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College as your spouse hunting ground

Posted by John Reed on

Copyright 2014 by John T. Reed

Susan Patton, a woman who graduated from Princeton (’77) has written a book titled Marry Smart. I have not read it, but its main point apparently is as the Wall Street Journal says,

Find a husband on campus before you graduate because never again would these high-achieving and highly ambitious young women have access to so large a pool of single young men who were their intellectual equals.


I have written a sort of inside-out and somewhat different version of that with regard to going to my undergraduate alma mater West Point. I think this is a very important topic that young people screw up to their great detriment. Also, I only write articles like this when I think the existing literature and practice are incomplete or incorrect. That is the case here—big time.

The most important thing

Your spouse choice is the most important decision you make in your life. I am not saying that because you’re supposed to say it. My regular readers and friends know I don’t give a damn about what you’re supposed to say. Also, since college where we were required to attend chapel every Sunday during the school year, the only times I have gone to church are for the weddings or funerals of other people. So my thoughts on the importance of marriage do not stem from any Sunday morning brainwashing I have been getting for 60 years.

I conclude marriage is important because I have been married for 39 years, have three grown sons, one of whom is married, and have a granddaughter. I am also a 67-year-old with many friends and relatives who fall into all marriage categories including never married, divorced, widowed, currently going through divorce, remarried, you name it. In the grand mix of life—career, education, travel, hobbies, athletics, family—family is typically the salient, most important, and, hopefully, constant. Think about the people in the planes that crashed on 9/11. Whom did they call on their cell phones when they knew they were going to die? Not their stock brocker or their boss or their hobby shop or their professor.

My father was a mean drunk alcoholic and because of that we had to move a lot. As a result, I have never touched alcohol and wanted to give my kids a stable home, both when they were growing up and when they were adults. My wife and I have done that.

Our current home, which we designed and had built, is the only home our sons have ever known. I wanted it to be both a real and psychological safety net above which they could conduct their lives. And it has been that. Each of them lived here for a bit after college. And they can come back in the future if they need to.

One-gender, isolated college

I went to a one-gender college—West Point from 1964 to 1968. Furthermore, West Point is located in a rural area—Washington Irving country. He wrote the Legend of Sleepy Hollow. I went to an all-male college in Sleepy Hollow. There were essentially no women that we could date within about 20 miles and we were literally not allowed to set foot outside the gate until senior spring and then only on weekends assuming you were not in academic or conduct (demerits) trouble.

True, there was a small, Catholic girls school just outside the gate: Ladycliff. But it was far too small. Their biggest graduating classes, which were 10 years after I graduated, were 131. My graduating class had 706.

When I entered West Point, it was listed as “most selective” in the college guides. Ladycliff was listed as “unselective.”

I saw an ad for Ladycliff in the New York Times once when I was a cadet. All it said was “Campus adjoins West Point.” I was astonished at how shameless that was regarding Ladycliff’s reason for existence and main selling point. West Point never mentioned Ladycliff in its recruiting material. If Vassar had been next door, they would have.

Vassar is about 40 miles north of West Point. It was all-girl back then. I had one date with a Vassar girl. Vassar is one of the Seven Sisters—essentially the girl equivalent of the Ivy League. Back then the Ivies were mostly all male. Each of the Seven Sisters had a partner male college, like Harvard and Ratcliffe, my son Dan’s alma mater Columbia and Barnard. Was West Point Vassar’s male partner school? Hell, no! Their male partner was Yale, in New Haven, CT, which is 76 miles away. Vassar is “most selective.” Both Vassar and Yale are now co-ed.

So is West Point, sort of. The first women were admitted in 1976 and graduated in 1980. Tellingly, comically, Ladycliff went out of business in June 1980.

But the current male-to-female-cadet ratio at West Point is about five to one. Ouch!

I never dated a Ladycliff girl. I was not opposed to it initially, but the longer you were there, the more you heard stories about Ladycliff girls standing up cadets and being hard to get. Basically, the Ladycliff girls were about 3s or 4s on the scale of 1 to 10 in terms of looks, and maybe lower in terms of brain compared to other college girls. But they acted like they were 10s because they had multiple female-starved cadets chasing after them. I saw the same thing with Red Cross girls in Vietnam. I was once offered a date with any unspoken-for girls I wanted at Ladycliff because of an odd incident the details of which I will not bore you with here. I said, “No, thanks.” Many cadets would have said the same thing.

Because of the ratio, I surmised the same thing was true of the current 5-to-1 “co-ed” West Point. The women at West Point are smarter than the average Ladycliff girl, although I understand a very high percentage are recruited athletes and those tend to be the dumbest students at selective schools as a group. My son Dan was a recruited football player at Columbia (and Dartmouth and Yale) but he was the exception with a 99th percentile SAT score.

I have met a number of West Point female cadets and grads. I was impressed with them as people and they were good looking. I have a couple of female West Point grad email friends who fit that description. However, I suspect that—human nature being what it is—they are pursued by many cadets at West Point and it’s hard not to be adversely affected by that power. I suspect if I were a cadet there now, I would have the same feeling toward the female cadets as I did toward the Ladycliff girls. Forget about it. Maybe if I encountered a West Point grad single woman after I graduate and I am still single—when she no longer has the 5-to-1 ratio, I’ll have a drink or a meal with her and treat her as a candidate for a long-term relationship—but not in this idiotic cadet situation.

A number of current and recent cadets have told me I am exactly right about all that. Indeed, both male and female cadets have told me they essentially swore off dating fellow cadets while there. And, as I might have guessed, that all but means the girl cadets who adopt that policy date no one. One had a date to a formal dance at West Point with a civilian college guy. He was the only one in the dance hall with a tux and was totally intimidated by all the male cadets in their full-dress-gray, Prince Charming, period costumes. He was never seen again.

I am told many girls at West Point now are called “Corps whores.” The Corps is the West Point student body. I have no idea what “Corps whores” means and I don’t think I want to know. But it doesn’t sound good.

And, of course, there are many marriages now between West Point cadets, some successful and some ending in divorce. There have also been marriages of same-sex West Pointers to each other. So my trepidations and suspicions are not the universal experience, but I have been told I am quite right about the 4s thinking they are 10s and acting like jerks because of it, and about many cadets of both sexes swearing off dating other cadets.

West Point may be co-ed now, but that does mean it’s equivalent to Princeton or UCLA romance-wise.

So I do very much recommend that you marry smart but I do not recommend that young people who want to marry smart go to an isolated, single-gender or predominantly single-gender college. And one of the meanings of marrying smart is do not marry a person from a nearby dumb school. And even a one-gender school in a big city, like Barnard, sounds a bit off. My Columbia son (across the street from Barnard) said the Columbia girls did not like the Barnard girls because the school had lower academic standards and the girls there were much hornier because of no male students.

What about love?

Some readers will say love isn’t about SAT scores or GPA or whether you were class president or team captain or most likely to succeed. (I had multiple roommates at West Point who were ALL of those things in high school. I would be surprised if Ladycliff had any such people at all.)

I agree that you need to be in love. I also think your spouse should be your best friend or at least one of your best friends. Many West Point graduates go to grad school and almost all of their friends went to college and usually grad school. Yet there, sitting next to them, is their wife the high school grad whom they met in Fayetteville, NC when they were stationed at Fort Bragg. You’re not supposed to say that but I find that very suspicious. All their male friends are college/grad school professional types, but their wife/best friend was taking non-college prep courses in high school? Was their senior prom date from that group?

And here’s another angle. I discuss spouse choice at great length in my book Succeeding, 3rd edition. In there I advocate doing whatever it takes to have lunch with at least 40 “qualified candidates.” When I was single and in my 20s, I defined that as a college graduate who is good looking (in a photo) and lives within 60 minutes drive from my house. If I were single now, or had my 20s to do over again, I would have a few more criteria like non-smokers only.

My West Point roommate and I created what we called “The System” which enabled us to meet between the two of us hundreds of girls who met those criteria, many of them beauty queens (they get their picture in the paper and we had to have a picture before we called them). We also dated girls who were, or later became, movie stars, TV stars, a TV anchorwoman, an NFL cheerleader, models, stewardesses (they also got their picture in the paper when they were selected and had to be single and good looking back then). I met my wife through “The System.” My System-designing partner actually dated more girls because he stayed single until age 46, but as it happened, he did not meet his wife through The System.

So here’s the deal on marrying smart and the issue of you should only marry someone you are in love with. If you date 40 high school grad bank tellers, you will almost certainly fall in love with and marry a high school grad bank teller. If you date 40 high school homecoming queens who graduate from Ivy League colleges, you will almost certainly fall in love with and marry one of them.

Homecoming queens only

Our System worked so well, we got bored. To make it more interesting, we would select a category and decide to date only, say, homecoming queens for our next weekend lunch. How did we accomplish that? We had to send out six invitations for each lunch (because two would be married and two would have moved away and half the single and still-in-the-area women would say yes). We had huge index card files of all the girls in the area so we would just send all our invitations that week to girls who happened to have been homecoming queens. Did that work? Of course. That next weekend, we each had lunch with a new girl who happened to be a homecoming queen. (Homecoming queens are the best beauty queens because they are peer chosen and therefore nice; not quite as good looking as the Miss Amercia pageant winners but generally more enjoyable to be with.)

So falling in love does not come from your fairy god mother on some enchanted evening. Actually, if you believe that, it will often become a self-fulfilling prophecy—the notion that Mr. Right or Miss Right “just comes along.” Although you may have to “settle” to make it happen that way. What Susan Patton and I are saying is E pluribus unum. That is the U.S. paper currency Latin slogan meaning “From many, one.” What she and are further saying, is make the “pluribus” an Ivy League one and the chances that you will meet, fall in love with, and marry an Ivy Leaguer, or whatever other high standard you want to set, go way up.

If you have 40 first dates with 40 different medical doctors, you will probably fall in love with and marry a medical doctor.

If you have 40 first dates with 40 different high school homecoming queens you will probably fall in love with and marry a homecoming queen.

If you have 40 first dates with 40 different computer engineers in northern California, you will probably fall in love with and marry a Silicon Valley high tech millionaire.

And so on.

‘Snobbishness?’

Many will disdain this “snobbishness,” then 20 years later be busting their asses to get their kid into an Ivy League school. A. Two of my three sons went to state colleges. B. I am not sure any of my sons would have gone to an Ivy League school if I had it to do over. C. I do not think there is any question that your child’s chances of getting into an Ivy League school are increased if one or both of his or her parents went to such a college. DNA matters.

I think the better focus the match between you and your same-gender friends and between you and your spouse and your same-gender friends. If you and all your friends are professional types, your spouse probably ought to be, too, not for show but for the obvious fact that if you gravitate toward such people when choosing your same-gender friends, what is the logic of marrying someone very different from them?

I think the embarrassing truth is the spouse who married way down in terms of education or IQ or ambition, etc. simply lacked the confidence to date and marry an equal and/or was in some situation Susan Patton and I would not recommend to someone who wanted to marry smart—single-gender college, not finding a spouse until you were in some job where you only met obviously unlikely spouses for you, waiting in the case of females until after their peak attractiveness age.

By the way, my wife graduated from Drexel University and has a Harvard MBA. I also have a Harvard MBA. She works as a professional in the banking industry. I am a how-to book writer.

Age at marriage

It sounds like Patton is saying females need to find Mr. Right during undergraduate school. I agree that is when they are most attractive and most fertile for having kids. But that is rather young for avoiding divorce. My wife and I have never been divorced. We met in November 1972; exclusively with each other since June 1973—41 years. I suspect one of the main reasons for that tenure is when we got married in May 1975, I was five weeks shy of age 29 and she was 12 weeks shy of age 26. At those ages we knew who we were and we had enough experience with life and love to have better judgment in picking a permanent date for New Year’s Eve.

That brings up another issue: age difference between spouses. Susan Patton’s formula (again I did not read her book) would seem to have the females marrying a classmate. I remember when I was a senior in college sensing pressure from the girls I was dating to propose to them. My attitude was I thought my late 20s were the best time to get married. And now at age 67 looking back on having done just that, I was correct. But the same-age girls I was dating when I was in college and in my early twenties had a very different schedule in mind. So I ended up marrying a woman three years younger, which I believe I have read is about par.

So exactly who is Patton intending for these girls to lean on for a proposal? Their fellow undergrads or the grad students at Princeton?

So I expect a woman who wants to marry smart needs some broader advice than just get it done in college. We are arguably too young at age 21 or 22 to do that, notwithstanding the many such marriages that worked. I think the better advice is what I put in my Succeeding book. Marry later than average because it has a much greater probability of working.

By the way, Patton got married late to a non-Ivy Leaguer and is now divorced.

Make the meetings happen

My book says simply that you must make meeting with 40 or more qualified candidates happen. We did it with letter lunch invitations to girls we found in college yearbook photos, college student directories, newspapers. I don’t care how you do it, just get it done. That way you are not depending on being in a college or being a Red Cross girl in a combat zone. You simply sit down weekly or by-weekly and figure out which local candidates there are and make the meeting happen. Does it get harder after you are out of a large co-ed college? Depends on where you are geographically, e.g., Killeen, TX, the home of Fort Hood, is not good; what kind of job setting you work in, your social circle (are you still where you grew up and went to college and have many friends and relatives or did you move far away for career reasons and know hardly anyone in your new area?)

Sadly and surprisingly, many of the beautiful women we dated ended up as old maids. How? They typically worked far from where they grew up or where they went to college and had a job like elementary school teacher where they met few eligible men. Without noticing it, they suddenly found themselves in a situation where a very high percentage of the men they would normally marry were already married and their attractiveness had faded somewhat and they kept relying on fate rather than hustle to arrange first dates.

Gorgeous old maid

I remember one in particular woman whom I dated. Drop dead gorgeous. She had gone to college in the Midwest then returned to her hometown on the east coast to be a Catholic School elementary school teacher. We dated for nine months, but I never could get any conversational rapport going with her. I moved away and that was the end of our relationship. I was 25, she was 23. Last I heard she was still unmarried and refused to speak my name or discuss me. I was a total gentleman, never asked her to go steady or discussed marriage or told her I loved her. We never had a single quarrel. But I was her great hope because I was acceptable and presentable and I “came along”—she was one of my System dates—at the age when she was ready to get married. But it was not yet the age when I was ready to get married and I was never ready to marry her. I never did the slightest thing to take her off the market. So I don’t know what reason she feels she has to be mad at me other than she figured I was the one and was shocked when I suddenly said goodbye and moved away after nine months of dating once a week. I guess she thought dating once a week that long was a proposal or a guarantee that one was coming. Maybe she was in deep, true love with me, but again, I could not get her to open up to me so I sure as heck could not have detected love.

Her old maidenhood stems from one of two possible mistakes:

• Either she was a great match for me but keeping her cards too close to her vest in not opening up when talking to me or

• she was not a match with me and needed to imitate me in the sense of making meetings with other qualified candidates happen rather than commuting to an elementary school every day and expecting Mr. Right to “just come along” somehow.

I do not know whether she is happy or not, but my guess is she intended to get married to Prince Charming and have kids and live happily every after. And she never dreamed she would have any trouble doing it. I once ran into a woman who graduated from that woman I dated’s college. I said, “Really!? I dated a girl from there who was about your age.” “Who?” she asked. When I told her the girl’s name, she said, “Oh, every guy in the state wanted to date her she was so beautiful!”

That woman whom I did not marry is one of the women Susan Patton is trying to warn with her much criticized marry smart advice. The basic problem, is too many women think they still have plenty of time, especially those who are most popular with the boys in high school and college, and/or are waiting for some fairy tale meeting to take place, when they do not have that much time left and they live in the real world.

College and twenty-something men have a less urgent situation in terms of attractiveness and fertility clocks, but many make the same mistake of not putting enough thought and effort into meeting the 40 qualified candidates and ending up marrying way down or not marrying at all.

Right idea, wrong focus

Based on only the Journal article, I think Ms. Patton’s basic message of thinking hard about making sure the marriage you want happens is correct, but I think her focus on using undergraduate college to do it is incorrect. People should marry equals, but do it a little later in life than college. And the correct advice is to master making those 40 first dates with qualified candidates happen in spite of your age and work situation. We did The System as young army officers where we were reassigned to various, isolated rural Army bases in a different area of the country or abroad an average of every nine months. So I am not interested in any whining about your having to make it happen as, say, an elementary school teacher in your hometown in a major metro area.

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