“Whom to marry, and when will it happen—these two questions define every woman’s existence, regardless of where she was raised or what religion she does or doesn't practice. She may grow up to love women instead of men, or to decide she simply doesn't believe in marriage. No matter. These dual contingencies govern her until they're answered, even if the answers are nobody and never. Men have their own problems; this isn't one of them.” -Spinster, Kate Bolick, p.1-2
"Eventually, whether you choose or are chosen, joyously accept or grudgingly resist, you take the plunge. You are born, you grow up, you become a wife. But what if it wasn't this way? What if a girl grew up like a boy, with marriage an abstract, someday thought, a thing to think about when she became an adult, a thing she could do, or not do, depending? What would that look and feel like?" -p. 4, emphasis my own
I grew up believing I'd fall in love sometime during college and get married shortly after graduation. Almost all of the adults in my life had married in their early 20s and I believed that's simply how life worked. I was 14 when Aunt Laurie "finally" married but I never thought I'd end up in her shoes.
Imagine my shock when I didn't meet Mr. Right in college. Or graduate school. Or at church. Or anywhere else.
My life continued on but it remained oriented around when I would get married. There was no end to my angst over it not happening. By my mid-20s, I figured I needed to start looking at singleness differently and this began to shape my conversations and the books I sought out until I developed my own personal theology of singleness. It was something I had to forge together. It's something I still have to forge together.
I often joke I'm a single person living in a married couple world but there's truth to that, isn't there?
When I first came across Kate Bolick's book Spinster: Making A Life Of One's Own, I couldn't wait to see what this latest "book on singleness" would be about. Would I relate to it? Would it really be about the single experience, instead of the dating experience?
I read a lot of books on singleness but there are so many facets yet to be explored in publishing. One book on singleness cannot be all things to all people, after all.
Spinster is an exploration of singleness as the culmination, not the interim of life. Over 100 million American women remain unmarried and as Bolick explores history, it becomes clear we have been headed this direction for some time and yet society isn't clear on how to handle it. Bolick believes singleness is to be celebrated. It is enough in and of itself. But we have hardly any examples of what the fulfilling single life looks like.
Part memoir, part biography, and part social science, Bolick considers her relationships and her resistance to marriage, while envisioning a fulfilling single life.
Woven through Bolick's own story are profiles of her 5 Awakeners: columnist Neith Boyce, essayist Maeve Brennan, social visionary Charlotte Perkins Gilman, poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, and novelist Edith Wharton. These women became her guides to what the single life could be about.
Spinster is filled with sound insights and observations. While Bolick's life choices are very different from my own, I could not help but relate to her quest for mentors and guides, as well as external affirmation of her decision to remain single.
When she wrote about the "two faces of the single woman," I nodded in recognition. On a day to day basis, I can feel utterly content. And then someone asks about my dating life and I am compelled to perform, to rationalize, to justify. (I fight this urge. I don't owe anyone an explanation for whom I do or do not date.)
As I read about each Awakener, it became clear why Bolick was drawn to them and what lessons they could teach her. Almost all of these women married at some point and then divorced, which seemed fitting for her fear of commitment. However, I could not relate to them, nor did I agree with many of Bolick's choices. I'm still glad I read it though.
Spinster, then, is one person's story of singleness. As well it should be. If anything, it shows how very much we need more stories of singleness. We need more guides.
This brings me to the greatest gift of reading this book.
Over the years I have bemoaned the lack of good examples of "older" singleness. I do not know many single woman who could serve as unofficial mentors but they must be out there.
Before reading this, I hadn't considered what heroes of singleness might be lurking in the pages of a biography or memoir. What single women from years past might speak to me? What single women now could serve as guides?
We need to have people ahead of us who show what is possible. As I consider who my Awakeners are, I'm committed to continue writing about singleness and serving as a guide to younger single women.
There's nothing wrong with singleness and I'm grateful for the people who shout this from the rooftop and the ones who quietly live out this truth in their daily lives. There's room for us all.
Do you have any guides or heroes of singleness?
Disclosure: I was provided a complimentary copy of Spinster from Blogging for Books with no expectation that I would provide a positive review. The thoughts, opinions, and reactions are entirely my own.
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