“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



10 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.

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