important signifier of accomplishments and experiences, in turn, gets sent to recruiters in a job market that is seeing unprecedented competitiveness.
Even a guarded feminist would agree that professional development and financial independence is more conducive to happiness than the prospect of a traditional domestic relationship. Contrary to Patton’s belief, “husband hunting” in college is not the key to a woman’s happiness. Experiencing a relationship in college, on the other hand, can act as a key to professional development — and nurturing a deep relationship with anyone of common interests and similar intellectual capability is always a key factor in long-term happiness.
A major problem facing college relationships is that its rewards are not always tangible — or marketable. Committed college relationships are often time-consuming and can be fraught with difficulty, especially when it comes to post-grad concerns such as finding a job in the same city or dealing with a long-distance relationship. But the professional importance of a deep relationship in honing interpersonal skills cannot be overstated. In a survey of finance and accounting-sector CFOs published by Accountemps, a temporary finance and accounting center employment agency, the importance of “people skills” in hiring decisions jumped from the least important factor at 1 percent in 2004, to the most important factor at 31 percent in 2009. Similarly, another Accountemps survey in July of 2013 stated that the most common reason for an employee’s failure to advance within a company was “poor interpersonal skills,” at 30 percent.
So how does a committed college relationship help develop these highly desired “people skills” within the workplace? The first, most important aspect is precise and effective interpersonal communication. By a combination of body language, eye contact and speech, people in a committed relationship can become knowledgeable of the effectual responses their words and actions can have on their partner.
Secondly, a caring relationship also deepens a person’s capacity for empathy, or “putting oneself in another’s shoes.” A strong grasp of empathy is a key indicator of emotional intelligence and is instrumental in developing interpersonal confidence. Another aspect which often goes hand in hand with empathy is the ability to compromise and overcome conflict for the sake of a common goal — being understanding and accepting of a boyfriend or girlfriend’s flaws and getting to the root of the issue is an important step to understanding how to deal with conflict at large. These concepts are transferable to the workplace, where it becomes one of the most effective tools in fostering deeper, more rewarding relationships with one’s co-workers — and avoiding conflict altogether.
To suggest that a young woman in college ought to be “husband hunting” because a man is “the cornerstone of [a woman’s] future happiness,” as Patton does, is patently absurd.
College is a time to grow and deepen one’s understanding of interpersonal dynamics. Women should not be wary of entering into a committed relationship for fear of losing their chance at future independence. If anything, the right partner can provide a deep, one-of-a-kind support for a woman’s professional goals. But it’s in understanding an appropriate balance — or compromise — that can make the two areas more rewarding in their own way.
Euno Lee is a senior majoring in English literature. He is also the managing editor of the Daily Trojan.