Single ladies

Okay, okay, I couldn’t resist dissecting this very special February 14th message in the Wall Street Journal (?!?) from somebody I’ve never heard of before: Susan Patton: A Little Valentine’s Day Straight Talk: Young women in college need to smarten up and start husband-hunting.

First of all — what is this deal with middle-aged women feeling the irrepressible need to give college women condescending and sexist advice? First Emily Yoffe, now Susan Patton. I’m sensing a pattern. I think it’s born of a mixture of envy, regret, and privilege.

The source of the envy is obvious: college women are young, young, young, but still adults. These middle-aged scolds want to be the college women. Duh. Of course. I want to be a college woman. Well, okay — I want the youthful-but-mature body and endless future possibilities of a college woman. But I don’t want to be quite as stupid as I was during college. Isn’t that what literally everybody ever over the age of 38 or so wants? Well, it’s not gonna happen. Just accept it and move on.

Regret? I haven’t read the Patton essay carefully yet, so I don’t know what she regrets. It is either not following the advice she’s about to give, and she thinks her life would now be better if she had followed it. Or, her regret is that she did follow the advice she’s about to give, and she’s worried that she didn’t have to do that, that her life would have been the same or better if she’d just done what she wanted. Of course, humans are creatures of paradox, and capable of feeling both emotions at once.

The privilege: these are wealthy-ish women at the height of their professional careers. Their memories of college, and young adulthood immediately after college, are dim and remote. They didn’t have to go a hundred thousand dollars into debt and graduate unable to find a job, back when they went to school. And their current social circle is privileged enough that neither their own children, nor the children of their friends, are in that position either.

A lot of this lifestyle-lecturing is based on that kind of privilege — the idea that your choices are never constrained by outside circumstance, and certainly never by economic circumstance. For example, all the endless whinging about whether women “should” work outside the home when they have young children — that is an upper-middle-class problem if ever there was one.

So, diving into the essay itself:

Another Valentine’s Day. Another night spent ordering in sushi for one and mooning over “Downtown Abbey” reruns. Smarten up, ladies.

Wow, that’s pathetic. I assume she’s portraying her vision of the single life — but is that actually what she does on a VD when she’s not dating? Or is it what some hypothetical single woman who doesn’t exist does? And that cheesy “smarten up, ladies” — am I supposed to care what she has to say after that? Am I supposed to see myself in that picture?

Despite all of the focus on professional advancement, for most of you the cornerstone of your future happiness will be the man you marry.

Um — citation needed?

Listen, only a relatively privileged person could pretend that it’s all about love, never money. The rest of us know that it’s both — we know that a failed career can destroy a marriage just as easily as the other way around. Most couple fights are about money, and even the ones that aren’t about money per se are about things that could probably be solved with enough money. Like housework — if you’re rich enough, you can just pay somebody to do that stuff, right?

Anyway, I think women in this culture are getting exactly the opposite message — that  the main thing that will make you happy is finding the right man — and not being encouraged to focus enough on their careers, or on money management, or any of that stuff. Diamonds aren’t really a girl’s best friend — the resale value on gemstones isn’t super great — but diamonds as a metaphor for having your own independent source of wealth? Absolutely.

But chances are that you haven’t been investing nearly as much energy in planning for your personal happiness as you are planning for your next promotion at work.

We’ve all internalized the rom-com stereotype of the man or woman who is too focused on their career to date, or to maintain a relationship they already have. But how common is that really? Without actual data, I have to assume that the writer is one of those sad, deluded people who believe rom-coms show real life the way it totally is.

Most people’s jobs are not some kind of really intense hobby, where they can just arbitrarily decide how hard they’re going to work at it. Most people need jobs to pay the rent and buy food, basic survival stuff. And if you’re not advancing in your career, a lot of the time you’re moving backwards.

What are you waiting for? You’re not getting any younger, but the competition for the men you’d be interested in marrying most definitely is.

What? There are women out there getting younger? How incredible! What happens when they reach year zero? Do they get handed over to a terrifying knife monster thing like in Hyperion?

Also, her heteronormativity is really starting to get on my nerves. But here’s the thing — once you make both partners the same sex, you’re forced to eliminate a lot of sexist assumptions. Like the idea that men have to focus on their careers, while women have to focus on their love lives. BUT WHAT IF THEY’RE BOTH WOMEN??? Then everybody has to focus on both, which, you know, is how the real world actually is.

Think about it: If you spend the first 10 years out of college focused entirely on building your career, when you finally get around to looking for a husband you’ll be in your 30s, competing with women in their 20s.

What is this “looking for a husband” business? You don’t look for them. You just stumble across them while you’re doing other stuff. Love isn’t a project — it’s not a thing like mid-terms where you can really buckle down and study for it and be sure to pass. Sure, there are some behaviors that enhance your ability to find love — like meeting new people — but that in no way suggests that you should have “finding a husband” on your life goals checklist. In fact, people who have “finding a spouse” as a primary motivator tend to come across as desperate and creepy. All of us, men and women alike, are more attracted to people who’ve got their own business together. We aren’t drawn to people who are generically needy.

And addressing the second part of her statement — are you “competing” for men in their 20s, or men in their 30s like you are? I mean, if she’s talking about a shrinking dating pool, as more men get married off, that’s one thing. But if she means to be implying that you’re “competing” for men your own age against younger women — dude, that’s gross. And super outdated anyway. Unless those men in their 30s are very financially successful, or rock stars, or whatever, the women in their 20s aren’t going to be particularly interested in dating them. Because, you know, those women have their own careers to work on. They’re dating guys as young and hot as they are.

That’s not a competition in which you’re likely to fare well.

Speak for yourself, buster.

If you want to have children, your biological clock will be ticking loud enough to ward off any potential suitors. Don’t let it get to that point.

What kind of 1950s Playboy nonsense is this? “Ticking loud enough to ward off any potential suitors”? Men your own age won’t want to date you because they know you’re ready to get busy having kids? What if they want kids? And if they don’t want kids, and you do want kids, should you be getting married at all?

You should be spending far more time planning for your husband than for your career

How many times do I have to tell you? You should spend NO time planning for a husband. The act of trying to find a husband should be identical to the act of living your life. Husbands are not the prize waiting for you at the end of a successful video game, okay? They’re people. The way you “earn” awesome people is by being an awesome person yourself.

and you should start doing so much sooner than you think. This is especially the case if you are a woman with exceptionally good academic credentials, aiming for corporate stardom.

Really? Why on earth would that be? I’ve got to hear this.

finding a life partner who shares your intellectual curiosity and potential for success is difficult. Those men who are as well-educated as you are often interested in younger, less challenging women.


Because that is a pretty bold, far-reaching assertion that doesn’t fit my own observations, or any data that I’m familiar with, or common sense, or, really, anything.

And how does that work anyway? Well-educated men want women who are young and stupid, while poorly-educated men want women who are older, with good careers, who can support them? Or is she really saying that no men at all are looking for well-educated women? Well, that’s sad, if true. But I doubt it’s true.

Could you marry a man who isn’t your intellectual or professional equal?

Define “equal.”

But the likelihood is that it will be frustrating to be with someone who just can’t keep up with you or your friends. When the conversation turns to Jean Cocteau or Henrik Ibsen, the Bayeux Tapestry or Noam Chomsky, you won’t find that glazed look that comes over his face at all appealing.

Oh, come ON. There is literally no couple on the face of the earth (I’m guessing) where one partner doesn’t get glassy-eyed over some topic near and dear to their spouse. If you marry a guy who’s “beneath” you, presumably it’s because you’re compatible overall, even if your education or earning potential or whatever aren’t perfectly matched up. But I’m getting the distinct impression that she doesn’t think it’s bad if HE is smarter, better educated, or higher-earning than SHE is. The challenge is the woman finding an equal-to-superior man to marry. It’s an outdated patriarchal equation that only goes one direction.

And if you start to earn more than he does? Forget about it. Very few men have egos that can endure what they will see as a form of emasculation.

I’ll acknowledge that this has traditionally been a problem for couples in the past. But is the solution for women to make sure they never “marry down”? Or is it for over-sensitive men to grow up? Over the course of our lives together, Paul and I have frequently swapped which partner was earning more, as we dealt with layoffs and other career setbacks. It’s not like we could have planned in advance for all of that. You just have to deal — or not.

So what’s a smart girl to do? Start looking early and stop wasting time dating men who aren’t good for you: bad boys, crazy guys and married men.

Well, I agree that young women shouldn’t date crazy guys and married men. But I’m having a hard time imagining that dating crazy guys and married men is the number one reason college women aren’t finding husbands.

When you find a good man, take it slow. Casual sex is irresistible to men, but the smart move is not to give it away. [..] The grandmotherly message of yesterday is still true today: Men won’t buy the cow if the milk is free.

Sputter. Sputter. Sputter.


If you’re going to claim some decades-outmoded bit of advice is “still true,” you first have to prove that it is, in fact, true. What does “buy the cow” even mean in the modern day? Put a ring on it, as Beyoncé might say? So a guy won’t marry you if you’re already boinking each other?

Hands up, all currently married couples who never had sex with each other before marriage.

Once you’re living off campus and in the real world, you’ll be stunned by how smart the men are not.

I’ve never observed that. Maybe she needs to know more nerds.

You may not be ready for marriage in your early 20s (or maybe you are), but keep in touch with the men that you meet in college, especially the super smart ones. They’ll probably do very well for themselves, and their desirability will only increase after graduation.

So, what — single women in their thirties are supposed to have a roster of guys they crushed on in college who they can call up when they’re feeling lonely? Jeez, that’s pathetic. Or is she recommending keeping a list specifically of smart guys you didn’t crush on — the ones who struck you as too nerdy or awkward or whatever — in the hope that by the time you’re ready to settle, they won’t already have found someone?

Okay, that’s even more pathetic.

Look, keeping in touch with college friends is great if you manage to do it — and meeting people through people you’re already friends with is still the best way I know of to hook up — but again, if you’re doing it all through some mercenary desire to acquire a mate as if he were a merit badge or something, I can only imagine it backfiring spectacularly.

Not all women want marriage or motherhood, but if you do, you have to start listening to your gut and avoid falling for the P.C. feminist line that has misled so many young women for years.

Here it is — the overt anti-feminist content that we always seem to expect when overprivileged middle-aged women lecture female college students. Feminism! That big bad boogie-oogie! It lied to you!

Tell me which one sounds like more of a lie 1. You have to be able to take care of yourself, which includes earning your own money, because you can’t count on having a man around to do it. 2. You have to devote yourself to finding the right man, and trust that everything financial will work out all right based on his earnings potential, because of course you won’t ever get divorced or anything.

She’s already identified well-educated men as wanting women who are “younger, less challenging.” So if she’s right about that, and you do find such a man when you’re both in your twenties, what’s to stop him from divorcing you when you’re in your thirties, and running off to pursue some less challenging 22-year-old? Nothing. Congratulations, you focused on your marriage instead of your career, AND NOW YOU DON’T HAVE EITHER ONE.