It seems like it was only yesterday that the media was abuzz with chatter about Sheryl Sandberg’s new feminist manifesto, Lean In.
Sandberg is obviously a marketing genius. After all, she entitled her book with a word that would be irresistible to women: lean. As in Lean Cuisine.
Sandberg’s book is still topping off the Amazon best seller list, but the center of conversational gravity has now shifted to Susan Patton’s advice to young women at Princeton: marry young.
Apparently, it’s an idea whose time has come. Or better, has come back.
Megan McArdle sums it up well:
That said, while I wouldn't have said it exactly the way she chose, I think Susan Patton is basically right: people should be looking to get married as early as possible.
I say this as someone who married late, and since I wouldn't want to have married anyone except my husband, I'm glad I waited. But as a general rule, you should err on the side of marrying early. By which I mean not that you should marry whoever happens to be around when you turn 22, but that you should be willing to recognize, at the age of 22, that you've found someone you want to marry. Right now, most Princeton students don't think that way. They think there's something weird about committing at 22. And if they try to commit, their friends and parents will warn them off.
McArdle emphasizes that the culture, in the person of friends, parents and media scolds warns women off marrying young. It tells them that it’s strange, abnormal and retrograde. It tells them that they will become domestic slaves and miss out on all the fun. It ensures them that they will be more attractive if they are more self-sufficient. It promises that when they are older and wiser they will make a wiser choice of a husband.
No one tells them that ten years of failed relationships and hookups is not going to enhance their judgment. No one tells them that women who choose to defer marriage will spend their college years and twenties protecting themselves from marriage by getting involved with the kinds of men they would never marry. And no one tells them what Patton tells them: when it comes to the dating market, aging is not a woman’s friend.
Also, as I have emphasized, it’s far easier for a couple to build a life together than to merge two independent lives.
The brouhaha over Patton’s advice does not only suggest that it has struck a nerve, but also that it articulates a message that had hitherto been condemned and repressed.
You might think that people who marry young do not necessarily have the happiest marriages, and there is some truth to the observation. On the other hand, we live in a culture where everyone looks down at you if you marry young and where, if you marry before the rest of your cohort, your single friends, consumed by envy, will never cease to remind you of all the thrills you are missing
For offering young women a real choice, Susan Patton has provoked a conversation and has offered young women a new choice.
She has been excoriated in some segments of the media, but has been praised in many others. Some women who married later, women like Megan McArdle have supported Patton, declaring that they would happily have foregone the agony of extended singledom.
And then there’s the case of Julia Shaw.
Yesterday, the DoubleX blog at Slate published Shaw’s account of her marriage. She married when she was 23. Her husband was 25.
Shaw offers a realistic portrayal of the agony and the ecstasy of her marriage. She does not gloss over the problems, and does not sound as though she is trying to sell something.
Shaw shows the good and the bad of going through bad times and good as young marrieds.
Marrying young deepens the sense of being connected because it allows couples to build a life together. It militates against the common notion that what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is yours. When people marry later they have built their fortunes separately and thus have a much more proprietary feeling toward their possessions.
It’s also worth pointing out that the article appeared on the Slate DoubleX blog. This blog has tended to promote writers who have a feminist perspective. Its writers have been happy to support the hooking up culture. With an occasional exception most of its writers hew to the feminist party line.
Thus, it matters that DoubleX has giving pride of place to a life choice that counters the received feminist wisdom and the dominant cultural bias.
Surely, Susan Patton will soon be signing a new book deal. Let's hope that Julia Shaw is too.