Susan Patton, also known as “The Princeton Mom,” first caught the public eye in March 2013, when she published a letter to the editor in The Daily Princetonian. The letter advised the young female students at Patton’s alma mater to seek husbands while at Princeton rather than dating the lower-quality men they’d meet in their post-college lives, and to dedicate more of their time and energy to finding a good husband rather than focusing on their careers. Less than one year after that initial media circus, and several weeks after one wisely timed repeat performance in a Wall Street Journal op-ed last month, Patton has returned with a full-length book version of her original advice, Marry Smart: Advice for Finding the One. The 11-month turnaround suggests a rush to capitalize on her brush with the limelight, and indeed the quality of the book does seem as slapdash as could be expected.
Of course, we could have hoped that Patton’s opus, when it emerged, would be less repetitive, more polished, and less replete with awkward logical fallacies. My boyfriend, a state school grad, writes text messages more finely crafted and coherent than her latest admonition to seek out husbands with Ivy League degrees. But it’s not the clunky prose or the endless redundancies that doomed the book from the beginning, and even a fine-tuned version would have only succeeded in putting a prettier face on her flawed advice. The real problem was trying to turn one page of clichéd sexist tropes and ugly elitism disguised as advice into 200+ pages (238, if we’re counting) of constructive tips for young women today.
I’m right in the target audience for Susan Patton’s advice. I’m 25, an alumna of her cherished Princeton, and still not married. During my single years in New York City, I spent considerably more time working and considering my career options than dating or angling to meet new men. Patton clearly tries to preemptively extinguish criticism about the sexist roots of her advice by repeatedly assuring us that her advice is only for women who want to have children and "something resembling a traditional marriage." Well, I want both -- surprise, I’ll admit that despite having been brainwashed by feminists! -- so... did I find Marry Smart to be just the no-nonsense straight talk that I needed to achieve my true dreams of Leave-It-To-Beaver-style domestic bliss?
Well, if you define “straight talk” as “hideous sexist stereotypes that were outdated 20 years ago,” then sure. But I can’t say any of the advice actually seems useful or relevant to me, a 20-something in 2014. The only wise tidbits are so trite they hardly needed to be reiterated yet again -- e.g., get involved with activities you care about and date men with whom you share core values. And a lot of her more outré advice seemed downright laughable.
Here are the 10 worst pieces of dating advice from Marry Smart -- and trust me, there was plenty of bad advice from which to choose:
“Potential buyers are unmotivated if offered free merchandise, i.e., it’s the lonely cow that gives away free milk.” Women, do we really want to marry the kind of guys who will only commit to a woman so they can finally have sex with her? A man should be choosing to be with you because he appreciates your company, shares your values, and even, heck, actually loves you. Besides, a 2006 study revealed that 95 percent of Americans had engaged in premarital sex, and yet far more than 5 percent are married, so it sure seems like a lot of guys are indeed investing in cows of their very own despite access to free milk. This suggests that most men have motives other than finally obtaining sex from a recalcitrant girlfriend when they choose to take the plunge.
“If you’ve struggled with obesity through most of your teen years, then maybe surgical intervention is a good idea for you [...] If you’re going to go the route of cosmetic surgery, do it early enough to feel comfortable in your new body before going away to school.” Advising overweight, but not necessarily unhealthy, teenagers to get weight-loss surgery to slim down for the college dating market? That’s terrible advice both psychologically and medically. Doctors typically recommend that weight-loss surgery for teens should be considered only when serious obesity-related health complications have arisen, not for cosmetic reasons. And even if a teenager is a good candidate, the procedure is risky and requires the patient’s full commitment to maintaining a very restricted diet and appropriate lifestyle following the surgery. Weight-loss surgery not something to urge on an overweight teen just so that she can expand her potential dating options.
“Online dating can be the equivalent of going to a singles bar... for lazy people. [...] Yes, I know that many people meet online and sometimes it works out well, but it is frequently inelegant, undignified, and hazardous.” Wait, we’re supposed to get serious about meeting compatible men without even trying to connect with an appropriate guy through a forum where single people actively looking for relationships can go to find dates with similar interests and values? Also, if she thinks it’s lazy to dedicate an hour (or more) every evening to rating profiles, crafting witty but alluring messages to that cute barista/novelist who keeps popping up in your “Recommended Matches,” sorting through messages that range from offensive and graphic to mildly appealing, corresponding with new prospects, and arranging first dates... well, clearly she’s never tried online dating. (Try it, Susan! I met some awesome guys on OKCupid.)
“In choosing a husband, how important are credentials? Extremely important.” The elitism inherent in this tip is undeniable -- and even The Princeton Mom should be aware that a man’s academic and professional credentials usually have at least as much to do with his parents’ wealth and connections as with his own merit. Don't use shortcuts: Dedicate some time to figuring out whether your potential spouse is actually a competent, motivated, and generally self-sufficient person who will be a capable partner in life. Even if you really just love the idea of marrying a Harvard MBA with a sweet job at Goldman Sachs, remember those shiny credentials likely won’t make you happy with a partner who’s lacking in the qualities that actually make a good partner, such as compatibility, considerateness, and loyalty. Plus, do you want to be that woman who awkwardly manages to pitch her voice a little louder so everyone at the cocktail party can hear that her husband's alma mater is "Harrrrvard"? No one wants to be that woman.
“If you are too drunk to speak, then you may be incapable of saying no or warding off unwanted advances. And then it’s all on you.” I’m going to be heartfelt for a moment. If you have been sexually assaulted while too drunk to consent, it is not all on you. In fact, it’s not at all on you. Telling women that they are responsible for the crimes committed against them is not just terrible advice; it contributes to a culture in which rape victims are discouraged from reporting their assaults and even victimized further by judgmental friends, police, and college administrators. A new study suggests that rapists actually target drunk women, possibly in part because their victims won’t be taken seriously by law enforcement. Women aren’t to blame for this predatory behavior.
“[U]ntil you find a spouse, I would advise you invest your effort and energy at least 75 percent in searching for a partner and 25 percent in professional development.” Um, is this even possible? Assuming these women are still working 40 hours a week to support themselves, she’s recommending 120 hours a week be devoted to the husband hunt. Since online dating is off the table, you need to spend an average of 17 hours a day putting her tips for man-hunting into practice. That means, per Patton, you should be frequenting your local house of worship for like-minded worshippers, harassing friends to set you up with single acquaintances, and emailing old college classmates to see if they’re successful and marriage-worthy yet. Don’t worry, this leaves you 8 hours of free time for the week. I recommend you spend them sleeping, but you could also choose to spend them pursuing hobbies, such as pickling and needlework, that will make you more desirable as a wife.
“Self-reliance is the cornerstone of independence […] A measure of self-reliance and creativity is the ability to ‘make it yourself.’ Learn how to bake bread.” Patton repeatedly urges women to give up career advancement and even stay home with the kids for years if they don’t need to work to keep food on the table. Yet, adorably, she does try to encourage self-reliance... through baking. Ladies, the ability to bake a pie will probably not help you achieve meaningful self-reliance if you find yourself the sole earner in your household again one day. Unless you are really, really good at baking pies.
“You can recover lost time on the job -- but not in your children’s lives.” Let’s not downplay how difficult many women find it to reenter the workforce after a prolonged maternity leave. Patton may think it’s worth it to lose years’ worth of promotions and watch one’s qualifications become obsolete in order to be home full-time for one’s children, but at least let's give women the straight facts and let them decide whether they’d prefer to remain in the workforce or accept the massive professional setbacks and stay home. Many women find it’s close to impossible to gain a foothold in their old profession, especially in a position as senior as the one they left to have children. If you value your career as well as your family, this is not as easy a choice as Patton paints it to be.
“Girl, lose the weight! I know it’s hard… just do it.” Oh, okay. Guess it’s as simple as “just doing it.” Super helpful, thanks!
“When she enters college, your daughter will never again be as young, as beautiful, as attractive to men, or as fertile. Encourage her to make the best use of this time.” Parents, I beg of you: Do not tell your college-aged daughters to hook a husband before they grow too old and ugly. Trust me, she knows she’s enjoying the full bloom of youth, and the guys she’ll meet at college will let her know how attractive they find her. When and if she wants to get married, she’ll be able to make that choice for herself. Instead, tell her she’s smart, capable, and able to accomplish anything she sets her mind to. Tell her to find out who she is and how she wants to spend her life before she focuses on finding someone to share it with. Tell her to learn how to be truly self-reliant and never feel dependent on a man for support or fulfillment. Girls today need to hear these things, from their parents as much as anyone.