We’ve all thought about it. By accident, maybe, we’ve daydreamed about how fantastic a mom that girl from Goodrich Coffee Bar will be, amputated our last name in favor of a cute entrymate’s, mentally dressed that charming Economics Teaching Assistant in a suit and imagined him teetering on the frosted top of a wedding cake. At a school where the percentage of intermarried alums is exaggerated folklore, it is perhaps inevitable that we all end up thinking about ending up together.
And when I read Susan Patton’s letter, “Advice for the Young Women of Princeton: the Daughters I Never Had” in The Daily Princetonian last week, I couldn’t help but think of that sparkling tour guide statistic about the number of Ephs who have walked through Hopkins Gate and right down the aisle. Her piece, which has lit the blogosphere aflame, advises female students to “find a husband on campus before graduation.” Patton’s prescribed husband hunting is justified as a preemptive defense against a young woman’s quickly expiring shelf life of desirability in a world where “men regularly marry women who are younger, less intelligent, less educated.”
We should all be thankful that Patton addressed the envelope correctly – “returning to sender” doesn’t work so well when the sender lives under a rock. Sure, this may well be a world where men marry less intelligent women. It is also a world where men marry men, women marry women, women marry less intelligent men and men and women choose not to get married – something Patton neglects altogether. Patton clings to archaic notions of courtship, and wound too tight around her outdated ideals, is unable to see the problem clearly. In the post-commencement world, women, too, can find their match in younger, less intelligent people; the appeal of the “kiddie pool,” after all, is as universal as the dread of solitude. The friend who recently confessed to me a plague of How I Met Your Mother-induced nightmares is, in fact, male. Despite the fact that it is sprinkled with empowering proclamations of supremacy – “as Princeton women, we have almost priced ourselves out of the market” – Patton’s piece sells women short.
Above all, this pressure, this onus, is not the specific burden of any one gender. In fact, it just might be universal. So yes, in many ways, Patton’s critique is wildly problematic. Sexist and blatantly heteronormative, Patton’s practically painted the nested red circles on herself. Her piece is as easy a target as they come, and criticizing it, while refreshing, is also too easy. What is less obvious, then, and perhaps more worth talking about are the moments of poignancy – brief as they may be – in which it can be seen as hopeful and more importantly, (gasp) relevant.
At one point in her piece, Patton summarizes the post-Princeton love crisis she hopes to address. “Simply put, you will never again be surrounded by this concentration of men who are worthy of you.” While intended as a harbinger of the certain, slow death of young women’s prospects, this insight, ironically enough, made me girlishly excited. Of course, it could be a concentration of men or of women or of both, but the idea remains: “Welcome to the gold mine,” it seems to say. And that’s the part to focus on.
Because, when you think about, it makes sense that we accidentally hold life-partner auditions at The Red Herring or doodle our Junior Advisor’s name in our planner: Perhaps for the first and/or only time in our lives, everyone around us is crush-worthy. They are smart, they are motivated; they are solidly similar and electrically different. They wake up at 5 a.m. to watch the mating patterns of flies and climb up mountains before breakfast. They set NESCAC records and go on adventures each weekend. They are going anywhere and everywhere. Williams College, we are all worth marrying.
So no, I’m not desperately set on the fact that the future Mr. Calkins goes to Williams. And no, I don’t think it’s solely my job to find him. But I do know, much like Susan Patton might have when she was at Princeton in the Stone Age, that I wake up every morning in a jackpot. The one thing Patton does right, then, is stress the impossible singularity of this experience. When you wake up tomorrow, imagine holding a rock – the kind you’d find to skip across the surface of a lake – and tossing it, throwing it out of a lacrosse stick, catapulting it in any direction across campus. In every single trajectory that rock could take, it’s going to leave a bruise on someone incredible. Someone worth marrying. Someone worth you.
I know that Susan Patton’s letter is preposterous. But, flipped on its head and taken with enough salt to fill the goals down on Renzie Lamb, it is also pertinent. Because maybe when you zoom about far enough – when you take Susan out of it, at least – the idea isn’t so egregious. It may, in fact, be a little bit magical.
So the next time you momentarily mistake the tune of the Thompson bells for “Here Comes the Bride” on your way to chemistry lab, try not to break into a cold sweat. Instead, take a moment. A moment to breathe, a moment to realize that melody on the bells is “Edelweiss,” a moment to imagine tossing a rock across the quad and inevitably wonderfully hitting someone incredible. Someone worthy of you. Take a moment long enough to realize that it is magical.
Emily Calkins ’14 is an English and political science double major from Baltimore, Md. She lives in Sage.