14 Questions for Princeton Mom Susan Patton
Susan A. Patton, the “Princeton Mom” best known for doling out unsolicited marriage advice to college women and pissing off feminist writers everywhere, can now add a new feat to her list of accomplishments: publishing a rambling romance guide. Her book on husband hunting, titled Marry Smart: Advice for Finding the One, comes out Tuesday.
The 238-page manual, complete with tips such as “If you are a little hothouse tomato, think seriously about an attitude makeover,” and “Whatever kind of sex you’re having, be discreet about it,” is a highly anticipated threequel to her previous works, a letter to the editor in Princeton’s campus newspaper, The Daily Princetonian, and a Valentine’s Day op-ed in the Wall Street Journal. The book expands on her very blunt message to female co-eds. “There is a very limited population of men who are as smart or smarter than we are,” wrote Patton. “You will never again be surrounded by this concentration of men who are worthy of you.”
Patton is a Princeton alumna (class of 1977), the mother of two Princeton men and, as she puts it, an “HR babe.” She recently finalized her divorce from her husband, who, in her words, went to a school with “almost no name recognition.” She deeply regrets some of her romantic choices—for example, marrying someone not in her “league”—and urges 20-something women to consider their future mates before receiving their diplomas. After all, as she offers in one chapter of her book: “Find a good husband early—it’s better for you, and better for your baby.”
We spoke with Patton at a deli near her apartment on New York City’s Upper East Side, where she munched on a poppy seed bagel, and talked about casual hookups, the Kennedy clan and the importance of baking bread.
I’m in my early 20s, I’m out of school, and I’m not currently involved with anyone I dated while I was in school. Is there hope for me?
There is hope for you. But you’ve missed your best opportunity, because never again will you have the sheer concentration of extraordinary men to choose from as you had when you were on campus. Will you meet wonderful men? Of course! But they won’t be as pre-qualified as the men you met on campus.
What does “pre-qualified” mean?
Age appropriate, single and real smart.
Isn’t it sort of psychotic, though, for someone to actively go looking for a husband in college?
It’s not psychotic. It’s smart. And I don’t like the terminology “snag a man,” or “go trolling for a man.” The language attached to that puts it in such an unappealing genre. I’m telling you to use your opportunity on campus when you have access in an organic way to men that you can evaluate and get to know over coffee. You’re going to want to find a man who’s your intellectual equal if you’re a well-educated woman.
At the same time, you talk a lot about baking bread and its relevance to marriage. Is the key to finding a husband baking bread?
The key to self-reliance is independence—the ability to do for yourself, and make for yourself and be by yourself. Baking bread is something I love to do. And certainly for women who aspire to nurturing children, there’s something symbolic about baking bread or making pies. It’s nourishing and wholesome and soul-satisfying, and it fills your home and it fills your heart in a very positive way. Is that the key to finding a man? No, that’s ridiculous, but that’s a small component of something you want to think about as part of how you live.
What qualifies you to give out this advice?
I’ve lived long. I’ve been married and divorced. I work as an HR babe. I hire very senior people for the most prestigious media companies in world. I deal regularly with women who are at the pinnacle of their careers—editors-in-chief, heads of marketing departments, publishers. They call me regularly. I ask them, “Remind me, are you married?” And they say, “No, not really.” And I say, “Are you seeing anyone?” And they say, “No.” I tell them that the dissatisfaction they’re feeling is having nothing in their lives but their jobs. Now they’re in their mid 30s and they feel like their lives have passed them by. And it’s because life has passed them by.
You feel very strongly about women marrying young. But studies show that from a financial perspective, college-educated women who get married later are better off, and that the younger women get married, the more likely they are to divorce. Don’t these facts seem to undermine your case?
You can slice these statistics all you want, but 50 percent of everybody gets divorced. And you know that stats can be manipulated to mean almost anything. If you know you want to have children, you absolutely must plan for your happiness sooner than you think. Because the years from 20 to 35 will pass so quickly you can’t imagine, and if you spend the first 10 years out of college only planning for your career, you’ll have nothing but your career. And your biological clock will have run out.
You have a lot of strong opinions about looks. Do you think “ploppers”—your word for overweight women—are screwed?
OK, “plopper” comes from my crazy mother, who will say anything to anyone. I think women who are overweight struggle with it terribly, and I think it’s important for a woman’s self esteem that she feel good about how she looks. Most women that I know who are significantly overweight suffer with it. Their self-esteem is diminished by the fact that they walk into the room and people go, “Who’s that fat girl over there?”
You’ve also formulated a list of what’s “sexy” and “not sexy.” Is there ever a time when “overexposed lady parts” are sexy?
I guess you have to ask a man about that. But no, I think overexposed lady parts are not sexy. I think it’s gross.
In your controversial chapter on “Behaving Badly,” you write that it’s a woman’s responsibility to keep her image in check. And if she gets too drunk or too high, it’s her fault if something bad happens. Are your critics taking issue with this?
Women run the risk of being physically harmed and emotionally damaged. I’m saying to women: You have to take complete responsibility for yourself in all situations. If you’re beyond your drinking limit, or you’re stoned, you won’t be able to take care of yourself. Here’s an anecdote: If you’re going to cross the street and the light is green, most people think you should be able to cross the street in safety. But I’m saying, not only do you have to check if the light is green, but you also have to look both ways. Because if the driver doesn’t play by the same rules, or jumps the light, then you’re going to get hit by a car. And your response that the light was green just isn’t going to cut it. You have to look both ways. Be smart. Protect yourself. Especially in social settings.
What about for you? You say that finding and taking care of your husband is “the most important job opening of your life.” So, now that you’re divorced, are you rehiring?
I’m dating a few men. Dating in your 50s is fabulous. Wanna know why? There’s a very important difference between when you’re dating in your 20s and when I’m dating. When you’re out on a date, in the back of your head you’re thinking: What sort of father could he be? Well, that’s not on my plate anymore. I’ve already had my kids. And it’s fabulous.
Who do you look up to? Who are your feminist heroes?
Phyllis Schlafly, Jacqueline Kennedy and Caroline Kennedy.
You do talk a lot about the Kennedys in your book.
I do, isn’t that funny? For a nice Jewish girl from the Bronx, where did I stumble on the Kennedys? But they’ve always weighed very heavily in my conscience. I also admire Golda Meir and Eleanor Roosevelt. Strong, smart women who know how to take care of themselves and their families.
Have you received any hate mail or death threats from feminist writers?
Not death threats. But the feminists are very threatened by what I’m saying. Because in some ways, like the child who says the emperor is wearing no clothes, the feminists have tried to convince women for the past 40 years of things that aren’t true and things that aren’t good for them. Feminists try to tell young women that casual sex is empowering. Are you kidding me?
You don’t think casual sex is empowering?
No, it’s the furthest thing from empowering. It’s damaging to a woman’s heart, head, soul and body. I think that empowerment comes from being in a committed relationship with a man who you adore, who loves you, who you know you’ll be with Saturday night, who will send you a Valentine. Being with man after man who you wouldn’t want to have coffee with? That’s not empowering.
What do your sons think of all this?
Oh, they don’t have anything to do with this. They’re amused. Entertained. They’re a little stunned. It was stunning. This was never supposed to take on these heroic proportions. But I guess I hit a nerve, because this conversation has been suppressed for far too long. I’ll take the heat.