“Marry Smart” vs. a Smart Marriage

I always find it somewhat humorous when Baby-Boomers think they understand Millennials. They know as much about being young in today’s world, as I know about France after drinking a $12 bottle of Bordeaux. And yet, wisdom must be delivered, even though, frankly, we’re not receiving it.

The latest hot air comes from Susan Patton, or “Princeton Mom”, known for her very traditional values and marriage advice found in The Princeton University Paper and her new book “Marry Smart.” (read about her, here) When I first read Ms. Patton’s work, I thought it was satire. Her advice reads like the lines June Cleaver would deliver, but with less finesse. She writes a great deal about the ticking of a woman’s biological clock, and men preferring young pretty women over intellectual and mature equals- so, it’s best to find a mate during college. However, the thing that gets me most are these two statements.

“Here’s the most important thing … you will come to define yourself by your spouse,”


the cornerstone of your future and happiness will be inextricably linked to the man you marry”

We all know the statistics. Divorce is at an all time high with roughly half of all marriages ending in divorce. And my belief, (I have no actual evidence to back this up, just an empathetic view of the world) is that these two statements are at the root of most marital problems.

I would not describe myself as a feminist, by any means, but a little girl power can go a long way (as can a killer pair of heels.) I couldn’t imagine defining my self-worth and identity through a man. In college, everyone has periods of self-discovery; pursuing new goals and finding true passions. Sometimes we get a little lost and cling to what we know, what’s comfortable. For many women, it’s her college boyfriend. And there’s nothing wrong with that, so long as the couple pushes each other to their own personal bests. But if that doesn’t happen, then the dream of a happy marriage becomes a reality of deep seeded resentments.

On the other hand, many people allow their careers to define them, and this can be just as unhealthy. Think about it. When you first meet someone new, you ask “and what do you do?” Sometimes we work so hard professionally that we suffer personally. So how do we define ourselves? It’s a balancing act, but so long as you keep sight of your talents, dreams, and compassion toward others, you’ll be the perfect someone for your perfect someone. 

I may never get married. I may never have kids. While the idea is nice, that’s all it is to me right now, a very romantic idea. I think I can have a very happy future being, as Ms. Patton so nicely described, a “spinster.” The thing is, I am the only person responsible for my happiness. As soon as I place that responsibility on someone else, they will fail to make me happy, because it’s not their job.

I’ll never forget a conversation I had with my mom back when I was in college. My boyfriend had just broken up with me, and the world as I knew it changed. She didn’t say, “His loss!” or “You’ll find someone better!” She simply said, “Joanne, you do not need a man to be happy.” “There are plenty of unhappy married people.” Perspective is a beautiful thing. My parents met and married in their thirties and are still married almost thirty years later. My mother is also one of the most independent people I know, which is where I get my joy of “quality Me time” from. A spouse should only add to your existing level of happiness.

Most of my old college friends are already married or engaged to be married. And I harbor no jealous nor superior feelings towards them. Committed relationships are a wonderful thing, and right now, I’m loving the one I have with myself.

(I think it’s important that I point out Ms. Patton has sons, not daughters, and is divorced. So really, her effort to advise us, probably isn’t even about us. Which is why I can’t be really offended by her out-dated advice. She’s working out some stuff. Trying to find her own happiness again. And I applaud that.)


In order to be really happy, I'll need a ring like this…jk

In order to be really happy, I’ll need a ring like this…jk



15 thoughts on ““Marry Smart” vs. a Smart Marriage

  1. I am of the same generation as Princeton Mom but let me say that I do not agree with a thing she said. Your post is right on target. I currently have been married for 30 years. I married in my late 20’s after finishing law school and establishing my career. Anyone who expects to define themselves by the man they marry is in a very sad situation. You must define yourself by “me”. Otherwise, you are going to have a very sad experience.

  2. I’m a Baby-Boomer-Boomer. The original Generation X, before the media reassigned that label to the generation that came next. I understand is that being young is not novel, in any decade.

    When I was young, and Madison Avenue, Hollywood and broadcasters spoon-fed me anything I could want, I was pretty full of myself. I was also smarter and stronger than I had ever been. And I was convinced that being young then, with the state of the World as it was ( post-Viet Nam cold war, space exploration, advent of personal computers, portable music, availability of recreational drugs, economic problems…), meant my generation was different. I told fogies their advice was useless, that their words were irrelevant. They had no idea what it was like to be young now (then). My generation was unique.

    Funny thing about uniqueness is that it’s a quality we all have. It’s significance is highly over-rated. Especially by The Young.

    Perhaps it’s because they are young. They have experienced fewer sunrises, they necessarily lack the perspective that comes with longevity.

    I give little advice to Millenials. I’m rarely asked, and volunteer it even less frequently. But, I do talk to them. I do share my experiences, unsure of when I might say something that gives one a reason to ponder. Because I remember what I was like when I was young. I didn’t take much advice, but I did have my ears open. The older folks who taught me the most weren’t the ones telling me how to live, they were the ones who took the time to talk with me and share their experiences.

    Oh, and Susan Patton sounds a little flaky to me, too.

  3. Good read! This was like Deja Vu reading your blog — In college I had a tendency to let things validate my happiness and more effort went into my daily routine of trying to impress instead of taking a step back & thinking about what I had to offer. On a large scale — college relationships were determined by the qualifications on your resume & whether or not that fit the mold for being seen together walking down Greek row. I didn’t have to be a Hollywood star to be experiencing their level of superficiality when it came to relationships. How empty.

    The 180 degree turn I went through when God’s grace became such a huge part of my life after college— allowed me to see that my character was meant to offer to people through self sacrifice. By offering happiness I wasn’t looking for it, and Tiger Woods loosing a golf tournament on a Sunday didn’t matter so much anymore.

    By humility it becomes obvious that love is unique, two people can’t make each other better or coexist unless there compatible— at the same time they can’t experience happiness unless they can offer it to each other.

  4. First off, I think you’re a great addition to Red Eye. Secondly, I think when you say “I am the only person responsible for my happiness” you say one of the smartest things one can say on the subject of happiness. All too often people look to outside sources to make themselves feel good and as a result, they do not develop their own person as much as they should. As an outsider, it is easy to tell that you have a great deal of self-confidence (the whole being Ms New York thing probably helps) because of your life philosophy. Kudos!

  5. Thank you for this post. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that one’s happiness is her own responsibility, but knowing this is one of those keys to relationships that set both partners free.

  6. I saw you on Red Eye tonight and I just had to find out more about you. You were very delightful and pleasant. But with enough of a spark in your eye and sharpness in your delivery for the audience (well me at least) to want to know what you had to say.

    While its not a necessity to get married in life, I think it is a necessity to have love or desire in your heart. We all must have something or someone to cherish or look forward too. Without it, I think its easy to become somewhat empty.

    My advice is to find someone that you’d want to sing this song too:

    “Lullaby” – by the Dixie Chics

  7. I love the line about being perfect for someone else if your the perfect you ,I agree and disagree with this.
    I agree: If you Marry someone it can effect your happiness ,depending on the person.The same is true with friends you choose ..If you marry someone negative then it will bring you down.Ive known girls who sadly married men who didnt care about how their day went,what their dreams are ,what they love.they got divorced but being surrounded by someone negative 24/7 could effect your happiness. But i believe you dont need a man or in my case a woman ,to be happy .But you can be happier or sadder depending on your choices of who your around ,

    I disagree with her: Because as mentioned above,happiness needs to be based on something other than a person .Me,its God, Always there and always reminds me its not about the race but the finish line..I think her saying you are defined by the man you marry is wrong in the sense that you will always be who you are but its like choosing clothes.if i wear thug close ,then im defining myself by that.If the biggest decision i make is to spend my life with a girl who is hot and can form a sentence,then it does reflect on my values.Im sure this isnt what she meant .But there is a nugget of truth in that ..

    But I DO NOT THINK YOU SHOULD BE DEFINED BY A SPOUSE .In other words.if you are an actress and he doesnt want you to act.you cant say that you will stop what you love and be known as “his Wife” other than being who you are.I think what you said sums it up.the perfect you is perfect for someone else . Im single and i need to be .I have a lot of things in my life i need to work on in my self before im ready for a relationship.Im working on some things that are very different( musically) .I want a woman who can help me ,and has the same goals as i do of creating something new and i would love to find one who is a publisher or knows how to work I tunes (lol) and loves it.My job compliments hers and hers compliments mine.i believe in partners ,and not 2 different goals in one marriage but one goal. shared by both and each have a differnt part .

  8. I think this is a really good post, and I agree pretty much completely with what you’re saying here. The popular notion that personal happiness (in any relationship) can only be achieved through dependence on someone else – even forsaking your own identity – is probably the reason so many relationships end poorly. Nobody wants to marry a sponge, but that’s basically what we teach girls to be.

    I am genuinely curious, though, why you feel the need to identify as explicitly not-a-feminist. I’m a pretty conservative 20-something, especially compared to the other elite academics at my university, but I acknowledge that feminism as theory and as practice is whatever you want it to be. The bottom line is that girls are still the victims of harassment around the world, that people ask girls what they were wearing when they were raped, that girls are expected to be attractive and smart and funny and *accomodating* 24/7. It’s not even about the pay gap or about abortion. It’s about understanding that women are people.

    I think women in the public refusing to identify with feminism is harmful to girls looking for strong role models. It stigmatizes a philosophy that advocates for equality and freedom. It’s entirely about independence, and self-worth, and girl power, and high heels, and learning how to love yourself before you start to figure the rest of your shit out. It is, to me, an entirely libertarian ideology. And it bums me out to hear you say that you’re not “by any means” a feminist.

    This isn’t a personal criticism, honestly. I think you’re cool and smart and one hell of an addition to Red Eye. I’m just very curious as to why so many women shy away from the label. It’s not like ascribing to feminism turns you instantly into Janeane Garofalo circa 2010. It turns you into Beyonce. Why doesn’t everybody want to be Beyonce? She’s hot as shit.

    • Hi. Taylor. Thanks so much for taking the time to read my post and thoughtfully respond. I actually agree with your criticism as I’ve already had a friend point out my poor phrasing. By saying “I’m not a feminist by any means” I was committing a micro-aggression against feminists and all women for that matter. Unfortunately, pop culture has stigmatized the word “feminist” and I didn’t want to be associated with the negativity that falls on feminists. But really, anyone who believes that women should have the same rights as men, is a feminist. So I turns out, I am, and I hope that my actions speak louder than my words.

  9. Hey Joanne, been checking you out on Red Eye the last few months and heard you mention Rider University ( it will always be Rider College to me – Classof ’82) and being born and raised in Princeton in a very traditional family as a baby boomer with two much older siblings ( I was the mistake) got a kick out of your “latest hot air” from Mrs. Patton. Being a life long bachelor, seldom being in a committed relationship but having fell in love once, I am enjoying life and all its trials and tribulations. Life is pretty simple however, many can complicate a paper clip! Happiness comes from within and is generally fleeting like other human emotions; sadness, excitement, seriousness, silliness, etc. The key is serenity. Serenity for me is being of service to those less fortunate. Each day is a gift and as such it is better to give than receive. Of course, we need to take care of ourselves first, family, relationships, career, diet, excercise, etc. are a few of the essentials in order to be of service to others. If we take care of ourselves and be of service to others we need not be concerned with our identity. I have learned what others think of me is none of my business. Did you ever make it to Hoagie Haven or the Ivy Inn in Princeton while matriculating at Rider? Love your hands and hand gestures on Red Eye. Keep the faith!

  10. First, you are awesome on Red Eye. Intelligent, witty and of course beautiful. No doubt you will make some Man very lucky and vice versa. Your personal awareness and honesty is endearing and refreshing.

    What you say is not only accurate in my opinion, but seems to have been touched on Biblically. Yea the Bible says a lot of things. That said, as Paul says in Corinthians in more words or less, we should only marry if that person helps contribute to our life’s purpose. Might not always be true but cant imagine business/kid raising “Partners”, that are very separated in most ways, end up as well as partner’s coming home to each other with an understanding/embracing each others life’s purpose(s). And I am not saying saving the world life’s purpose but might be Art for Kids and/or Acting etc.

    Today, life purposes vary a lot and until we know who we are, and what we really want, might be better to wait to marry. And if that never happens then hopefully we have the security to accept that path and enjoy life’s purpose(s). Otherwise each person may grow apart and/or be unhappy. As a single full time Father of 4 kids 7 days a week, who wanted that “ideal” marriage and family for life, I have spent sometime thinking about this subject. But who knows, just thoughts at this point of life and if there is any truth it seems to be change.

    As for Feminism versus Nosuchinskyism :) I think its a matter of which human need is being fulfilled through a person’s approach. Feminism has morphed over the years to fulfilling the human need for “Significance” more than the human need for “Contribution to others”. Otherwise why can’t a Conservative Mother, with success at work, be considered a Modern, free and empowered woman by choice? One reason people seem (to me) close minded on issues like Feminism is because it fulfills their personal need for “Significance”. Personal wounds show up in all kinds of ways. As I learned in 8 years with Tony Robbins, many people find their “Significance” through life’s traumas. Causes seem to be more about the attention they get (Significance) and less about helping others through the issue/trauma itself. Otherwise I think people would be more balanced about how they view events. One saying that relates to this is “The Ego will always proves itself right”.

    One of my favorite quotes is from Mother Teresa; “I was once asked why I don’t participate in anti-war demonstrations. I said that I will never do that, but as soon as you have a pro-peace rally, I’ll be there.” What that says to me is there is a difference between focussing on being against war (or men) than being pro woman. If we focus on anti war, we will have a war to be against. If we focus on pro woman/self, it is more empowering. Nosuchinskyism is focussing on what it means to be pro woman/self. And through that one has a much better chance to be in an empowering lasting partnership. At a minimum they will live a better life. Not quite a Baby Boomer but not a Millennial. But some truths seem long lasting.

    Anyways, just thoughts at lunch today.

  11. I think you just need to find a guy,maybe me?!! lol ,Who will compliment you ,and love and support you in every thing that you do.

  12. Joanne, us young people are 100% on and off the mark… Kids these days! :)

    Fear controls too many peoples’ choices on how or whether to marry. We can claim to be independent all we want, but we often make our decisions based on heartbreak, anticipation of heartbreak, financial reasons, subconscious or conscious manipulation, and the desire to never be alone.

    There are two main problems. Some people also expect happiness at all times, and the minute they are unhappy in relationships, they bolt, cheat on their spouses, and ignore their commitments. On the other hand, there are those who stay in draining relationships and feel that misery or subservience to someone else is normal.

    It is amazing how judgmental people can be of you if you are not married but are of the expected age to be married. My response to a friend who was mocking me was, “I’d rather be single than in a spirit-sucking relationship with someone I cannot stand.” He knew I was referring to his marriage, and we never talked again… Que sera, que sera.

    But people set up a false narrative that marriage is either an institution that stifles individuality, or is a force field of intimacy that keeps you in a never-ending state of happiness.

    Who responds to getting married because it is an institution? There is no meaning in that. Yet romance (different than passion) is an illusion. The marriages I have witnessed as successful are the ones in which dedication and passion complement each other as opposed to working at cross purposes.

    We are becoming destined to make the wrong decisions, despite our best intentions. We are losing sight of the fact that in certain respects, and to over generalize a little, men and women are not equal. Both sexes have different things to offer. I am not referring to professions or talents, and we are all individuals with much more to us than whether we are male or female. Yet I am talking about our energies. Once we thing that men and women carry the same energies, we fail to truly honor what makes men and women great and horrific! We want to avoid discrimination and allow people to flourish as individuals, while also recognizing men and women are not the same, which is a good thing for the universe.

    I suppose it is better for people to not get married than to have a train wreck of a family. Again, though, this is a false choice.

    There are too many women in their 30s and 40s who feel alone because they thought that family was destructive to their goals. There are too many men in their 30s and 40s who pay the price for seeking independence at the expense of raising children. Nobody should feel pressured into marriage or family, and a person can be great without them. That said, we do not have to sideline the great things a healthy marriage can offer.

    To overgeneralize yet again, millenials and baby boomers are both off the mark. There is no balance. We (including myself, to state the obvious) trick ourselves into thinking that we know what is best. However, if we choose the correct course of action for ourselves as individuals, then why have many of us not truly achieved an inner peace with our decisions?

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