Princeton graduate and mother Susan Patton finds the reaction to her article advising female Princetonians to find a husband before graduation “astonishing.” I’ve no doubt the backlash is shocking to Ms. Patton, but it’s not the least bit shocking to me. I’ve taken just as much heat for challenging the status quo when it comes to women, work and family.
Modern women aren’t supposed to talk about marriage, let alone embrace it. They’re supposed to stay focused on their education and careers and assume the rest of life will fall into place. It’s all so sad, since getting married and having kids marks the beginning of life—not the end.
I know it’s chic to think about marriage as something women do after they’ve sowed their oats, hiked the Appalachian Trail, and delved deep into their psyches to “find themselves.” I know the assumption is that their dream guy and wedding are waiting in the wings as a prize for all that soul searching. But honestly, it just doesn’t work that way.
Nevertheless, I must respectfully disagree with Ms. Patton’s solution that women find husbands in college. A better plan, to the extent that women can plan such circumstances at all, is to find a husband in the subsequent five years—to a man who’s a few years older.
The modern generation is light years away from the maturity their parents exhibited when they were young, and this is especially true for men. In the past, college guys were prone to becoming good family men. They wanted to have sex, for one thing, which generally meant getting married. Men were also respected as providers and protectors of the family, which meant they took their career plans seriously.
Those days are gone. Marriage is no longer required for sex, and men can live with their girlfriends without commitment. They also don’t expect to be the sole provider when and if they do marry. The result is that men take twice as long to grow up. They don’t have a clear career path, and they avoid marriage like the plague. They know they can settle down later on by simply marrying a younger woman. Women don’t have that option.
But the more important aspect of the discussion is this. Of all the choices women will make in their lifetime, none is as important as deciding whom to marry. None. Whether or not you are happily married will dictate the entire course of your life. It will measure the flow of your days, be the determiner of your children’s well being, even color your view of the world. You will take a good marriage or a bad marriage with you everywhere you go. It is the barometer for everything else you do.
Why, then, would we encourage women to spend all their the time and energy preparing solely for a career? As Patton aptly notes, “Too much focus has been placed on encouraging young women only to achieve professionally. I think in the back of their heads, they all know this, but nobody is saying it.”
I’ve been saying it for years. I’ve written four books and countless articles encouraging women to not only carve out ample space for marriage and children but to embrace this side of life. There is more to life than work. Even when work is powerful and lucrative, it isn’t enough.
But women can’t absorb this message as long as their careers are hailed by society as their raison d'être. Indeed, the quandary modern women face is twofold: how to find a mature man to marry, and how to rectify their desire for independence with their desire for love.
The answer to the first part is simple: women need to stop being so sexually available to men. Make men earn your love and your body. Men need incentive to get married—they don’t need to nest in quite the same way women do.
The answer to the second part isn’t complicated either; it’s just different from what women have been taught to believe. The other day I received an email from a woman named Alana, 28, who writes,
I love children. I do not have my own and society has, yes, convinced me to run from the home, as you put it. It’s true, and it’s sad. I now feel as if I need to end my relationship with a perfectly good man to chase my career aspirations. Why do I feel this way, and what is the correct avenue? Upon reaching this point, the goal was to pursue my career with fervor. Do I deny these urges now that I’m finally able to support myself and settle into what I hope will be a meaningful career?
Women like Alana are everywhere. I know that because I hear from them all the time, and they all ask some version of the same thing: When is it going to be okay for women to feel good about their desire to get married and have children?
So let me say this to Alana and all the other women out there who are in the same boat: No, you should not deny your urge to nest. Build a family, and make it the center of your life. There is a time and a place for everything in life.
Don’t let this one pass you by.
Suzanne Venker is an author, a cultural critic. She tackles a range of subjects surrounding marriage and the family, including the infamous gender wars. Her most recent book is "The Two-Income Trap: Why Parents Are Choosing to Stay Home." To learn more about Suzanne, visit her website. Follow her on Twitter@SuzanneVenker.com.