Thursday, 4 April 2013

Should I have graduated with a fiancé and a B.A.?

            Susan Patton from the 1977 class at Princeton wrote a letter to The Princetonian student paper explaining that the best advice to Ivy League women is to focus on finding a fiancé before graduating. To be fair to Patton, I want to emphasize that she says this is important because well-educated women are at a disadvantage in finding mates because men tend to marry younger women who are less educated than they are. She worries that educated women may end up settling for husbands who do not challenge them intellectually. She suggests that smart women have "priced [themselves] out of the market."
            We may have.
            Sure, I'm not Ivy League educated, but I was educated at two Canadian universities. I'm a pretty clever girl. I've dated men from different educational backgrounds, but never a classmate in university. Here's the thing, though: I'm pretty sure I can find intelligent men outside of my alma mater. I mean, there are even super clever guys who didn't even go to university. Steve Jobs and Bill Gates both dropped out of college.
            Patton got some things right, though. I can't imagine dating someone who isn't on par with me intellectually. It's so important to me that I meet a man who will watch "Jeopardy" with me and not get all pissy when I call out the answers. I would definitely want a life partner who could challenge me intellectually.
            But here are the problems with Patton's advice.
            First off, it's not 1977. Advice that she wishes she had received more than 40 years ago isn't necessarily advice that today's young women need. Sure, there are lots of professional women who lament not having a family, but for every one of those women there are hundreds of young women who put relationships first and skipped higher education. You only have to watch one episode of "16 and Pregnant" (oh, don't judge me!) to see young women who struggle with prioritizing education and raising a child at the same time.
            Women aren't marrying as young as they used to- if they choose to marry at all. We travel, live on our own, buy homes, and live single girl lives longer than ever before. We have relationships, but we're not rushing into marriage because we can take care of ourselves. When I was 18, I dated a 23-year-old man who told me, "Well, I'm done college, my grandparents are giving me their house, what do you think about marriage?" Ah, no! I hadn't moved out of my mom's house, gone to college, travelled, or lived yet. I was nowhere near ready to settle down (and certainly not with him, but that's beside the point!).
            I'll be 30 in a month (a bone-chilling thought!) and I'm still striving for some of those single girl goals. University was not a time to be looking for a fiancé- it was way too early! If it happens, it happens- but it's not 1977. We're not limited to dating the people in our immediate social/professional circles. We're not marrying the boy down the street- we're dating people we meet at work, at social events, and online. We are meeting people we never would have met pre-Internet. I can narrow down my search by looking for university-educated men or look for a witty profile of a man who I think would challenge me. So if I'm looking for a man who is my intellectual equal I don't have to hop in a time machine and head back to university.
            And I wouldn't want to head back to university. When I enrolled, it was after 3 years of college and another 3 years of working full-time. I was 24-years-old. My freshman classmates were mostly 17 or 18-years-old and I can tell you that that six year gap is a big age gap. I was not looking to attend social events with people the same age as clients I had just finished working with at the group home before starting university. I was too old for that crap. I wanted potluck dinners and quiet nights at a classy wine bar. I lived in a nice apartment by myself because I could not imagine living with roommates in student housing once again. I worked full-time to pay for that nice apartment. I was busy with very different things between classes than my classmates.
            Patton discusses age as a barrier to dating in university as well. She states that since men tend to date women younger than they are, freshman women must begin the search immediately since by fourth year they will have only one class of potential fiancés to choose from. Now, barring the issue that a woman couldn't possibly date a younger man (J.Lo and Casper?), age can be a bit of a factor. I certainly felt way too old to be dating classmates the age of former clients. The man I dated for most of my university career was older than many of my professors. Of course, dating professors is against the rules. (Wait, what about former students? I may need to Facebook some former profs!)
            To put a four-year expiration date on dating is a scary thought to a nearly 30-year-old woman. Is Patton suggesting that since I didn't find a suitable mate in university that I'll end up having to settle for a slack-jawed yokel? Her target audience, current Princeton women who are mostly between 18 and 22, don't need this sort of scare tactic. There is no way a woman at age 22 in 2013 needs to feel as though she'll never find her future partner because she wasted her university years studying, volunteering, working, and making lifelong friendships. You have way more than four years to find someone just right for you.
            And who is to say that the person who is just right for you has a post-secondary education? I mentioned above two super clever men without degrees: Jobs and Gates. Doesn't Patton's letter sound just the slightest bit elitist? Of course, by "slightest bit" I mean "Holy shit." I've been to both college and university here in Canada and I can tell you I studied with idiots from all the institutions I attended. A fancy, framed piece of paper does not indicate you are an intelligent person, just that you attended and passed. We all know this but somehow we still buy into this credential society idea. Yes, there are certain careers in which I would prefer a person to have a degree- like my doctor. But does my degree in philosophy tell you I'm intelligent, or does it just tell you that I wasn't too focused on a specific career path after graduation?
            We all know there are different kinds of smarts. We tell this to children when they fail a math test or can't hit a baseball. "Oh honey, but you're so good at telling stories!" It's not a silly consolation, but rather a matter of fact. If you eliminate from your dating pool everyone without a higher education, you'd eliminate great people like Abraham Lincoln, Jay-Z, Walt Disney, Lucille Ball, and Drew Barrymore. (The fact that three of these people are dead is neither here nor there!) Patton fails to understand that there are so many types of intelligence and the only thing you'll achieve with this elitist attitude is a pared down dating pool filled with Ivy League snobs.
            CTV News in Canada introduced her story by saying something to the effect of, "Patton states that women in university should be looking for a husband instead of focusing on their studies." That isn't what she said at all. She suggests that women multitask, prioritizing finding a relationship right alongside getting a higher education. I think that the general message is a good one: all people should strive for a well-rounded life. Patton didn't exactly support her argument well (and for me, as a philosophy graduate, it's all about a well-supported argument) and that is where this message fails. She's right to say that it's never right to settle for less than you want in a relationship, but she's wrong to assume that your university is the best place to find what you're looking for.
            My advice to Princeton women would be to take in the spirit of Patton's message, but don't look too closely at the specifics. Get your education, get to know lots of people, and don't stress about finding a fiancé by age 22. You've got some good years left in you yet- I know this because I do too.

© Katie Jolicoeur and Blackhearts & Raspberry Tarts, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, written or visual, without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Katie Jolicoeur and Blackhearts & Raspberry Tarts with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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