It's Valentine's Day. I'm single, I'm a college graduate, I'm 26 and I've spent the last four years tirelessly working to advance my career as an editor. According to "Princeton Mom," Susan Patton, tonight I'll probably be crying into my Seamless-ordered sushi and tomorrow I need to buck up and find a damn husband.
On behalf of the vast majority of single women that I know -- who are, as Patton so quaintly put it, "not getting any younger" -- I'd like to tell her: "Thanks, but no thanks." Your so-called "straight talk" isn't doing those in your target demographic any favors.
Of course, this is not the first time the 1977 Princeton grad has argued that "career women" are wasting their youth on caring about their jobs, that the only good men out there can exclusively be found in your undergraduate university classes, and that being deeply passionate about (and loving) your work is mutually exclusive with being deeply passionate about finding love and a life partner. She's already made this argument twice, but I suppose that a holiday dedicated to Hallmark cards, ostentatious shows of affection and overpriced prix-fixe dinners is as good a time as any for her to push out her drivel of a message once again -- and shill for her upcoming book.
To the Susan Pattons of the world, I want to make the following very clear about single women in their 20s and 30s:
1. Most of us are looking for love.
As many single women can attest, there is a vast gulf between being open to love and going on dates, and actually finding a person who you mesh with, who you care about and who cares about you. The women I know put aside time out of their busy weeks to date and to push themselves into new situations where they might meet potential love interests. We sign up for Tinder and Hinge and OKCupid and JDate, half out of boredom, but, ultimately, with an air of hopefulness. With each swipe or like or match we wonder whether this will be the one that works -- and often, it's not. (The same can be said for all of the wonderful and not-so-wonderful potential partners we met during our college years. I don't believe that the men I met when I was 20 are any more "marriage material" than the men I meet now.)
We enter relationships and end said relationships when they are not right, we endure heartbreaks and bad dates, and also have great sex and great stories. Some of us find someone we think we'd like to be with for a very long time during these years -- and some of us don't. Both are fine outcomes, and most people do not end up in one camp or the other because they did or did not try hard enough to "plan for a husband."
2. We also are dedicating considerable time and energy to our careers -- but it's not a waste of time.
Not only do most of the single women I know love their jobs, find fulfillment in said jobs and cannot imagine leading lives that did not include a career, but also, for most of us, work is and will always be a necessity for survival. Even recognizing women who would prefer not to work after marriage, most of us will not marry a partner who can afford to take on the full financial burden of his family. As of May 2013, 4 in 10 American households with young children had female breadwinners. And single, childless women in urban centers are on their way to out-earning their male counterparts. But none of this means that these women will be forced to opt out of marriage because they've spent time advancing their careers and are making decent salaries. In fact, highly-educated, successful women are just as likely to get married (if not more so) than other women, they just tend to do it a few years later.
3. Having -- and enjoying -- sex does not prevent us from finding true connection.
"Men won't buy the cow if the milk is free," Patton writes, sounding more out of touch than I thought was humanly possible. I know women who have slept with men right away thinking it would be completely casual, and ended up marrying those men years down the road. I know women who did everything "right" and by "the rules" with a potential partner and ended up dumped. I have heard (and experienced) nearly every iteration in between. Sex is complicated and means something different to every person. It absolutely can make or break a relationship, but not because you messed up and "gave it away" too early. And honestly, any man who would lose interest in me right after we slept together, is probably not a man I'd want to commit myself to legally for the rest of my life, anyway. Plus, 95 percent of American couples who make the trip down the aisle have slept together far before their wedding night.
4. We don't devalue marriage or motherhood. And a lot of us still want those things.
Let's be clear: being a feminist does not, as Patton implies, mean believing that there is something "incongruous about educated, ambitious women wanting to be wives and mothers." Most of the single -- and married -- women I am close with identify as feminists and consider themselves to be thoroughly modern and empowered. None of them think that being a wife or a mother is a bad thing, some don't want to be either wives or mothers, and many are single and still want both. Not spending every waking moment wishing for an MRS. degree or looking at every new man who enters our lives as a potential sperm donor, doesn't preclude a desire to find a life partner or have a baby.
But the most important thing you need to understand, Susan Patton, is that we single women choose not to define our ultimate worth by our relationship status. Yes, we are single. Yes, we are spending Valentine's Day without a romantic partner (probably not crying into our takeout sushi). We may or may not feel satisfied with those things. But we are also so, so much more.