I am currently reading my way through a long list of science fiction and fantasy titles. (http://www.npr.org/2011/08/07/138938145/science-fiction-and-fantasy-finalists if you are interested in the list).
“Whom to marry, and when will it happen—these two questions define every woman’s existence.”
So begins Spinster, a revelatory and slyly erudite look at the pleasures and possibilities of remaining single. Using her own experiences as a starting point, journalist and cultural critic Kate Bolick invites us into her carefully considered, passionately lived life, weaving together the past and present to examine why she—along with over 100 million American women, whose ranks keep growing—remains unmarried.
This unprecedented demographic shift, Bolick explains, is the logical outcome of hundreds of years of change that has neither been fully understood, nor appreciated. Spinster introduces a cast of pioneering women from the last century whose genius, tenacity, and flair for drama have emboldened Bolick to fashion her life on her own terms: columnist Neith Boyce, essayist Maeve Brennan, social visionary Charlotte Perkins Gilman, poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, and novelist Edith Wharton. By animating their unconventional ideas and choices, Bolick shows us that contemporary debates about settling down, and having it all, are timeless—the crucible upon which all thoughtful women have tried for centuries to forge a good life.
Intellectually substantial and deeply personal, Spinster is both an unreservedly inquisitive memoir and a broader cultural exploration that asks us to acknowledge the opportunities within ourselves to live authentically. Bolick offers us a way back into our own lives—a chance to see those splendid years when we were young and unencumbered, or middle-aged and finally left to our own devices, for what they really are: unbounded and our own to savor.
I’m always interested in what motivates people—I know what moves me and find it fascinating to compare to other people’s experiences. That’s what drew me to Spinster. I remember having a few lonely times when I was in my 20s, and the epiphany at about age 28 when I realized that I would always be lonely unless I became a good companion to myself. I remember there was a passage in Kurt Vonnegut’s book Palm Sunday that I would read again and again as I processed this idea (note to self, re-read Palm Sunday soon). Literature pointed me in the right direction, as I always expect it to.
That’s another lure of this volume, the author’s examination of the lives & works of some notable single women writers: Neith Boyce, Maeve Brennan, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Edna St. Vincent Millay and Edith Wharton. Not all of them spinsters by strict definition, but definitely with unconventional relationships for their times and a need for personal space in which to be creative. This has definitely pushed Edith Wharton and Charlotte Perkins Gilman up my “to read” list and added the other women to my radar for future reading adventures.
I also learned a name for something that I have been practicing for years: Living Apart Together. (Wasn’t it Katherine Hepburn who said, “Men and women should live next door and visit occasionally.” I don’t even want him next door, where he could keep much too close an eye on me!) I’m very much an introvert. I’ve had roommates over the years, but have spent the last 20 years living by myself and I can’t imagine letting anyone else permanently into my living space ever again. When people ask, I tell them there just isn’t enough closet space. (BTW, isn’t it amazing what people feel entitled to ask?) Visitors are welcome but departure dates have to be clear.
It’s strange how people treat you when you are on your own—I remember many years ago going camping by myself. As I was setting up camp, people on either side of me made pleasant conversation until they realized that I was a woman on her own. Suddenly, no one would make eye contact and conversation ceased. If it wasn’t for a campground employee who stopped by for a chat each day, I would have had no one at all to talk to. After two days of that nonsense, I phoned my parents & asked if they would care to join me. They were happy to share my camp space and suddenly neighbouring campers treated me like a human being again. People are weird.
But being single is no longer odd. More & more people are—widowed, divorced, never married, we are numerous. Someday, we may even be considered normal. Bring on that someday!