Susan Patton made headlines when her letter to the editor was published in Princeton's student newspaper last March. "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," Patton began, before launching into all of the reasons why the women of Princeton (and beyond) should focus on finding a husband in college. Not surprisingly, debates on the topic ranged around the Web.
Now, Patton (since dubbed the "Princeton Mom") is releasing a book titled "Marry Smart," inwhich she shares what she believes are the problems with our society's "career first" philosophy and stresses the importance of women finding total satisfaction, stances she knows are going to kick up more controversy. Here, in an exclusive for Yahoo Shine, she addresses her critics and explains why she truly believes young women are better off following her advice … whether they agree with her or not.
I know you want to hate what I'm saying when I say that when you're young, you should quickly, assuredly find The One and start a family, and you should put your career, not your home life, on hold. But here's why you should listen to me.
It seems that I've struck a nerve with my philosophy—last year, I wrote a now-infamous letter to my alumni newspaper, the Daily Princetonian, on this subject, and everyone went crazy. I got hate mail, even from students at my alma mater. I crashed the newspaper's server. But why all the vitriol? Have I hit a little too close to home? I understand that there are some truths that we simply don't want to confront, but tapping on the dark spot of the X-ray is often the necessary reality check that propels us to fully understand the scope of a serious situation. And this is a very serious situation.
I know that you want to believe that you have lots of time to develop a brilliant career and have a wonderful family. But you don't. By the time you graduate from college, half of your childbearing years are behind you, and the years from 22 to 35 will pass much more quickly than you can imagine. And if you're even able to conceive at age 35, yours will be considered a high-risk pregnancy. Don't delay having children until after you've established your career. That may be too late. You can make up for lost time on the job, but if you miss your opportunity to have your own children, it's gone and it's irretrievable.
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My response to the "But I haven't seen the world yet" or "Aren't your 20s all about having fun?" conjecture is that it's all fun and games until somebody winds up a spinster with cats. Simply put, you don't get everything. Nobody does. So we must make choices and prioritize. If seeing the world is at the top of your list, OK, but the world will always be there. Your fertility is relatively fleeting.
Yes, children are expensive. But when you become a parent, your life and your spending habits change. You probably won't have the energy or inclination to indulge in those expensive evenings out or to go on elaborate vacations. You'll be amazed at how joyous it is to be in your home with your loving husband and beautiful baby.
And if you want to have a baby within a marriage, you've got to find a husband and stop wasting your time dating men that you know aren't good for you: the bad boys, the crazy guys, and the married men. He's not leaving his wife for you. You know that, right? And the dumb guy with whom you couldn't have an intelligent conversation but are enjoying circus sex? Well, the acrobatics will eventually become mechanical and boring, and he'll never get any smarter. Move on.
In your early 20s, you are at the peak of your attractiveness and your fertility. Use this time to your very best advantage if you know that you want marriage and children. Don't wait and don't leave your personal happiness to chance. You have to plan for it with the same dedication and commitment that you pursue your professional success, and start sooner than you think. You're not getting any younger! Ask your maiden aunt. She can tell you, right after she feeds her cats.
Related: Dear Susan Patton, Why Aren't You Pushing Marriage on College Men?
If you think you may have found The One, proceed judiciously. Enjoy the slow dance that leads to intimacy. A great romantic relationship gradually moves toward the bedroom. It definitely doesn't start there. If it does, there is nowhere for it to go.
Don't buy the current feminist rhetoric about how hookups are empowering for women. They're not. Casual sex is damaging to a woman's head, heart, soul, and body. You deserve better than that. Do you know what's empowering? Being in a committed relationship with a wonderful man who adores you.
There comes a point when you just have to decide whether you want to pursue your life's goals — or whether you want to be seen as politically correct. If you do choose marriage and motherhood, be prepared for the indignation of the feminists, the liberals, and the progressives who think that it's incongruous for an educated woman to aspire to these traditional roles. Let them think that — but you know better. You're old enough and wise enough to value your integrity and authenticity over popularity. Don't allow yourself to be shouted down by anyone or any group more interested in your having what they want for you, rather than what you want for yourself.
All of this comes down to women being true to themselves and smart for themselves. Developing your career is certainly important, but your personal happiness is more so. Your life will go on long after your career has ended. You probably already know whether marriage and motherhood are at the top of your bucket list. And if you're on the fence about having children, you need to decide before the choice is no longer yours to make. Yes, I know that men have many more decades to achieve fatherhood, and that's not fair. But it is fact.
I understand that some of my opinions may seem old-fashioned. But that's because they have stood the test of time. They may sound strident, but only because I am so confident of their wisdom and so eager to share what I've learned over the years. You know what you want in your life. Listen to your inner self. Take control of your life and responsibility for your happiness. You can have everything you want. You just have to plan for it.
Susan Patton is a first-generation American and was in one of the first classes of women to graduate from Princeton in 1977. She is a first-time author, a human resources consultant, and an executive coach in New York City. She is the proud mother of two Princeton sons, a daughter-in-law who also graduated from Princeton, and a long-haired red dachshund named Lucille.
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