It is a truth widely upheld that a single woman in possession of a sound education must be in search of a husband.
Among the proponents of this fascinating theory is Susan Patton, a Princeton mother and alumna who recently submitted a controversial letter to The Daily Princetonian encouraging Princeton female students to find a husband. As part of her reasoning, Patton claims that a woman should marry a man who is as intelligent as she is and that a young woman is more likely to find someone her own age or older while she is still in college. Yes, I also thought the letter was meant to be an early April Fools’ joke. It wasn’t.
Although Patton’s advice may be useful to those who actively search for their life partners in college, her generalizing language made her letter seem like an ultimatum to college students, particularly women: If you don’t find it here, you’re probably not going to find it anywhere else. To those who continue to live in Jane Austen’s 19th-century world of social puppetry, this is pretty great advice.
But for those who believe that love and marriage are not meant to ensure your children have a double legacy option, the next item on my graduation bucket list is for you: Don’t treat your college career as a path toward perfectionism. This means not using your time at Duke to learn how to become a perfect student, have the perfect body or, referring more specifically to Patton’s handy advice, find the perfect future spouse.
Patton’s equation for the perfect partner seems to weigh the factors of intellect and education above all others. Perhaps this is just my rebelliousness of youth speaking, but since when did everyone have the same criteria for finding an “adequate” spouse? Even for those attending “elite colleges,” many find that intellectual capabilities are present in multiple forms outside of the academic sphere and that intellectual capability may not even be the strongest factor in gauging our compatibility with another person.
Granted, the people we meet in college may become our closest friends and teach us more about ourselves than we ever knew. But more commonly, there are many of us who still have no clue who we are and who will need to experience “the real world” in some sense to develop as individuals. The mindset that we absolutely must find our life partner in college becomes limiting because we may look for someone who fits with our current personality when we aren’t even fully sure who we are. With this social pressure to find a spouse in a four-year time frame, we could end up defining ourselves according to our partners without fully discovering our independent passions and goals.
Those, like Patton, who argue that college is the optimal time to find a life partner claim that the odds of finding someone “as smart as you” dwindle as soon as you graduate and interact with a more intellectually-diverse population. Her argument neglects the fact that universities specialize in certain areas and that we increase our chances of meeting people from other specialties after graduation. Finally—and perhaps I am just being an idealist here—I believe that finding the right person is more a question of chance than it is a game to be won by beating the odds.
Some seniors may have already met the person they are planning to spend the rest of their lives with, and they are fortunate to have done so. For those who haven’t, be assured that the likelihood of finding the right one does not automatically decrease as soon as you step out of these Gothic walls, unless you are looking specifically for a Duke graduate who has been to every Duke basketball game and is a chemistry major. If so, I would advise you to check DukeList.
No, the probability is really only diminishing for Susan Patton’s son currently studying at Princeton, who can now enjoy the prospect of explaining his mother’s well-intentioned marriage pitch to any future love interests.
May the odds be ever in his favor.
Sony Rao is a Trinity senior. Her column runs every other Wednesday. You can follow Sony on Twitter @sony_rao.
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