Kate Bolick, the author of Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own, says in her book, “A book will find you when you need to be found” and this is precisely what happened with this very book and me.
For many years I’d always had this strange (I thought) desire to be alone. Not in a weird or creepy way where I banished people from my life, but just a deep craving to get away and retreat into my own world. My world of one. Like an unseen friend, this feeling has always tagged along beside me, evolving just as I have and the older I grow the greater the feeling has gotten. I thought it might be a side effect of being an only child, only having myself for company causing me to naturally prefer my company first over that of anyone else. Or perhaps it’s a side effect of being a writer, writing being a solitary activity, you need space and quiet in order to explore your mind and create things. So I concluded that this is who I am, a person with a double dose affinity for aloneness and odd as it might be I would just have to accept it. Because in the kind of world we live in, wanting unnatural amounts of time alone, often breaking away from the crowd, being completely self-sufficient in the manner of company and entertainment, it can be misconstrued. A happy loner? Could such a person exist?
Enter this book.
Essentially a memoir of the aforementioned author and her self-awakening through the discovery of her five Awakeners, but also a history. Kate, having always had this need for solitariness even while involved in long term relationships, uncovered five women of the last century – one as far as 1880 – who all shared this very same feeling. This inexplicable desire. In learning about the lives of Edna St Vincent Millay, Edith Wharton, Neith Boyce, Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Maeve Brennan , her five Awakeners, I’ve become a bit fascinated with them myself. They all lived during a time in which women had very few (and in some places none) job opportunities, so getting married was the only way many of them could leave home and be taken care of financially, in fact this was a path that was expected, but these ladies chose to go it alone – not forever- but for as long as they could. We often hear older folks talking about how career oriented women are today, how it wasn’t like this in ‘their day’, and it’s easy to believe that this is a new phenomenon, one exclusive to our generation – yet, it isn’t! This isn’t a new thing, it’s not exclusive to us! There were rebels back then, pioneers, feminists, solitude lovers, long before we came about. And isn’t that fascinating?
Take Neith Boyce, in 1898 she wrote a column for Vogue entitled The Bachelor Girl, that waxed lyrical about the benefits of being single. I loved this line she wrote : “I shall never be an old maid because I have elected to be a Girl Bachelor.” A woman who took ownership of her single status publicly, for 1898, that was brave. I’ve been enamoured with that term Girl Bachelor ever since.
While Kate chose to remain unmarried, the eternal spinster, all her Awakeners eventually did, but they chose to join the “vast majority” on their own terms. They retained their fierce streak of independence and their want for solitude continued and remained. Which reminded me of a chat I had with a woman of our times, very definitely married, who said she liked being alone so much she could spend the rest of her life never seeing another person and she would be fine. A sentiment I understand completely and carry with me. So I wondered if perhaps this yearning is inherent in some of us irrespective of occupation, sibling count or marital status. I knew a girl who told me once that she loved her space so much, if she ever got married she would want her husband to have his own room. It seems there’s a spinster inside many, if not all, of us.
And so it dawned on me, I was a spinster all along and I will gladly continue to be one even when I’m married with kids one day. One doesn’t need to be single with ten cats, frigid and withered away to be a spinster. For some reason that word, originally invented as an honourable title given to unmarried women who spun thread for a living, morphed into meaning something negative, old, ugly and even shameful. Until this utterly interesting book that tells us otherwise.
As the author herself says:
“If you’re single, whether never-married, divorced or widowed, you can carry the word spinster like a talisman, a constant reminder you’re in very good company…If you’re unhappily coupled you can use the word spinster to conjure up a time when you weren’t…and to recall that being alone is often far preferable to being in a bad relationship…For the happily coupled…spinster can be code for remembering to take time out for yourself..”
It’s embracing your solitariness and the spinster within, and making that sacred time alone some of the most fulfilling of your whole life. To the Spinsters!