real life

This advice for young women has sent people a bit nuts.


Ladies? If you go to an expensive college, use your time wisely. Not just to study but to find a husband. Write this down so you don’t forget. There will never be another time in your life where you’ll be surrounded by such a large number of smart, rich, intellectually stimulating men who will one day be successful in their careers. Go forth and make one your husband.

Can of worms, consider yourselves opened by a woman called Susan Patton who has written a letter to the female students at Princeton, one of the most prestigious (and expensive) colleges in America. Patton attended the university herself in 1977, now her sons go there and this week she wrote a letter titled, “Advice for the young women of Princeton: the daughters I never had”. It was published on the university’s website and immediately crashed it.

She wrote in part:

Susan Patton, Princeton Mom

Forget about having it all, or not having it all, leaning in or leaning out — here’s what you really need to know that nobody is telling you.

For years (decades, really) we have been bombarded with advice on professional advancement, breaking through that glass ceiling and achieving work-life balance.

We can figure that out — we are Princeton women. If anyone can overcome professional obstacles, it will be our brilliant, resourceful, very well-educated selves.

For most of you, the cornerstone of your future and happiness will be inextricably linked to the man you marry, and you will never again have this concentration of men who are worthy of you.

Here’s what nobody is telling you: Find a husband on campus before you graduate. Yes, I went there.

Men regularly marry women who are younger, less intelligent, less educated. It’s amazing how forgiving men can be about a woman’s lack of erudition, if she is exceptionally pretty. Smart women can’t (shouldn’t) marry men who aren’t at least their intellectual equal.

As Princeton women, we have almost priced ourselves out of the market. Simply put, there is a very limited population of men who are as smart or smarter than we are. And I say again — you will never again be surrounded by this concentration of men who are worthy of you.

Of course, once you graduate, you will meet men who are your intellectual equal — just not that many of them. And, you could choose to marry a man who has other things to recommend him besides a soaring intellect. But ultimately, it will frustrate you to be with a man who just isn’t as smart as you.

If I had daughters, this is what I would be telling them.

Believe it or not, I’m not going to wade too deeply into Susan Patton’s advice. Plenty of other people – online and off – have given their point of view on this subject and you can read more about that here and here.

Let’s also try to put aside the fact that most women (or men!) don’t want to get married while at college or university because that would make them about 21 or 22. And some women don’t want to get married at all. And some women would very much like to marry women (and why can’t they dammnit). And the fact that the whole letter is pretty elitist and kind of smug.

Let us make a happy clappy prayer circle and agree to PUT ASIDE ALL OF THAT. Because the bigger picture of this letter is what’s captured my attention and should capture yours.

The fact Susan Patton (who is an Executive Coach and blogger by the way) spoke about marriage and finding a partner in the context of giving career/life advice to young women is the most interesting bit to me because she’s right.


Not the part about picking your intellectual equal necessarily. But she’s right about how important it is to choose your partner carefully in order to predict your future happiness. Just not in the way Patton thinks.

Not since Caitlin Moran’s books have I been so electrified by a feminist manifesto of sorts but let me just focus on this one thing Sandberg says in her chapter called Make Your Partner A Real Partner:

“I truly believe that the single most important career decision that a woman makes is whether she will have a life partner and who that partner is.”

Wait, that sounds like Patton.

No. Because unlike Susan Patton, Sheryl Sandberg does not suggest women focus on their intellect, the future earning potential or how expensive their education was. She suggests an entirely different measure for selecting a future partner.

“I don’t know of one woman in a leadership position whose life partner is not fully – and I mean fully – supportive of her career. No exceptions. And contraray to the popular notion that only unmarried women can make it to the top, the majority of the most successful female business leaders have partners.”

Many of the married women who were CEOs of Fortune 500 companies said they “could not have succeeded without the support of their husbands, helping with the children, the household chores, and showing a willingness to move.”

Conversely, a lack of partner support is the primary reason women give for abandoning their careers. Sandberg writes:  “In a 2007 study of well-educated professional women who had left the paid workforce, 60 per cent cited their husbands as a critical factor in their decision. These women specifically listed their husbands’ lack of participation in child care and other domestic tasks and the expectation that wives should be the ones to cut back on employment as reasons for quitting.”


This is a conversation we need to be having more with women at all ages and stages of their lives but especially when they’re embarking on their careers.

So back to Susan Patton for a minute. A Princeton student who is likely to be hugely ambitious (I’m generalising but so is Patton) and is squarely focussed on his own demanding career may not give his future wife her best chance at kicking career goals.

In a follow up piece yesterday, Patton explained her motivation for writing the letter:

“I sincerely feel that too much focus has been placed on encouraging young women only to achieve professionally…I wanted to encourage the wonderful young women on Princeton’s campus to take advantage of this while they can. From a sheer numbers perspective, the odds will never be as good again…I am divorced. I did not marry a Princeton man. I wish I had…Honestly, [the letter] was intended as little more than honest advice from a Jewish mother.”

Jewish mothers mean well. I know that from experience. And if Patton believes fulfillment is purely about IQ parity and the prospect of a comfortable life with a rich dude, then choosing among a pool of smart, wealthy men certainly ticks some boxes.

But if a women has her own career ambitions that include a family life woven into the fabric of her future, there are far more important factors to take into consideration when choosing a mate.

Their ability to be genuinely supportive of her in a myriad of emotional and logistical ways is what will ultimately prove how far she decides to go.

Quick Question; How do you think the partners you’ve had have impacted on your career?