A Ring in the Spring
It wasn’t until senior year in college that I had any idea what a “ring in the spring” even meant. The expression first came into my consciousness while working on a seminar paper that involved interviewing alumna who graduated from my college in the 1970s. The way they tell the story, catching sight of a diamond while studying with friends under the oak trees was a perfectly normal occurrence during their academic days.
I was amazed by how many of them wound up marrying guys they met at school or a few years later at alumni mixers. They made it sound so easy. “Oh, well, you know, he just brought me a soda at the first keg party of the year, and I thought that was so considerate.” Or, “We sat across the aisle from each other during Humanities and couldn’t stop watching each other.”
For my friends, finding a spark of mutual interest and later someone willing to commit enough to agree to be seen together in crowded places that didn’t involve flip flops sticking to beer-soaked frat floors was something to celebrate with champagne.
My own memories of fun-filled evenings spent dancing around with my best friends or indulging in late night heart-to-hearts with them when some guy crushed, as far as we could tell at the moment, the very fiber of our beings, flooded back to me recently when I read Susan Patton’s letter to the editor of The Daily Princetonian.
Her words, now infamous, were picked up by numerous mainstream media outlets, and she was–from what I could tell from my online research–mostly ridiculed and mocked by many women. They said her advice to college girls to find a husband while they were surrounded by many single, smart, promising young men was ridiculous. They said college was for receiving an education, not getting your MRS. degree. They said her thoughts had no place in the twenty-first century where the secretary of state and, for that matter, the president of Princeton, could just as easily be posts held by women as by men.
There was so much anger in these replies, and I’m still not completely sure why. Did these writers who took to The Huffington Post believe Patton was taking five giant steps backward for feminism? Did they think that couples never met at college? That marriage meant the end of all women’s careers? That no woman in her right mind dreamed of marrying her intellectual equal? That wanting to have children was a slap in the face to Gloria Steinem?
Most likely not. But I think there’s still a lot of backlash against women who say they desire the type of lifestyle women experienced for centuries: that of mother and wife. There also seems to be a growing skepticism about the idea of “work-life balance,” such that women who say they want to be mothers might as well be throwing their diplomas in the trash because they’ll never reach the pinnacle of their careers.
I think that’s pretty judgmental and not entirely true. I absolutely believe a woman can both work and raise her children successfully. But I think she needs a great partner whom she really clicks with in order to not feel utterly burnt out at the end of each business day. Not to discount single mothers who do an amazing job raising their kids alone! But if you’re going to be married and you want or need to work, wouldn’t you prefer to be committed to someone who supports you in your journey to excel at both tasks?
While I’m the last person to say that all women need to stay home with their kids, doing so or wanting to do so should not be seen as a crime against women. Those who make the choice to stay home permanently deserve just as much respect and help in raising the next generation as working moms.
I’m more of the opinion that women react very strongly to others who’ll say things they don’t want to admit about themselves. Certainly that doesn’t apply to everyone, but what Patton wrote was, logistically at least, accurate in my opinion. Where else will we be around so many young, available, smart, creative, equals of the opposite sex than at college? Well, there’s always grad school, but I digress.
In any event, I see my college-educated friends who don’t want to drive more than a half hour on the highway unless their boyfriends come along for the ride. I see the ones getting married at 22 and 23 and 24. I’ve seen the ones who forsake their friends for the chance to shine, however briefly, as the center of some man’s universe. The ones who’d give up not only their families, but their country, language and culture in pursuit of love because hey, you’re only young once, right?
I don’t blame any of them, and I try to make an active effort to support them in their journeys. I know I don’t always succeed, sometimes because I think they can do better and sometimes because I wish I was doing as well as they were.
I think Patton meant that today’s women are strong and capable and ready to charge ahead toward careers of their choosing. Yet I think she was suggesting there will be other things that become significant in the life of a woman beside work that we should all give the occasional thought to while we’re young in case we choose to shoot for those goals.
I think she was trying to whisper a quiet warning in the ears of those who seek the long walk down the aisle in the Cinderella gown.”Don’t wait too long…don’t pretend it doesn’t matter if you really want it.” Human relationships do matter, and forming healthy families certainly matters. It might as well be discussed in college–seemingly everything else is. And let’s not kid ourselves by saying the class of 2013 will fly in the face of convention by choosing to wed their cubicles.
Your briefcase will not share a joke with you at the end of the day, and your laptop doesn’t care when you don’t feel well.
There’s no shame in wanting to be married, and there’s no shame in never marrying at all. There is, however, in my opinion, a basic, human desire to find a worthwhile mate. Maybe even, as Charlotte York says in Sex and the City, to “mate for life.”
I think most people want to find someone who loves and understands them. And I don’t think that you should pass up that opportunity even if it happens to come your way in college. You might be a little young, and you’ll definitely still be trying to find yourself. But I for one don’t want to find myself lonely and bitter and taking cheap shots at young brides ten years from now. And all because I didn’t feel comfortable enough to admit I wanted to find a good husband just as much as I want to reach a fulfilling writing career and nurture strong relationships with my closest friends.
I’d be lying if I said anything else.