The Modern Spinster: Reflections on Living by Myself

I’m single.

This is not an advertisement. I’m not looking for Prince Charming. I’m very happy being single. In fact, it would take love on the scale of “hit by a thunderbolt” to get me to even consider changing my solitary state.

I like living alone. I like spending a lot of time by myself. And while I also have an extroverted streak and like the company of others, I would much rather be alone than spend time with boring people.

I am also profoundly grateful that I was born into an era in which a woman could be single and live comfortably. A few years ago I wrote a piece for an anthology called Talking Back: Epistolary Fantasies (edited by Timmi Duchamp and published by Aqueduct Press) in the form of a letter to my grandmother’s best friend, Lula Mae Cravens, who never married. In some ways, I feel like she is my ancestor as much (or even more) than my blood kin.

Things have changed since Lula Mae’s day. A woman no longer needs to get married for economic security; she can take up a well-paid profession instead. For that matter, a woman no longer needs to get married for sex, or even to raise children. And while some single women are still desperately searching for Prince Charming, I’m not the only happy spinster out there.

Singled OutBut there are still stigmas and barriers to life lived on your own. Psychologist Bella DePaulo has written an excellent book on the subject: Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After.

While DePaulo points out the obvious – social exclusions and financial unfairness – the point she made that really hit home with me is her discussion on how our society has devalued friendship and non-spouse family relationships in its exaltation of romantic marriage. She writes:

Single people whose lives are filled with friendship and passion and marvelously developed talents and stunning achievements can be chided as not having anyone and not having a life simply because they are not coupled.

She goes on to cite a corollary – that people with spouses and kids are always expected to put their families first, no matter how important their job or great their talent. Those who don’t – or at least, don’t pretend to in public – are heavily censured in the court of public opinion.

There’s that old adage that no one ever lies on their deathbed wishing they’d spent more time at the office. The implication is that dying people wish they’d spent more time with their families.

Me, I suspect that most dying people wish they’d done a few of those things they wanted to do, but had to put off because their spouse didn’t like it, or because they had to look after the kids, or because it wasn’t “practical.” (My heart broke when I read a story in The New York Times this week about a talented high school violinist who’s headed for nursing school because “Everybody gets sick.”)

When I reach my deathbed, I’ll probably regret the story I never got around to writing or the fact that I never got to go to the moon, not spending so many pleasant years on my own.

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Nancy Jane’s story this week – by no coincidence – is “Spinster: A Flash Memoir.” Her collection Conscientious Inconsistencies is available from PS Publishing and her novella Changeling can be ordered from Aqueduct Press.

Check out Nancy Jane Moore’s Bookshelf for more stories.

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The Modern Spinster: Reflections on Living by Myself — 7 Comments

  1. The issue that bothers many single women of my age is -old- age. The Sandwich Generation is spending time these days coping with elders– downsizing their apartments, setting up home health care, etc. If you are married, there is a hope that your spouse will do this for you, in forty years’ time. But what if you are single? Who is going to be advocating for your physical therapies, getting your prescription filled? This is the big argument for US health care reform. (I will also note that statistically speaking most married women will be widows, and will thus be in the same boat no matter what their marital status now.)

  2. Brenda, I figure much of that can be handled with advance planning and the cultivation of friends of all ages. I’m actually exploring development of a writer’s community (we’re having a panel at WisCon), with aging as one of the factors. (The other motivation is that my I would love to live with writer friends next door, so long as I can alway shut my own door and ignore everyone.) My other long term solution: Move into the independent living component of a retirement community before I actually need the services they offer.

  3. Thanks —

    I think that old age is what frightens my parents the most about me, since I married a man who ultimately didn’t want children. And now with being sick, it does cross the mind. But my goal is to get better and to live my creative life. Intimate partners are no longer a part of the calculation. They will have to be wild cards. And still…I want to be able to go home and close the door.

    A street of writers is a wonderful idea. I have several communities I swing through, and we’ve talked about co-oping it somehow.

    I sometimes wonder if in the far past I would have been a woman who cut off all her hair and got into a monastery by posing as a young man.

  4. Longtime fan Laurie Mann has a great idea — we have an old-age community as a perpetual con. A consortium of writers/fen can buy an old motel or hotel. It will thus already have many bedrooms and bathrooms. The function space will be devoted to housing all our book collections. We will spend all our time reading each others books, and quarreling about the role of Heinlein in the genre.

  5. My personal dream is more perpetual Clarion than perpetual con. A little less intensity — no daily workshops, no insufficient sleep — and better accommodations, but the real pleasure of having somebody you trust next door so you can go over at any time, shove a piece of paper in their hands, and say “read this and tell me what you think.”

    Though perpetual WisCon — again, with less intensity and fewer parties — would probably work, too.

    As for me, Kathi, I’m just glad I wasn’t born in one of those ages where I’d have had to do something as drastic as pass for a man or else marry someone I didn’t like. Neither choice appeals to me, and these days it’s okay if I’m just myself.

    Taking care of ourselves in ill health and old age is an important consideration, but I think we’ve got lots more choices about that these days, too. We really can find our own paths; we are not doomed to badly run nursing homes or other miseries.

  6. You would not have to join a male monastic order. There were monasteries for women as well. Have you read IN THIS HOUSE OF BREDE?