“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.”
My audible “wow” of disbelief broke the silence of the Sadler Center as I read this. In her letter to the editor in Princeton’s student newspaper, Princeton alumna Susan Patton urges girls at her alma mater to find men to marry while at Princeton. Why? Because, the real world is full of dunces who can’t make them happy.
Okay, maybe she didn’t say that exactly, but her condescending tone certainly implied that sentiment.
Patton’s article is troublesome because it disseminates a shallow misconception regarding happiness. A feminist reading of her article may take issue with her implication that women must depend on men for their futures. But a discussion of her false assertion really can apply to everyone.
Growing up, my mother advised my sister and me to experience all that the world has to offer and to establish ourselves emotionally and professionally before getting married. During this time of exploration, you are meant to discover a sense of purpose and realize your passions, beliefs and values. You should develop self-confidence, self-reliance and self-respect. It is by gaining this deep sense of self that you build a foundation for happiness — not by marrying an equally smart person.
While I am certainly not a relationship expert, the simplest romantic comedies and “Ask Amy” advice I have seen suggest being content with yourself is the first step toward sharing your happiness with another; you cannot “inextricably link” your “future and happiness” to anybody else.
Also problematic is the fact that Patton equates intelligence with worth and, in turn, with happiness. She implies that finding an intellectual equal qualifies a worthy spouse and ensures a happy marriage. I think the lives of brilliant writers and poets who have had troubled marriages indicate that one can be a genius yet fail miserably in relationships.
Some students at the College of William and Mary will find their life partners on campus. However, I doubt these romances will stem solely from two individuals’ ability to choose well from a pool of people with similar intelligence. While finding someone with whom you can intellectually engage is important, the so-called “book smarts” do not always translate into invaluable common sense, mutual interests, insight and understanding. Students at the College could find their soul mates here for many other reasons, one being, perhaps, that the College is full of students that share other characteristics that would make them wonderful people to grow old with: generosity, passion, thoughtfulness, dedication, creativity, empathy and a drive to learn about and improve the lives of others.
Oh, and add humility to that list — a beautiful quality found in the many accomplished students at the College, and one which seems to elude Ms. Patton.
Email Andrea Aron-Schiavone at firstname.lastname@example.org.