‘Princeton Mom’ Susan Patton on What Some Women Want and How to Get It
Princeton University alumna Susan A. Patton, aka “The Princeton Mom” and author of “Marry Smart: Advice for Finding THE ONE,” has been the subject of much controversy following the advice she has been giving women who want to take on traditional roles. She discussed her views and the subsequent public reaction to them with Epoch Times. Questions and answers have been edited for length and clarity.
Epoch Times: You advocate finding a husband while at college, but it’s not what you did.
Ms. Patton: It is not what I did, but in thinking back, I wish that I did. So my advice comes from having lived through, having done something different, and having learned from my own experiences. I realized that it would have been so much better had I used my time as an undergraduate on Princeton’s campus, in addition to all the things that I did on campus, to look for my life partner. I regret not having done so. And although, yes, of course, things have worked out for me because I saw to it that they did, it would have been better. There are things that I understand and know now that I didn’t 40 years ago—[things] that I wish I knew, which is why I wrote the book.
Epoch Times: You graduated from Princeton and then got married?
Ms. Patton: I graduated from Princeton in 1977, but I didn’t get married until 1986.
Epoch Times: College-age women don’t know what they want. Isn’t that the time we discover what we want?
Ms. Patton: No, I don’t think so, because we are in a perpetual state of self-discovery and perpetually in a state of evolution. So, I think that to say that in our 20s we don’t know who we are, yes, we do know who we are, but we are evolving and we continue to evolve throughout our lives. Every decade brings new revelations, new priorities, new ways of living, and new things that are important to us. So, to say that it’s an age of discovery—I’m saying that life is about self-discovery and self-evolution.
Epoch Times: Do you think women at that age have what it takes to get married?
Ms. Patton: I do. I think it’s important for women to understand that they will continue to evolve, but wouldn’t it be wonderful to face life’s challenges and life’s opportunities with a life partner early? During those critical years from 20 to 30 it is a wonderful thing for a woman to be able to navigate those years with a committed life partner. I’m saying: go to college, find your husband at college, get married, and have children after you graduate. What I’m suggesting here is that young women use that time to their very best advantage because this is the greatest concentration of age-appropriate, single, like-minded men that you will ever be surrounded by. If you are a woman who wants to be married and wants to have children, you can’t wait 10 years after you graduate to start looking for a life partner. By then you will be in your late 30s and you will be competing with women 10 years younger than you for the men you’re interested in marrying. The problem is that they are going to be looking at these much younger women for so many reasons, not the least of which that these women have 10 more years of fertility ahead of them.
Epoch Times: Many college-age guys see the time spent in college also as a time to “sow their wild oats.”
Ms. Patton: Yes they do, and sadly, women have facilitated this to the point that it hurts them. I think if women were less agreeable to enter into relationships of uncommitted, casual sex hook-ups, it would be better for them. Yes, it’s very good for young men to be sowing their wild oats because they can do so almost indefinitely, because men don’t have the biological imperative that women do if they want to have children.
Epoch Times: This sounds like very traditional advice, but when you talk about women investing in changing their bodies at college age, that is not so traditional.
Ms. Patton: I think it’s more traditional then maybe you recognize. What I’m suggesting is that women who have been struggling all through their teen years with some extreme physical flaw, whether it’s extreme overweight, or an awful nose, whatever it is that has been haunting them all through their high school years, I’m suggesting they should get that fixed so that they can enter their prime dating years in college feeling good about themselves. I don’t think that it’s so dramatic when you consider 80 percent of American children wear braces on their teeth—not for some overbite problem, they do it for aesthetic reasons so that they can enter their adult years with straight teeth. Why is this so different?
I’m suggesting that women, if they have been struggling with weight their whole lives, and you know the kind of women I’m talking about, women who every room they walk into, every classroom, every party, whether people say to them outright or they don’t, you know that people look at these women and think “Oh, look at the fat girl that just walked in.” And don’t think that these women aren’t aware of it. They’re painfully aware of it.
I’m saying that if you are a parent of a woman who has been struggling with weight issues and you have been screaming at your daughter: “Put down the candy, put down the soda pop, put down the ice-cream,” you’ve been screaming at this poor girl for 10 years, and it obviously hasn’t done any good, it’s probably done harm, do something that will actually help her because she clearly can’t help herself. And if it’s some sort of plastic surgery or some sort of medical procedure that will allow her to finally get rid of the weight that has been haunting her or that has been tormenting her and has made her the object of ridicule for most of her life, I’m saying yes, that’s a smart thing to do so that your daughter can enter college feeling good about her physical self.
Epoch Times: What about men who are overweight and are looking for someone like them?
Ms. Patton: It doesn’t matter, men don’t have a time-frame within which to accomplish the task of getting married and having children. They could take their whole lives. Women who want a traditional life of wife and mother, have a very limited window of opportunity to achieve these goals. They have a limited window of opportunity in which to bear their own children. And it’s not for everyone, not all women want to be married, not all women want to have children, but if they do, it’s important they get to college feeling good about themselves.
Epoch Times: Regarding the quote from your book: “If you are too drunk to speak, then you may be incapable of saying no or warding off unwanted advances. And then it’s all on you. Please spare me your ‘blaming the victim’ outrage.” Could you further discuss this?
Ms. Patton: What I’m suggesting is that women must take responsibility for their own safety, for their own happiness, for their own success, but in terms of what happens to them when they lose control of themselves because they’re too drunk or too stoned, I’m suggesting the best way they can control themselves is to take responsibility for their own safety.
Honestly, I think that this has been misinterpreted. We are all interested in the security and safety of everybody, and we can hope that everyone always acts respectfully toward each other. But, because we can’t guarantee that, the best advice to ensure we are not victims of violent crimes, any kind of violent crime, is to accept individual responsibility for our personal safety and protection. And women, especially, are empowered when they are in control of themselves.
To suggest to young women that they bear little, or no responsibility for their own safety—it’s illogical, it’s irresponsible, and it’s dangerous. We need to remind young women that they are responsible for themselves. In the same way that you don’t want your home to be broken into and your possessions stolen, so you lock your door. And if you’re walking on the street and it’s a high-crime area, don’t flash wads of cash around, it’s just not logical. Likewise, in the absence of a perfectly behaved population, the most prudent advice we could give young women to prevent assault is to use common sense, remain clearheaded and don’t facilitate your own victimhood.
Epoch Times: Are you surprised by the controversy you’ve unleashed?
Ms. Patton: I did not expect this controversy although I understand that when you challenge the conventional wisdom of generations it gets people talking—and that’s good. My intent has always been to initiate a conversation—one that has been suppressed for generations.
I think we have to remind our young women, especially our very educated young women, that there’s nothing incongruous about an educated young woman aspiring to marriage and motherhood. We have to remind them of that. I guess I had some sense that, yes, it’s gonna get some people talking, but that’s good, I think that conversation is good. An exchange of ideas is good.
The vitriol has surprised me. I certainly did not expect the kind of screaming outrage—much of it frankly I think is faux outrage. I think there are groups that feel their agenda has not been given adequate attention so they are controverting and distorting my message for the sake drawing attention to their own causes that they perceive to be underappreciated. I feel like there’s been a lot of parsing of words and playing of semantic games when the truth is we all want the same thing here—we want our young people to be smart, to be healthy, to be happy, to pursue their goals, to pursue their dreams in a healthy and wholesome environment.
Epoch Times: In your “Letter to the Editor: Advice for the young women of Princeton: the daughters I never had” in the Daily Princetonian on March 29, 2013, you wrote: “When I was an undergraduate in the mid-seventies, the 200 pioneer women in my class would talk about navigating the virile plains of Princeton as a precursor to professional success. Never being one to shy away from expressing an unpopular opinion, I said that I wanted to get married and have children. It was seen as heresy.” Is it since that time [the mid-’70s] that you’ve been thinking of starting this dialogue?
Ms. Patton: No. I have always thought that college truly is the best place for young people to meet each other, but it’s only been over the past few years in terms of the work that I do, I’m a human resources consultant and an executive coach, and I deal so regularly with extraordinarily successful women in business who are profoundly unhappy because all they have in their lives are their amazing careers which they know eventually will come to an end—and at which point they will be left with nothing.
And because I spend a lot of time on campus and I talk to young people frequently, I know these educated young women are afraid to say they want to be married and have children because of this kind of vitriol. It has become so politically unpopular for them to admit that they do aspire to these traditional roles in addition to their professional aspirations. So, it was a combination of the two—of knowing what happens to brilliant women who take their eye off the ball, who forget that there’s something more to life than just career. I felt the need to remind these young women that you have to plan for your personal happiness with at least the same commitment and dedication that you’re planning for your professional success.
In fact, I’m telling young women: You should be investing more time planning for your personal happiness because it’s more important. It’s the thing that will last your whole life. You may have a very long, happy career, I hope you do, but the likelihood [is] that will come to an end, at which point, if marriage and motherhood is what you aspire to, you have to plan for it so that those components are in place. And we have to remind young women that we don’t have an unlimited amount of time in which to achieve these goals, in fact they have a very limited amount of time. I’m saying the first 10 years out of college are absolutely critical. If you don’t put in place the components of your personal happiness within the first 10 years you run the risk of living a life of disappointment.
Epoch Times: Are women afraid to say they want to get married and have children because of potential ostracization?
Ms. Patton: Yes.
Epoch Times: Ostracized by whom?
Ms. Patton: By the antagonistic feminist groups, the progressives, the liberals who would have them think that there’s something wrong with aspiring to these traditional roles. It’s the feminist groups especially, who would have these young women believe that wanting and pursuing marriage and motherhood is somehow a betrayal of the sisterhood, of the advances that the women’s movement has made; [advances that] are undone by these women wanting marriage and motherhood. And just the opposite is true. If the women’s movement has truly been effective, all women should be empowered to pursue all that they want for themselves—not just that which is politically correct.
All I’m saying to young women is, if this is what you want pursue it, don’t let anybody make you feel like there’s something wrong with it.
But look at the vitriol. I know that they are afraid of expressing what they want because every day, for more than a year, I get letters, I get calls, I get messages saying: “You’re exactly right, this is so precisely what I want. Please keep saying this. It is such an important message,” and “forgive me for not publicly supporting you.” It’s from young women on college campuses everywhere, everywhere not just domestically—internationally. They’re afraid to say it for fear of being attacked by all of these groups on the “left” who are all about diversity, except ideological diversity. If you think differently than they do, then they have to shut you down.
Epoch Times: Looking at the debate that you have fueled, what has come to light is that women have concepts about what it is to be a modern woman. Do you think that there is a difference between what women say publicly, how they want to be seen, and how women actually feel?
Ms. Patton: Yes, it is different. Women have lost their own voice and stopped listening to their inner selves for fear of being shouted down by feminist groups, by their peers, by others who are so committed to being politically correct.