Saturday, April 6, 2013
In 2008, when I was a college junior, I went home to New Jersey one weekend to visit my family—and almost immediately regretted it. My mother seemed more interested in my romantic life than my academic life: "Have you found a boyfriend yet?"
I rolled my eyes and said no. With a healthy dose of young-adult arrogance, I explained that I was too busy studying, working on the college review, and helping out at my sorority. No time for men. My mother nodded, acknowledging that there was a lot going on.
Then she said calmly but forcefully: "You're in college. You're at Dartmouth. There will never be a better time to meet someone. I'm sure there are many interesting boys around. If you don't find one before you graduate, you might not find one at all—so start looking."
Fast forward to today. A woman named Susan Patton is being pilloried online and elsewhere for giving young women the same advice that my mother gave to me. Late last week, she wrote a letter to the Daily Princetonian newspaper advising the school's female students: "You will never again have this concentration of men who are worthy of you. . . . Find a husband on campus before you graduate."
Feminist attacks on Ms. Patton began immediately—the paper's website was swamped with complaints, the Twitter crowd was livid, and writers lit into her at Slate, New York magazine and beyond. ...
[M]y mother's advice five years ago stopped me in my tracks. If she, a strong, career-oriented feminist—who, with my dad, sacrificed a great deal for me to go to college—was telling me to pay more attention to my romantic life, then what did she know that I didn't?
A lot. She knew what few, if any, feminists would tell young women today: There is far more to happiness than career success. ... In a boardroom somewhere, Sheryl "Lean In" Sandberg's heart is sinking.
Career success and relationships are both undoubtedly important to women's happiness, but many young and ambitious women value their personal lives more than their career aspirations. And that feeling intensifies over time.
In a 2009 study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, David Lubinski and his team at Vanderbilt found that in a sample of academically gifted young adults, women became less career-oriented than men over time. As they approached middle age, women also placed more value than men on spending time with family, community and friends. These differences became more pronounced with parenthood.
My mother's advice—Susan Patton's advice—may not be right for every woman, but it was right for me. In the fall of my senior year, I started dating a brilliant man and we're still together. If I were unattached today, I'm not sure what I would do. The post-college dating scene can be rough: Getting to know someone often means shouting across a noisy bar or scrolling through Internet dating profiles. Finding a partner in college is easier.
Mom was right.