Should women be told to find a partner in college?

Collegiate women should not count out the possibility of finding their mates in college for the sake of their careers.

On Friday, a female Princeton alumna named Susan A. Patton, Class of ’77, wrote a guest column for the Daily Princetonian.Though it isn’t strange for someone to send a letter to the editor, this one unexpectantly received national attention because of its subject matter.

Christina Ellis | Daily Trojan

Christina Ellis | Daily Trojan

Titled “Advice for the young women of Princeton: the daughters I never had,” the article urged female Princeton students to find husbands during their four years in college.

“When I was an undergraduate in the mid-seventies, the 200 pioneer women in my class would talk about navigating the virile plains of Princeton as a precursor to professional success,” Patton wrote. “Never being one to shy away from expressing an unpopular opinion, I said that I wanted to get married and have children. It was seen as heresy.”

Patton’s words seem to have opened up a Pandora’s box of sorts for the feminist community. Women have spent hundreds of years fighting for equal rights: suffrage, to be paid wages equal to those earned by men and to be hired for intellectually demanding jobs.

And, at some time during that struggle, a divide has been placed between those women who wish to work, those who want to have families and those who are attempting to balance it all.

A couple of weeks ago, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg made the media rounds to support the release of her book, Lean In. The book, a discussion about balancing home and work for women, sparked controversy. Here is a successful woman who manages to get home in time to cook dinner for her children. Revolutionary.

Compared to Sandberg, Patton seems like a woman stuck in the ’50s. One is asking women to kick ass in both home and work while another is saying things such as “Here’s what nobody is telling you: Find a husband on campus before you graduate.”

On the surface, Patton’s words just appear to be those of an older generation or someone who is unaware of the strides women have taken in the past few decades.

No matter how ridiculous the article might sound, however, the themes that she touches on ring true.

It’s a beautiful thing that women outnumber men in colleges by the droves. It’s a beautiful thing that more women are in the workforce than ever. But, once women have worked hard through their 20s, many are left with a very loaded question: Why can’t I find someone to marry?

Success can seem like nothing if you have no one to share it with. “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,” Patton wrote.

Patton’s words are a bit dramatic — there is obviously a good chance of one finding a mate long after her college years are behind her. But what Patton is attempting to say through some unfortunate and out-of-date vernacular is that a woman’s chance of successfully finding a match might be higher during her college years than when the field opens up significantly in the real world. Patton is basically asking: Why wade through the trouble of finding your soulmate in a field of millions instead of those on your own college campus?

“Worthy” is perhaps the wrong word, but Patton has the right idea. Women often sacrifice true romantic happiness, which is rooted in compatibility, for the sake of settling down. Some women rush into relationships and marriages because their biological clocks are ticking and it’s the best that they can come up with.

Patton isn’t saying that you must find a partner in college for the sake of happiness, she’s simply advising for girls not to count it out. By ignoring people on campus in order to concentrate on their careers, women are potentially missing out on the loves of their lives.

True feminism isn’t about working all the time or even having both a family and a job. It’s about empowering women to think and feel the way that they want to. Ironically, attacking Patton because of her thoughts and feelings is the true setback.

We should all be able to live our lives the way that we want to. If that means focusing on our careers, so be it. If that means getting married right after graduation, so be it.

Just don’t complain when things don’t go your way.

Sheridan Watson is a junior majoring in critical studies. She is also the Editorial Director of the  Daily Trojan.


Women should not be pressured to find a partner in college, as emotional needs are different for each individual.

A letter published in the Daily Princetonian, the student-run newspaper at Princeton University, advised women at Princeton to find a husband while in school — a suggestion that might sound ridiculous in the year 2013. The writer, ’77 Princeton alumna Susan Patton, has gotten national attention for this letter because it represents a view many see as ‘anti-feminist’.

Christina Ellis | Daily Trojan

Christina Ellis | Daily Trojan

Though Patton’s argument that women ought to look for life partners in college is problematic in itself, it must be noted that she has the right to her own opinion, because that right to her own opinion is what feminism’s all about.

That being said, the idea that women alone must bear the burden of selecting a husband who is going to meet their expectations is absurd.

Women should not feel like they have to find a husband in college, or ever. This is something Patton made clear in a second op-ed published in the Huffington Post on Monday.

What isn’t clear, however, is why she places this burden on women, but not on men.

She has a point: Dating in college can be easier than in the ‘real world’. Undergraduate students at schools such as Princeton or USC are carefully selected and possess ambition and intelligence that set them apart. Instead of having to determine whether or not someone has similar goals or values, the fact that someone is a fellow student generally shows they have these traits.

But women should not feel like they have to find their partner by the age of 22, nor should men, or lesbian or gay or bisexual students. Yes, if two people decide they want to get married right out of, in or before college, that’s up to them. The fact of the matter is that such a decision is reached by two people, not one.

What’s fundamentally off about Patton’s letter is that she assumes men will choose women based on their age and looks while women will choose men based primarily on their intellect. This trend is something researchers have acknowledged and have attempted to pass off as a product of evolution — ignoring the fact that social behaviors vary widely in other cultures and is probably only grounded in our own ideas about the world and reinforced by a network of media and tradition.

Maybe this letter falls under the category of “practical advice for this day and age,” but that sort of advice does little to help the problem Patton identifies: smart women having a hard time finding partners who can keep up with them.

The thing is, no two people are exactly alike, which is what makes relationships challenging and interesting. People have strengths and weaknesses that can’t necessarily be measured by an IQ score or diploma. Yes, attendance at a top university can indicate certain things about a person’s intelligence, personal values and ability to work hard, but that is not the sole value of another human being.

The letter even enforces this misguided viewpoint by metaphorically commodifying women: “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.”

It’s not news that someone at Princeton is going to be elitist about being from Princeton. Still, her letter is addressed to women, not men. If people should marry partners with roughly similar intellects — which isn’t necessarily a bad idea — the burden is on both men and women to find someone who can make them happy.

Smart women should not feel as though they must marry someone who is smarter than them. In fact, smart women should not feel as though they must marry anyone with any certain quality, nor should stupid women, or smart men or stupid men.

Though Patton means well with her article, and her advice might apply to some like-minded women at her alma mater, one can hope that Trojans know their time as undergraduates is only the beginning of their adult lives. It’s a time students can push themselves intellectually and socially and, if it’s a priority, find someone to share their life with.

But women don’t have to find a husband and men don’t have to find a wife. No one should look at their college years as the only time to meet interesting, intelligent people.

Rachel Bracker is a junior majoring in linguistics. She is also the Managing Editor of the Daily Trojan..


1 reply
  1. A Man
    A Man says:

    Rachel that does sounds equally preachy: “In fact, smart women should not feel as though they must marry anyone with any certain quality…”

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