The letter written by Susan Patton “Princeton Mom” to her fictional daughter/s has attracted world-wide attention.
In it she says that what’s really important for a young woman is to use one’s time at the exclusive and expensive US College to find a suitable mate – one that’s “worthy”, “well educated” and “even smarter”.
Here’s an extract below, but to read the letter in its entirely go here. (And then to read Wendy Harmer’s own advice to her daughter, Maeve… keep reading.)
“Advice for the young women of Princeton: the daughters I never had…
Forget about having it all, or not having it all, leaning in or leaning out — here’s what you really need to know that nobody is telling you.
For years (decades, really) we have been bombarded with advice on professional advancement, breaking through that glass ceiling and achieving work-life balance.
Susan Patton. “Princeton Mom”
We can figure that out — we are Princeton women. If anyone can overcome professional obstacles, it will be our brilliant, resourceful, very well-educated selves.
For most of you, the cornerstone of your future and happiness will be inextricably linked to the man you marry, and you will never again have this concentration of men who are worthy of you.
Here’s what nobody is telling you: Find a husband on campus before you graduate. Yes, I went there.
Men regularly marry women who are younger, less intelligent, less educated. It’s amazing how forgiving men can be about a woman’s lack of erudition, if she is exceptionally pretty. Smart women can’t (shouldn’t) marry men who aren’t at least their intellectual equal.
As Princeton women, we have almost priced ourselves out of the market. Simply put, there is a very limited population of men who are as smart or smarter than we are. And I say again — you will never again be surrounded by this concentration of men who are worthy of you.
Of course, once you graduate, you will meet men who are your intellectual equal — just not that many of them. And, you could choose to marry a man who has other things to recommend him besides a soaring intellect. But ultimately, it will frustrate you to be with a man who just isn’t as smart as you.
If I had daughters, this is what I would be telling them.
Your loving mother.”
Wendy Harmer responds with a letter to her 13 year-old daughter.
Dearest darling Maeve,
If you ever do find yourself at University (er…could you put down that copy of “Pretty Little Liars” and listen to me?) I hope that looking for a husband is waaaay down on your priorities.
Right down there somewhere below gathering signatures to kick Lord Monckton off campus because I imagine that, by then, Gina Rinehart will have bought your uni and installed her resident climate change denier nutter as Vice-Chancellor.
This “Princeton Mom”, Susan Patton, reckons it’s not a bad idea to scope out the talent and look for a future husband in between lectures.
She figures you will be surrounded by men with prospects more than any other time in your life. Men who are intelligent, even smarter than you and wealthy, to boot.
I think it comes down to that old adage: “It’s just as easy to fall in love with a rich man as a poor one”.
It’s not a new idea. In fact William Makepeace Thackeray (1811-1863) wrote in the novel The History of Pendennis (1848-1850): “Remember, it is as easy to marry a rich woman as a poor woman.”
I’m not that clever. I Googled it.
I got married when I was at uni. Remember I told you?
Funnily enough, it was also for economic reasons. I married my then boyfriend, Michael Harmer, because the infamous “Razor Gang” of the 70s was cutting living away from home allowances for uni students.
The only way I could fund my education, (because your Grandpa Brown didn’t have the money) was to accede to Michael’s fervent desire that we marry. That way he’d support me and I’d get an education. So I did marry him one morning after uni classes, at the Registry Office. I didn’t even tell your Grandpa.
God forbid you ever have to strike that bargain, but millions of young women around the world do it, every day.
That’s why I hope you always think about women worse off than yourself. Fight for them so they have the same privileges you do. It’s important.
My first husband was a wonderful young man who believed in me. He was working as a fitter and turner in a factory and would come home covered in burns from molten metal, but he supported me… until I could support myself. I knew, even as a teenager, that he was a fine person. I never thought he suffered from a lack of erudition.
Whether he was “worthy” of me never crossed my mind.
Things changed. Like they do in marriages. All the time. We parted. We both have now made good, long, loving partnerships and have children we are proud of.
The one thing I hope you learn from your father and me is that judging people on how “intelligent” you perceive them to be is not going to get you anywhere in this life.
Nor is trying to find someone who you imagine is your equal or worthy of your affection.
You see, Maeve, despite what the Princeton Mom imagines, “smart” is not a “soaring intellect”.
The two are not to be equated – in any way. At all.
If you think bringing home Albert Einstein the Younger will impress your father and me, think again.
Old Albert made a terrible husband – he was unfaithful, a bad speller, smoked like a chimney, was crap at the violin, dressed like a slob and said: “All marriages are dangerous”.
Likewise, bringing home a member of the Packer or Waterhouse dynasty. They maybe “smart operators”, but your father loathes gambling and the fortunes built on others’ suffering. He reckons that’s a dumb way to make money. Marriage to a billionaire won’t impress us. Nor will becoming a billionairess yourself.
So, you may ask, what’s “smart”? What’s “clever”? And what does “erudition” mean, anyway?
Especially when we can all Google.
Who’s worthy of an intelligent young woman like you?
I’ll tell you.
A person who is worthy of you is one who recognises and honours your own good heart. Supports you in your determination to make your own way in the world and to leave it a better place than you found it, come what may.
That takes courage, sacrifice and loyalty, Maeve. Look out for these qualities that will make life sweeter in tough times. The price of admission to a fancy college won’t be your guide.
Men (or women) with “prospects”, or no prospects at all, can easily leave you, just as you can easily leave them.
Our fortunes change. That’s a given. For better or worse, as someone once said.
I imagine, Maeve, that you will fall in (and out of) love with a lock of hair that falls fetchingly across a forehead, an intricate tattoo on a forearm, a fine turn of phrase or a violin, expertly handled.
Fall in love with all that. I did.
Then, when you’re older and wiser, fall in love with someone like your father who has supported me, your mother, in all my endeavours. Most of all, by leaving me love notes on the kitchen bench to discover in that time before the sun came up when I, reluctantly, left you and your baby bother sleeping while I went off to work. Thousands of notes that sought to soothe all the frustrations and regrets a person has as they pursue “a career” for what often seems no good reason.
Don’t try to predict life’s meandering path, Maeve.
And don’t try to imagine how you’ll travel it – in first class style or trudging along at the back. Despite what they say, the view’s not that different. The triumphs and heartaches don’t spare any of us.
Don’t bank on a thing called a “career” to save you from life’s vicissitudes. It won’t. (Sorry, “vicissitudes”. Google it.)
Your great-grandmother, Nanna Brown always said to me: “Love many, trust a few, always paddle your own canoe.”
Maeve, you come from a long line of spud farmers, horse trainers, nurses, school teachers, union officials, house painters, publicans, priests and farmers.
All good people.
Do us proud. That’s enough for us.
We don’t need “better”. Because in our family, you have already exceeded expectations.
Your Mum. Mumma. xxxx