Fellowship of Saints and Sinners

I agree with Princeton alum Susan Patton, whose advice to the daughters she “never had” is lighting up the blogosphere, about one thing: women should marry men at least as smart as they are.

That’s where our agreement seems to end.

Patton’s argument, penned in an open letter in The Daily Princetonian, goes something as follows: bright, well-educated women of pedigree (at least those fortunate enough to end up in an Ivy League school) should look for a life partner in college, where the concentration of bright, well-educated men of pedigree is highest. Patton’s advice? Start looking for a husband at the beginning of your freshman year.

Admittedly, I am one of those women Patton would probably praise as a model, albeit an unintentional one: at 19 I met my future husband (then a Ph.D. student) at the circulation desk of Yale’s “Cross Campus Library,” where I worked evenings to pay for school; at 24 I married him, having never set out to marry just out of school; and, he’s a great guy. He’s top of the line: smart, funny, witty, committed, hard-working, with almost perfect SAT scores. He also can’t stand it when I sometimes say I’m grateful that he’s smarter than me. (Another example maybe of what he jokingly terms my “cafeteria feminism”- an insistence that women can and should be able to do everything men can do, paired with gratitude for car doors still opened for me and the expectation that my husband will mow the lawn and handle most repairs. Did I mention my husband also sews and cooks better than I can?)

All of this is to say that if you met your spouse in college, no judgment here- especially if the ensuing years were a “box of chocolates,” as Forrest Gump would say. But it is also true that for many people who marry young, marriage proves a disappointment, if not a failure. There is a reason for statistics that show a greater trend towards divorce among those who marry young.

Speaking for myself, at 19 I didn’t know myself at all. At 24 I still had no idea what I really wanted to do with my life. These factors made the life-changing event of marriage more earth-shatteringly difficult than it had to be, even if I was fortunate in my choice of a mate.

And, if it’s true that finding a life partner is the most important decision one can make in one’s life, along the same lines of choosing to believe in a loving, personal God, it seems that time and maturity can only help in the process. I will want my own children, especially my daughter, for whom the pressures to get a “Mrs.” degree will probably be strong, to have the benefit of as much life experience as possible under their belts before making a decision of such magnitude. You might call it a more literal, expansive application of the bumper sticker expression, “True love waits,” to appear in my forthcoming book, Grace Sticks; in other words, if “true love” shouldn’t be reduced to speedy resorts to sex, it also shouldn’t be reduced to speedy resorts to marriage.

Besides, since when did “pedigree” become the single most important factor in the choice of a life mate? Because then there’s Jesus. (He’s kind of my model for just about everything, even if I don’t follow Him very well.) But talk about someone who doesn’t qualify as an eligible bachelor on the basis of pedigree! By prevailing opinions, the guy never married, despite what Gnostic Gospel enthusiasts would have us believe about some naughty illicit romance with Mary Magdalene. And he was a carpenter, probably without any formal education.

I can envision the profile for Jesus as follows: “smart, witty, spiritual, good with hands (wink, wink), nice body, compassionate, progressive, fierce lover of truth, a ladies’ man, a virgin; interested ladies must have a zeal for adventure and be willing to be poor and homeless.” Ladies, who among you wouldn’t want to marry a guy like that, poverty and homelessness aside? So what if Jesus had no traditional pedigree? So what if he was born in a stable and died as a common criminal? There’s all that cool, exciting stuff  that he did in between.

Do you remember “The Dating Show”? A bachelorette asks questions of three eligible bachelors who sit unobserved behind a partition; when she chooses one, the lucky guy finally reveals himself. If Jesus were one of the contending bachelors, the dialogue might go as follows:

Bachelorette: Bachelorette #1, what’s your idea of adventure?
Bachelor #1: Bungie jumping…naked.
Bachelorette: Bachelor #2?
Bachelor #2: Collecting stamps.
Bachelorette: Bachelor #3?
Bachelor #3 (Jesus): Getting chased out of town and almost stoned (by rocks not weed). Maybe taking a wilderness trek without food or water for forty days.
Bachelorette: Bachelor #1, what would be your idea of a romantic first date?
Bachelor #1: Dinner, then a movie.
Bachelorette: Bachelor #2?
Bachelor #2: Polish line dancing.
Bachelorette: Bachelor #3?
Bachelor #3 (Jesus): Taking you for a boat ride at midnight and then a stroll on the Lake of Galilee.

I choose Jesus.

So, with all due respect, Susan Patton: maybe it’s a bit of a blessing you never had daughters, because if you did, they might have been pressured to sign their lives away to some snarky geek of a guy from a long line of Princetonians whose last name is on some plaque in the library and whose only aspiration is to make money, buy a nice house and obtain a pretty wife who looks good on the arm.

Satisfaction in marriage, like contentment in most things in life, requires far more than pedigree, afterall, and it takes time- apparently a whole lot of it in some cases- to come to this realization.









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