The Ultimate Maturity Gauge…Most Likely

This article comes as a response to Kristin Koch’s ’05 “Marriage – the ultimate maturity gauge?”

“The Scene,” a magazine intended to honor alumni accomplishments and to reconnect graduates with current campus initiatives, reprinted a piece by Kristin Koch ’05, which was originally published by the “Huffington Post.” Koch, a former editor at “Glamour Magazine,” interprets her recent engagement to her male partner as a marker of her own self-worth and similarly understands marriage as a ceremonial entrance into adulthood.

Koch insists that her “personal stock” as a human being rose following her engagement. She writes that both her peers and her family members considered her “far more likeable, interesting and respectable” once she became engaged, and she further suggests that her engagement inducted her into an “exclusive club” of engaged heterosexual people who seem to relish in ostracizing their single friends and who also seem to question the value and integrity of single people in general.

The writer and her advice follow in the vein of Susan Patton, who can be more immediately placed by her well-known pseudonym-the “Princeton Mom.” Patton argues that female college students – namely, those women attending Ivy League institutions – should make husband-finding a priority. Patton’s argument lives in her repeated claim that “the cornerstone of [a college woman’s] future and happiness will be inextricably linked to the man [she marries], and [she] will never again have this concentration of men who are worthy of [her].”

Patton received a slew of criticism: people questioned why intellect was her only standard for a good life partner, settling the urgency that would drive a college-aged woman to lock down a husband at 19, criticizing Patton’s framing of marriage as a distinctly heterosexual phenomenon and working together to dissolve the link she sets up between a woman’s happiness and her marriageability. Yet, she has since landed a book deal with Simon & Schuster, who is probably hoping to cash in on the tail-end of her infamy or else is seriously (or satirically) seeking to publish a book of wholly cringe-worthy advice.

Obviously an engagement would give Koch – a professional wedding and lifestyle columnist – more clout and credibility, as this element of her personal life is what comes through in her writing, but this link between engagement and respectability does not necessarily extend to all job fields. I would argue that engagement could severely jeopardize a woman’s workplace mobility, as she might begin to compromise occupational promotions and pay-increases to schedule and to maintain her family. While the alternative narrative I’ve suggested here is not a fact of all heterosexual marriages and engagements, studies that have considered the link between gender and work-life responsibilities have found that women partnered in heterosexual relationships work less than their male counterparts.

Koch also reports that she “[feels] more legit” now that she is engaged. Legit?  “Legit” is a slang term used by tweenage misfits and college kids conferring signs of half-hearted approval. Clearly, Koch has mistaken marriage for adulthood if she thinks that marriage legitimizes her transition into personhood, which should have taken place around the time she graduated Colgate.

 In fact, sociologists that study aging have pointed to five life-events that traditionally mark the transition into adulthood, three of which – completing school, leaving home, and becoming financially independent – Koch has noted in her piece. While is also true that marriage for some is a sign of growth and maturity, clearly it is not “the ultimate maturity gauge” that Koch considers it to be. She sensationalizes marriage like high school students gawking over prom night, and if nothing else this attitude signals her immaturity.

So, perhaps a rock on the finger is not the instant jackpot that Koch proposes, but regardless of the varying consequences and outlooks that talk of marriage cues, Koch treats sweeping generalizations like they are long-heeded platitudes, insisting that “every woman does want to be a bride.” In saying this, Koch not only suggests that marriage, which is a deeply socialized and man-made institution, is a natural inclination in women, she also implies that marriage is a sort of capping-off to the female existence.

She understands marriage, namely heterosexual unions, as some sort of femininity realized, completed or confirmed. This understanding is problematic to say the least. To conflate marriage with desirability surely ostracizes a huge amount of women who are uninterested in this option, and until very recently, a claim like this would have discounted millions of LGBT women who were unable to receive a marriage license even if they had wanted one, just by virtue of their sexual orientation. In short, not every woman wants to be a bride. Not every man wants to be a husband either, but no one seems to be incongruously reducing men’s self-worth to their partnership intentions or marriage prospects.

That said, marriage as a social construct is not necessary beyond the tangible legal and health benefits that it confers. This is not to say that marriage is not a legitimate or valued desire, just that it is not necessary for the propagation of a society or even for the well-being of an individual. Plenty of children are being born out of wedlock (refer to my own last name as one lovely side-effect of this phenomenon) and plenty of people are unhappy in their marriage. Of course, every person is entitled to their own desires and I’m not criticizing those people who hope to become husbands and wives, as there is a level of intimacy and sense of security that can follow from marriage, I’m just hoping to assure readers – mostly female readers, that no, your value as a person and measure as an adult cannot be summarized by your marriageability.

Contact Melanie Grover-Schwartz at [email protected].