How to snag a husband — really?

By Caitlin Kelly

Our rings
Our rings

If there’s one obsession I will never really fathom, it’s rushing young women posthaste to the altar.

Let alone a long line of people — parents/friends/relatives/room-mates/newspaper columnists — shoving them there.

Can we say “heteronormativity?”

Sure we can!

The latest slugest over how to find a decent husband is “Marry Smart”, written by a female Princeton graduate, advising women to get married while they’re still in college, surrounded by — she insists — their best choices; i.e. smart, driven, likely affluent men, (or women.)

Nor, she asserts, will women ever again be as attractive. Even better, kids, get plastic surgery to fix all those jiggly/weird bits while you’re still (yes, really) in high school.

Here’s feminist blog Jezebel’s take on it:

Marry Smart, the retrograde pile of garbage that the ‘Princeton Mom’ has sandwiched between two pieces of cardboard and called a book, drops today. That means Susan Patton is currently making the media rounds, questioning the notion of date rape and insisting that she is “not a provocative person.”

…all copies of Marry Smart will be banned from our separatist compound, and our turkey baster parties are just lovely.

And from Salon:

just exaggerated parroting of dominant and destructive cultural norms, she has styled herself as a cartoon mouthpiece for these ideas.

For a different perspective, here’s part of the favorable review from the socially conservative Wall Street Journal:

Since men, even young college men, distinguish between the women they want to have casual sex with and the women they want to marry and have children with, Ms. Patton devotes much of her book to telling readers how to fall into the second category. Avoid the campus hookup scene—it’s a waste of precious time. Don’t binge-drink—you will do stupid things. Realistically assess your looks and act accordingly: If you are only a “six,” that handsome “ten” knows he can do better than you and is probably out of your league. Lose excess weight. Act like a lady. Don’t swear like a fishwife. Learn to cook. Don’t be a whiny, moody, spoiled, entitled princess (“hothouse tomato” is Ms. Patton’s term). Cultivate a generous spirit and a readiness to forgive. Don’t chase after “bad boys,” especially if they display traits such as drug abuse and physical violence. Don’t be a gold-digger (“earn your own fortune”).

So bizarre!

— Not every woman wants to marry, ever

— Not every woman wants to have children

— Many women are too busy learning, studying and planning their lives to put a ring on it after four years on campus

— Who’s to say your “best choice” is a fellow student?

I’d love to see a similarly finger-wagging book aimed at men, but I’m not holding my breath.

I had a great time at university, double-majoring in English and boys. It was a lot of fun, certainly for a young woman who had been viciously bullied for 2.5 years of high school, and doubted any man would find her attractive. Many did. That was a pleasant surprise, and I took advantage of it.

One of my beaux, whom I dated in my freshman year after meeting him the very first week of school, was a lovely man five years my senior, a fellow journalist. A decent and well-raised man, he made marital noises, but I was having none of it.

We later married others — both of whom left us when we were living in foreign countries where we’d followed them — and we have since re-married, each very happily, again.

I loved him dearly and we remain friends, decades later. But I knew, even at 20, this was not the man for me.

Yes, some people are delighted to marry very young, and it all works out.

It struck me as terrifyingly claustrophobic, even as I had several proposals from handsome, smart, hardworking men when I was in my 20s. I just didn’t want to get married that young, and married only when I was 35, to a handsome, smart, Ivy-educated, hardworking physician I had already known for five years.

A doct-uh!

Who walked out barely two years later and promptly re-married a co-worker.


It took me a long time to find a man who is an excellent husband.

Would Susan Patton have told me to marry him? Hell, no!

My husband, Jose. photo: Caitlin Kelly
My husband, Jose. photo: Caitlin Kelly

We come from different countries, races, religions and socioeconomic backgrounds. He attended state school on scholarship funds through his father’s church.

He’s a gem. But it took the loupe of mid-life appreciation to see that.

We may not have a clue who’s our best match in our 20s, 30s or even our 40s.

How about you?

What advice — whatever your age — would you offer to a young woman hoping to find a good life partner?

21 thoughts on “How to snag a husband — really?

  1. Steve

    Sorry, but I’m already taken. My advice though would be to look for friendship first instead of the guy that looks like Brad Pitt and has muscles like Arnold Scwarzenegger. All that superficial crap wears thin in a short while and you’ll find yourself trapped in a relationship that you can’t stand. A guy told me once that ” beauty is skin deep, but ugly goes all the way to the bone”. The problem in America these days is men are no longer men. By that I mean most, or at least very few men have any personal integrity at all and are not even looking for a life partner. They cheat, lie and steal and honor has no place in their being. I just celebrated my 35th anniversary last October and I can honestly say that I love my wife more today than when I married her. Have we had rough times? Heck yea, but I gave her my word 35 years ago and I would die rather than betray her, my children or myself. I have made it my goal in life to make sure she is happy. What a dinosaur I am, huh?

    1. Photo??!!! 🙂

      Congrats on a long and happy marriage. Rock on, T Rex.

      One of the reasons I think delaying marriage can be wise is that we tend to smarten up, if lucky, as we age, and begin to value much deeper issues — like character, loyalty and integrity. I still think you need to find your partner physically attractive, but the qualities that see you through tough times are not six-abs.

      I decided to marry Jose after he flew out the very next day to B.C. from NY after my mother was found lying in bed with a brain tumor…His cool, calm, organized willingness and ability to help me through a terrible time (she is fine, alive still) left a huge impression.

  2. I’d say don’t focus on finding a life partner and go become a whole person. Because ultimately, that’s more important.

    I read that article and was infuriated (i would have liked to have said “i laughed” but it provoked a much stronger reaction than that)! Really, in this day and age, that income group and the privileges it affords, Stepford Wifery is carved as the the ultimate goal for women?


    Rubbish. Truly.

  3. I’m 24 years old. I’m not sure about my future husband – but I love YOU! You’re an incredible writer. I have a blog of my own and am always so thankful to read your posts and get re-inspired to write my own content. Your take on love is delightful! J x.x.x.

  4. If you want to read the books/hear the talks shaming young men about getting married…let me direct you to BYU. Oy, you’ve never seen such a desperate marriage mart in your life.

    As a child bride myself, I actually have mixed feelings. On the one hand I married young and it’s working out pretty well so far. Neither of us initially expected to marry at 23 (considered “old” for where we lived, hilariously) but we both agree that marrying each other was a good decision, young as we were. On the other hand I’ve seen from friends’ experiences what the desperation for and single-minded focus on marriage for getting married’s sake (especially for women) looks like. And it’s grim. I’m 27 and I have friends/acquaintances younger than me on their second and third marriages.

    I have a pretty vivid memory of one flatmate at university who, when we originally met and were exchanging basic information, said she was majoring in editing. I asked if she was going into academic publishing, magazines, books, or other mediums and she said, “Oh, none. I’m going to get married and have kids.” “…Ok,” I said, “but what if you don’t?”
    “I am,” she replied.
    “Yes. But what if you don’t?” I urged.
    Her eyes began to well up immediately so I quickly changed the subject but this girl was 19 years old and the very idea of never getting married terrified her. Worse, she had no concept of life if she didn’t marry. Scary!

    1. I’m 27 and I have friends/acquaintances younger than me on their second and third marriages.

      I’m trying to process this…3rd?!!! I found getting divorced extremely traumatic (just me?) as I took my vows damn seriously and was deeply in love with my ex-husband, even though we had plenty of challenges. It’s sad and weird to me when women are told their only true value is that of a wife…when that role is also pretty unclear.

      1. Witness the recent NYT front page article that tackled this issue for the faith community I grew up in! You can’t have a strong sense of self if your identity entirely dependent on a relationship to another person. It’s so economically and emotionally unwise, I’m baffled it’s still pushed on girls the way that it is.

      2. Exactly.

        I was far too dependent on my first husband and it made our divorce very frightening. It’s not easy to balance independence and intimacy, necessarily, but defining and refining those boundaries is important.

  5. Firstly, your husband is totally, totally gorgeous.

    Secondly, despite the impeccable logic in your piece in terms of focusing on women, for some reason I wanna do this:

    – Not every person wants to marry, ever

    – Not every person wants to have children

    – Many people are too busy learning, studying and planning their lives to put a ring on it after four years on campus

    Thirdly, there’s only one bit of advice I have for those who are looking for a life partner: don’t go looking, don’t be anyone but yourself, just live, if a partnership is meant to happen, it will.

    Then again, what does a gay bloke from a backwater Australian country town know about anything?

  6. just reading the synopsis and reviews of this book makes me crazy. i married young, and it was a terrible mistake, other than the 3 daughters who came from our marriage. we grew up after we married, rather than before, and paid the price for that. i advised each of my daughters to get to know themselves before being married and each of them did and waited until they were older to have their children. i admire them for this and think their marriages will be the better for it. it’s important to live life a bit before sharing it with another –

    1. Your daughters are so fortunate to have had your wisdom…

      I married at 35 the first time and, even then was really not ready. I should have walked away, but did not have the guts. The day I married Jose, at 54, I was so calm and happy the minister was surprised…”I know him,” I said. That made a big difference.

  7. My grandfather, a devout Mormon, married an atheist…they were married for the rest of their lives. He believed she and their children could never join him in the afterlife, but he married her anyway. I found that fascinating. You never can tell who will be compatible from the usual considerations—it is all on the inside.
    Books like that…I have no doubt the advice works in the short term for insecure young women who want to be noticed and desired, but in the long term it can lead to real disaster. Choices based in fear and desperation are not good choices…

  8. Fatima

    After spending my twenties, and parts of my thirties, in pursuit of this ‘ideal’ I have one only piece of advice. Alright, may be two:

    Toss the rule book and live life.

    I heard about the Princeton mom and heard all the ilk. I am tired. I mean capital T tired of this insanity. So I decided to toss the rule book and simply live my life. Sorry, that’s all I have.

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