An apology and a clarification

Last week I shared my response to Susan Patton’s open letter.

Shortly after going to print, a friend of mine (whose opinion I hold in high regard) contacted me with some concerns. He told me that I misunderstood Patton’s letter and that my core idea is addressing an opinion she never even endorsed.

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At first I dismissed his concerns. “You clearly misunderstood 98 percent of my column. My point wasn’t to dismiss Patton, but instead to promote positive ideas to women that no one is telling them. You just don’t understand because you’re not a woman and don’t know how badly we need actually positive advice.”

But then comments from readers started rolling in. Though less friendly, the trepidations were the same: that I misrepresented Patton and then spent my column trying to argue against a made-up point. I realized my friend was not being as overly-critical as I first thought.

A clarification is in order:

Women my age are constantly being told well-intended but outdated advice that we must find a husband for fear of growing into miserable old maids. We are taught to believe that no fate could be worse than being husbandless.

And I believe this is a terrible, harmful thing to be teaching young women. It was my goal in my pervious piece to provide positive advice focusing on the idea that happiness and success comes from the inside, not from an institution.

If that was not clear, then I am at fault as an author. I apologize. Writing in a manner that is accessible to my audience is central to what I do. If I wasn’t writing clearly, I wasn’t doing my job.

What I was most confronted on was this sentence:

“Her advice was to forget about spending college years working towards professional advancement and instead take advantage of the timing and place to focus on “(finding) a husband on campus before you graduate.”

It is right to challenge this incredibly misleading summary of Patton’s words. This was not what she said, nor what she lived — Patton was a member of the pioneer female class of Princeton, has led a successful career and has an impressive resume.

Despite confusions resulting from this sentence being at the beginning of my column, it was not intended as a thesis. In fact, I hardly mentioned careers at all. This was only intended to be a quick summary of Ms. Patton’s letter to provide context for those who were not yet aware.

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While her letter does not encourage women to drop their careers for marriage, what she does say is that female students attending Princeton should find their husband before graduating, and should begin searching as early as freshman year. Among other justifications that I addressed last week, her primary reasoning seems to be that “the cornerstone of your future and happiness will be inextricably linked to the man you marry.”

And I unapologetically believe this is toxic advice.

Let me reaffirm the intended purpose of my article from last week:

Marriage cannot bring you happiness. Self-growth creates happiness. If you are marrying before you have developed who you are as a person, you will not be happy in that marriage. You moved too soon.

Marriage can be a great part of your personal development. Both a strong relationship with a good person and specific events in a marriage can be a source for happiness. But no relationship should ever be relied upon for providing your happiness, period.

If you are getting married because you think it will make you happy, you will not be happy in that marriage. I cannot stress this enough.

Regardless, at every turn we young bachelorettes are being told that we will not be happy until we are married, and need to start searching for that fulfillment immediately. Something must be wrong with us if we haven’t found that by the time we are 20. This is wrong.

Loving yourself, having respect for yourself, being happy for yourself — until you have accomplished these, don’t be searching for marriage. If marriage is for you, your spouse will come into your life when the time is right. Maybe it’ll be in college; maybe not. You just can’t streamline the process.

Until then, keep growing into the person you are supposed to be. You’ll regret rushing this decision, but you won’t regret waiting to make a life-long commitment until you are ready for it.

That’s the sort of advice people need to be publishing in open letters.

Anna Mitchell is a junior liberal arts major. Her columns appear Mondays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.