LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Advice for the young women of Princeton (and colleges everywhere)

BY HELEN COSTER
Class of 1998

As a Princeton woman who’s been out of school for 15 years, I offer my own experience—and the experience of almost all of my female friends — as an argument for why you should ignore Susan Patton’s advice.

At Princeton I spent four years taking classes I loved, juggling 10,000 activities and spending time with friends. I would have liked to have a serious boyfriend, I guess, but I didn’t.

A few of my friends married men they met in college. But most, like me, graduated and went out into the world without a wingman. It was hard — sometimes excruciatingly so. I spent my 20s paying my dues in my profession, working long hours while attempting to meet someone. I went on a lot of bad dates, and at times, I envied my friends who didn’t have to navigate adulthood alone.

I also had adventures. I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, learned Spanish and backpacked through Alaska. I rose through the ranks in my career.

Every man I dated for any length of time loved the fact that I worked hard, that I had ambition, that I was curious about the world. They possessed those qualities, too.

(To Ms. Patton’s point: Yes, some men are attracted to women who are less intelligent than they are. But that’s not a reason to spend college hunting for a husband.)

When I was 32, a friend from work set me up with a kind, handsome guy. (He went to Brown, and is super smart, but I don’t automatically correlate intelligence with an Ivy League degree. Smart people are everywhere, and from everywhere. I know you know that.) We got married last summer — almost 15 years after I walked out of FitzRandolph Gate. By the time I met the man who would become my husband, I had grown up, and was well on the way to becoming the person I wanted to be. I had kissed enough frogs to know a prince when I saw one.

So here’s my advice, for what it’s worth:

Don’t focus on finding a husband in college. Focus on doing the things that you love, and being with people you love. Cultivate your intellectual passion, your extracurricular pursuits, your friendships. When you graduate, pursue a career that excites you. Take risks. Travel. Live the rich, full life of your choosing.

What I find most insidious about Ms. Patton’s letter is her belief that her sons have more and better marriage options than you do; that their intelligence is a virtue, while yours is a liability.

Don’t believe this for a second. Don’t be scared off by people who tell you that smart women can’t find husbands. The smart guys — the right guys — will be out there looking for you.

Helen Coster ’98

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4 thoughts on “LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Advice for the young women of Princeton (and colleges everywhere)

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

  2. This is very sweet and idealistic but statistically false. Thank you for reiterating the PC spiel in case we didn’t remember it.

  3. I’m happy that everything turned out well for you, but getting married at 36 or 37 would upset me because I want to raise many children, and no career advancements could turn back the clock or make me truly happy without a family.

    I don’t think Ms. Patton ever said you need to find a husband on campus; she was simply noting that there are many eligible young men at Princeton, and that you should keep in mind that after college there will be fewer and fewer opportunities numbers-wise to find a match. Students only hurt themselves if they completely “ignore” her advice, as you suggest; they may certainly choose not to follow her advice, but they should at least consider it.

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