We face the same, age-old questions: Who's my prince? Will I ever fall in love? Should I get married? From the time we’re able to understand fairytales and sit through The Little Mermaid, most of us wonder if we’ll ever find a love so grand. The alternative, which isn’t pretty, is being alone, forever single, a "spinster." That dreaded alternative gets a new twist in Kate Bolick’s book Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own, which sets out to reclaim the word and make a case for the single life. It’s a book that has the potential to inspire a thousand breakups... and I mean that in a good way.
Bolick wrote the wildly popular and controversial 2001 cover story “All the Single Ladies” for The Atlantic, in which she argued that she was perfectly happy as a never married, almost 40-year-old. Spinster picks up where the article left off, and Bolick is open about the impact her mother’s death has had on her life, the ups and downs her of own relationships with men, and her own fears and desires when it comes to love, career, children, and marriage.
For inspiration, Bolick looks to her five “awakeners” — women she admires for their strength, independence, and freedom: writers Mauve Brennan and Neith Boyce, poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, novelist Edith Wharton, and feminist Charlotte Perkins Gilman (all of whom are white female writers, essentially past incarnations of Bolick). Their stories are interwoven with Bolick’s own journey, and the result is a sort of single ladies manifesto: “spinster” doesn’t have to mean old, sad, and lonely; It can mean independent, self-sufficient, self-supporting.
In the spirit of the book, here are 7 questions every single girl asks herself at one point or another, all plucked straight from the pages of Spinster:
"Is getting married the ‘adult’ thing to do?"
“Those of us who’ve bypassed the exits for marriage and children tend to motor through our thirties like unlicensed drivers, unauthorized grownups. Some days are great—you’re a badass outlaw on the joyride that is life! Other days you’re an overgrown adolescent borrowing your dad’s car and hoping the cops don’t pull you over,” Bolick writes.
Most of us can relate, right? At a certain point it seems “smart” or “adult” to seek out marriage. But that’s a terrible reason to get married—because society says it’s time. Hopefully most of us are well aware of that fact. If not, Spinster is a good reminder.
"I love being alone — is that so wrong?"
We’re all familiar with the idea of a room of one’s own. Bolick returns to this throughout the book, and her love of solitude is contagious. “To set sail on the black unknown of sleep in a room that’s been ‘mine’ nearly my entire life is one of the greatest luxuries I know.” So the answer is... no. There’s nothing wrong with loving your alone time. Go crawl into bed with a book and shut the door!
"What will my parents/friends/everyone in the word think if I never marry?"
Social pressures can suck it. “Culture tells us that a spinster is without future—no heirs to bear, nobody to remember her when she’s gone—not a woman racing toward it,” writes Bolick. You don’t have to be married to have a life. And really, who cares what the neighbors say?
"Can I have it all?"
The Mother of All Questions: Can I balance work, marriage, and kids? How do people do it?! Everyone does it differently, and if that balancing act sounds horrible to you, don’t force yourself to do it all. Do what makes you happy.
Bolick writes about a woman in her neighborhood who she calls “Having It All.” She’s the one rushing down the street holding a briefcase, her hair wet from the shower, yelling instructions to the nanny. “I could be her if I wasn’t careful,” Bolick writes cryptically. Or maybe that woman’s life looks pretty great to you. It’s your choice.
"Why don’t men have to worry about all this?"
In general, men don’t think of marriage and kids as the big prize, or the life event that defines them. Yet so many women are taught that the wedding day is the best day of your life. “Men… don’t worry quite as much about the future,” Bolick writes. Maybe if we stop worrying about when we’re getting married and focus all that energy on work, friendships, travel, we won’t have to stress over ridiculous goals as much.
"Will I end up a bag lady?"
As if worrying about ending up a lonely old lady isn’t enough, there’s the fear of becoming a bag lady: Solitary, destitute, on the streets, single. One of Bolick’s “awakeners,” Mauve Brennan, actually did end up a bag lady on the streets of NYC, “a fate feared by so many single women, it’s become a cliché,” Bolick writes. Spinster, bag lady — women are way too hard on themselves.
"Are women people yet?"
OK, so maybe you don’t walk around wondering, “Am I a person?” But Spinster ends with the question, "Are women people yet,” and it’s a good one to ask, and explore. She writes, “Are we finally ready for a young woman to set out on the long road of her life as a human being who inhabits but isn’t limited to her gender?”
I think so. But first we need to stop fearing that dreaded word, “spinster,” and start appreciating our independence, because being alone isn't always so bad.
Images: ilovebutter/flickr; Getty Images