LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Thanks, but no thanks

BY LAUREN SHANLEY
Class of 2012

Dear Ms. Patton,

I’ve dated your son and, thanks, but no thanks.

No, I haven’t literally dated your son, but I’ve dated Princeton (male) undergrads, both while in school and while a graduate. What I’m about to say is going to anger a lot of people moms: Just because a young man attended Princeton does not make him a good husband. 

Ms. Patton, you advise me, “the daughter you never had,” that I should have tried to find a husband during my four years on campus. While it was not my reason for choosing Princeton, I was certainly excited at the prospect of the young men I’d encounter as an undergrad. I’ll never forget my 13-year-old brother, as we packed for my freshman year, saying, “Lauren, you’ll finally get a real boyfriend when you go to college. Boys won’t be afraid of you there.” I thought similarly: Maybe, I reasoned, I haven’t found anyone in high school because the pool of similarly intellectual boys is so small here.

Yes, this is a conceited view, especially since my high school was the largest feeder school for the University of Michigan. There were a multitude of reasons I did not have a boyfriend in high school, but for the purposes of this essay, I wanted to point out that I get what you’re saying, Ms. Patton. Intellect — and recognition of my own intellect — is something I value highly in my partners, and I thought Princeton would widen the opportunity to meet someone I could be myself around.

What I found at Princeton, however, was that just because the boys were smart didn’t mean they were dating material. They were like other 18- to 22-year-old males: egotistical, disrespectful to women and, especially when in a group, utterly peer-influenced. Before I lose all my male friends, this is not my view on all men. What I’m saying is that just because a male goes to Princeton does not suddenly turn him into a blazer-wearing, door-holding, whiskey-sipping young man. This plays into a larger misconception about Princeton that we are stuck in some former world. At Princeton, we must go out to pricey restaurants, drinking wine and holding hands on the walk home. We study in the library together, shyly smiling at each other across the table. On Friday nights, we discuss Thoreau at salons with our professors, conveniently held at their houses. 

This is the stereotype I have to fight every time I venture out of the Princeton bubble. Guess what? We get drunk on Saturday nights by chugging beers in our frat houses eating clubs, just as you would at any other university. There is casual *** and random hookups, with a very small percentage of the student body committed to going on actual dates (let alone starting “official” relationships). I would talk to some of my professors at their office hours, and I definitely had some engaging debates with my peers, but our dinner conversations were often over things that normal young adults discuss: the most recent episode of our favorite TV show or the ungodly amounts of homework we were procrastinating on.

I think this Princeton stereotype, while untrue, is one of the reasons that a high percentage of Princeton alums cling to each other get married in the real world. We get each other. When I am asked where I went to undergrad, I often respond “New Jersey,” only revealing “Princeton” if I am pressed. This is because, in the 10 months since I graduated, this answer has often elicited one of two reactions: (1) either the company I am with is genuinely impressed and refuses to treat me normally afterward or (2) they assume I think I am better than them. I once wondered why Princeton Reunions are so popular, and why 50,000+ grads craved three days to be around each other and celebrate their alma mater in an unabashed fashion. I now understand. We deal with the reaction of where we went to school every single day. We aren’t ashamed of where we attended, but we’re annoyed at others’ treatment. (The recent release of the movie “Admission” isn’t helping our cause, either.) So, I do agree that good reasons exist for Ms. Patton’s argument.

However, I think that to argue that I can only have a successful relationship with someone from Princeton is ludicrous. There are many, many men out there who are just as smart, accomplished and career-driven as Ms. Patton assumes her son and his Princeton cohorts to be — and they chose to go to Yale, Columbia, Duke, Stanford, Michigan … the list goes on. And there are a great many Princeton men who cheat on their girlfriends/wives (a certain General Petraeus comes to mind); judge women’s appearances more than their intellect (the “Princeton rule,” which scales Princeton women’s attractiveness compared to the “real world”); and physically abuse women (we have the same stat as other universities — one in six women will be sexually assaulted in her time at Princeton). Ms. Patton, would you have me, the daughter you never had, choose one of them over a non-Princetonian who treats me with respect?

I know you want us to learn from your “mistake” of marrying a non-Princetonian to whom you are now divorced. This has been echoed in the most recent debate over women and careers: Sheryl Sandberg argues that women should marry a man who does equal amounts of homemaking so women can focus on their careers equally. I’ve understood this all from a very early age. I know that a man who can’t keep up with me intellectually bores me, and it’s certainly the quality I look most for in my partners. So, Ms. Patton, give the right advice for your “daughters.” Tell me to search for someone who supports me in my career and my personal life, who encourages me to reach for goals I set and who challenges me on a daily basis. Don’t limit me to Princetonians.

Lauren Shanley ’12

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13 thoughts on “LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Thanks, but no thanks

  1. I hate you with a burning passion.

    No, I don’t literally hate you with a burning passion, but I’ve hated people with a burning passion before.

  2. Having gone to another Ivy, this was my exact reaction. Ms. Patton, have you *met* college guys age 18-22, even if they go to an Ivy? Or are you so blinded by how perfect your little boys are you can’t see that they are often drunk and telling women to make them a sandwich? I’m not giving women a pass either. I think most peope are way too immature to pick their life partner at 22, let alone 18 (God help us). Neuroscience and divorce statistics only confirm this.

    Sorry Ms. Patton, your letter sounds like a typical Jewish mother’s letter – “How could you not want to marry my David, he’s such a perfect man.” Maybe in 10 years, after he’s actually accomplished something rather than simply being accepted to college, likely aided by legacy.

  3. Some of the sweetest, most respectful men I met while I was a student at Princeton were from Rutgers. They were talented; they were intelligent; they treated me like a human being. Meanwhile I was heckled regularly by Princeton boys I did not know, and I had drunken obscenities screamed at me while I was walking back to my dorm in the afternoon or evening. There were nice guys at Princeton too, sure, but Patton’s assumption that all Princeton boys are marriage material–much less our intellectual equals, given that only 20% of admits are merit-only, not legacy or athletic reserves or something similar, and half of them are female–is absurd.

  4. Good thing she didn’t “argue that [you] can only have a successful relationship with someone from Princeton,” because you’re right; that would be ludicrous.

  5. Pingback: SPECIAL SECTION: Responses to Susan Patton ’77 | The Daily Princetonian

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