Susan Patton, author of Marry Smart: Advice for Finding 'The One,' has turned the old adage about men not buying the cow if they can get the milk for free into a WSJ article. While Patton's goal may be to motivate young women to marry well by marrying early, she counterintuitively insults men and women in the process.
"The grandmotherly message of yesterday is still true today: Men won't buy the cow if the milk is free," she writes. Men actually want to get married more than ever today, even though "milk" flows pretty freely. Maybe Patton has been reading Helen Smith, who quotes the Pew Research Center:
The share of women ages eighteen to thirty-four that say having a successful marriage is one of the most important things in their lives rose nine percentage points since 1997 -- from 28 percent to 37%. For men, the opposite occurred. The share voicing this opinion dropped, from 35 percent to 29 percent.
But if they'd looked at a survey of over 1,000 male and female professionals released last year by LinkedIn and Citi, they'd find that marriage is actually more important to men than it is to women. From the New Yorker: "In fact, just since last year, the number of women who say their definition of success is not linked to marriage (or relationships at all) has nearly doubled."
A quarter of women polled said that being in a "strong, loving relationship" would constitute "having it all," and the distinction of being married was unnecessary -- a position that only 14 percent of men agree with. Seventy-nine percent of men equate "having it all" with being in a "strong, loving marriage," versus 66 percent of women.
Either way, a difference of eight percentage points in an opinion survey is hardly the smoking gun that women are going to have to stop ponying up with the milk if they want men to marry them.
She continues with other such tired cliches as, "Casual sex is irresistible to men" and "If you want to have children, your biological clock will be ticking loud enough to ward off any potential suitors." The average age of marriage is nearly 27 for women and 29 for men. "If you spend the first 10 years out of college focused entirely on building your career, when you finally get around to looking for a husband you'll be in your 30s, competing with women in their 20s," Patton warns. "That's not a competition in which you're likely to fare well." Well, women in their 30's must be faring okay. If the average age is 27, that's a lot of women in their 30's, 40's and beyond getting hitched.
But here's the most interesting part.
Could you marry a man who isn't your intellectual or professional equal? Sure. But the likelihood is that it will be frustrating to be with someone who just can't keep up with you or your friends. When the conversation turns to Jean Cocteau or Henrik Ibsen, the Bayeux Tapestry or Noam Chomsky, you won't find that glazed look that comes over his face at all appealing. And if you start to earn more than he does? Forget about it. Very few men have egos that can endure what they will see as a form of emasculation.
Men who are as well-educated as you are often interested in younger, less challenging women.
Where does Patton get this patently insulting idea that while women yearn for an intellectual equal, men are afraid of an equally smart and educated woman? Painting most men as preferring a female partner who "can't keep up with him and his friends," is incredibly patronizing. Sure, you can find men who are scared of intelligent women.
But, ladies of all ages can also find men who find education, wit and wisdom irresistibly sexy. It's so strange and limiting to advise any woman to hurry up and ensnare a man who is afraid of smart, successful women before she becomes one. Then she's stuck with a man who's afraid of smart, successful women!
Maybe instead women should insist on a man who will settle for nothing less than a woman who will dazzle his friends, whose ego is inflated, not threatened, by having ensnared a challenging, exciting, intellectually curious woman.
There's no doubt that advice challenging women to stop giving away milk and start getting married before they become older, wiser, more educated and successful "challenging women" is well-intended. And for those women who want a man who feels threatened by a successful partner, getting married before, or instead of, achieving anything is good advice.
But it's also really, really sad -- for men and women. Not every man is intimidated by amazing women. There's a reason people with similar levels of education tend to marry each other. Most people, regardless of gender, don't want to bring the dumb person to dinner. As for the people who do? Remember to keep them off the guest list. Certainly, don't marry them.