Sunday, March 31, 2013

"How could anybody not like you?" - Helen Seinfeld

At the intersection of parental overshare and the window-of-opportunity problem: the Princeton University mom who wrote a letter to a Princeton publication about her Princeton sons' eligibility, or something, and caused the internet to explode, or at any rate the website with her letter on it to crash. Then New York Magazine interviewed her. The internet exploded some more. I'm not sure if I've read the entire letter, because as I said, the original is unavailable, but as it was apparently quite short, it could be that the NYMag excerpt is the thing in its entirety. In any case, as a self-proclaimed expert in related areas, and a resident of the town of Princeton but not for reasons related to that university, my very important thoughts on this are below.

First, some defending-the-indefensible:

-According to the official WWPD definition, embarrassing parent-writing is not parental overshare if the child is an adult. It's always awkward to write about living family members, but if they're old enough to give consent, or to write their own tirade without fearing being grounded/getting cut off/worse, it's not quite the same. Nevertheless, the first example I ever gave of the phenomenon, before delving into its nuances, involved a mother writing about her 19-year-old son. And if the "child" is an adult as in over 18, but a financially dependent young college student...

In this case, we don't actually learn anything much about this woman's own two sons. Only that she thinks highly of them, in that very specific way the mothers of sons often do:

I am the mother of two sons who are both Princetonians. My older son had the good judgment and great fortune to marry a classmate of his, but he could have married anyone. My younger son is a junior and the universe of women he can marry is limitless.
Are we all now cringing on behalf of these two golden boys? Yes. But the only controversial thing we've learned about them is that their mother is quite something, which is actually something about her. And parents are under no ethical obligation not to be ridiculous, lest that ridiculousness be off-putting to would-be dates, employers, etc. While the letter could be read as an attempt to get her younger son a girlfriend, I'm not sure anyone interpreted it as evidence that he needed this help.

-The Princeton mom made a bunch of outrageous assumptions, but assuming that women will one day want to marry men wasn't one of them. Yet one response I've seen to this letter has been that not everyone is straight. Which... fair enough, but most people are indeed heterosexual. Full legal and social acceptance of LGBT individuals will not bring about a time in which the bulk of men don't want to marry women, the bulk of women don't want to marry men. (Even if we call it something other than "marry" in that progressive utopia.) Along the same lines, it is harder to meet someone once you're out of school, and women's romantic options do decrease with age relative to those of men.

-The answer to a what-year-is-this? demand that female college freshmen husband-hunt so as to avoid being single, haggard 22-year-olds is not to say that college is too young to find a spouse. As came up here recently, to marry at a 'sensible' age, and after getting to know your future spouse a sensible amount, you need to have gotten together with that person while still too young to have possibly been thinking about marriage. (Or you can meet at the 'right' age and marry 'too late' - thus why these categories themselves are the problem.) That's where the window-of-opportunity issue occurs - women of 22 are told that it would be insane for them to look for husbands... but come 25, and it's a disaster they haven't already found The One. It's certainly reactionary to shift the window-of-opportunity down in age to freshman year of college, but the answer isn't to keep the window as elusive but place it at 29.

Now, I join the chorus:

-That a man has gone to a top-three Ivy most certainly does not mean his romantic options are "limitless." Some men do think this, which makes it all the more fun for the women who get to disabuse them of that notion.

-"Men regularly marry women who are younger, less intelligent, less educated." The first, kinda-sorta, but the second two, not so much. That may have once been the case, but no more. Fancy-college (what Princeton Mom is using as a proxy for intelligence) is now a gender-neutral class signifier, and there's not much socioeconomic intermingling. A cashier at Wawa might be stunning, but a Princeton undergrad dude isn't going to even notice that (or, at least, isn't going to bring her home for Thanksgiving), because that's how it goes in class-less America.

-Do 18-year-old women have the most romantic options? On paper, it seems like they might, but in reality? If we're talking marriage, very young women probably don't have as many options as women further into their 20s, because the bulk of the romantic interest they attract (or seek out!) tends to be of a more casual variety. (Older men interested in very young women tend to have that interest in part because they're trying to avoid settling down.)

-Straight women who are college seniors do indeed have fewer options at college, unless they're prepared to date freshman, which, as a rule, they're not. And at colleges on the whole, it can be difficult to meet people who aren't fellow undergraduates. But! In this particular case! Hello! There are so many slightly-older single men in Princeton, most with a Princeton affiliation, who will happily date 21-22-year-old Princeton women. Graduate students! Postdocs! I find it hilarious that there's a man shortage down the road, given the profound woman shortage in this neck of the woods.

No comments: