Appending the launch letter to my son

Last September, our eldest son left the warmth of our family nest and flew east to university.

In my launch letter (that I tucked into his suitcase) I gave invaluable motherly advice to eat well, study hard and pursue extracurricular interests beyond beer pong. But not having heard about Princeton alumna Susan Patton’s advice to female undergrads of her alma mater until many months after my son began school, I now realize there were gaps in my counsel.

Ms. Patton (in a letter that has since gone viral) advised the young Princeton women to set their sights on finding a mate to marry in Year 1. Their male cohorts will have a healthy crop of new undergrads to choose from every year, whereas their funnel of available men will become increasingly narrower. If they graduate Princeton without snagging a husband, they may have to settle for an intellectually inferior non Ivy-leaguer later in life – a frustration she has experienced first-hand as the now divorced mother of two.

I have some sympathy for Ms. Patton’s views. It is indeed becoming tougher to find eligible men who are intelligent and ambitious. There are now 125 women for every 100 men at universities. This is a stark reversal in historical ratios in a relatively short time. Princeton itself only admitted its first female students in 1969.

I did not know when I gave birth to my son that he would be such a rare and precious commodity. It would be easy to advise him to milk it for all its worth.

But the bullets I would like to append to the launch letter to my son are not to exploit his good fortune but to think more critically about the responsibilities of settling down.

Don’t hurry love. And never ever settle for good enough. There is no timetable for finding the right person. Divorce rates are particularly frightening for people in your demographic. Better to live in our basement until you are 45 than endure the pain of a messy divorce.
Put romantic notions of marrying only for love out of your head. Marriage is like being one-half of a conjoined twin. You have to be ready to make the sacrifices and compromises that being joined at the hip entails. Only when you are ready to walk in a direction that represents a detour in your own life are you ready to contemplate a life with someone else.
Don’t fall for the stereotypes of marrying a younger and less ambitious woman. Go ahead and fall in love with an older woman – even one who is smarter, more ambitious and makes more money than you. Things will work out just fine as long as you do relatively more laundry, cooking and childcare to even out your contributions.

If I had a daughter, I would like to applaud her for the tough work she put into earning her BA even if she failed to earn her “Mrs.” degree at the same time. After all, there is always grad school.

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