I’m thirty-one years old.
I live on my own.
I do not own a cat.
I am not in a relationship.
And up until I read Kate Bolick’s memoir, I have feared that I will become a spinster.
Originally, the term spinster, generated in fifteenth century Europe as an honourable way to describe the girls, most of them unmarried, who spun thread for a living. Since then, society has reshaped the term to become a disparaging, offensive term that is now defined by the dictionary as, “A woman still unmarried beyond the usual age of marrying”. Surprisingly, the dictionary does not define the term, “usual age of marrying” and after a quick Google search, it turns out that Cosmopolitan and BuzzFeed weren’t able to provide a definitive answer to that question either. Which led to my interest in Kate Bolick’s new memoir, Spinster: A Life of One’s Own. A book that’s described as, “a revelatory, lyrical, and slyly erudite look at the pleasures and possibilities of remaining single.
Kate Bolick has always been a writer, she’s written articles for The New York Times, The Observer and many other esteemed magazines that I could name that would make your jaw hit the floor. She’s currently a contributing editor for The Atlantic and now an author of her first book which challenges readers to reexamine what it means to be single by putting a microscope on her own relationship history and delving into the lives of pioneer women from the last century whose influences and way of living began to have such an impact on her life that she starts to mirror their philosophy of life. What do I mean when I say that? Well I think it’s important to share a little bit about the timeline of this book for you to get a better understanding.
The book starts with a young Kate Bolick who’s dating on and off with a man she refers to as “W”, she’s working four jobs and she’s just been told that her Mother is about to die. As she sits by her bedside, she starts to wonder about her future, about her life and what her Mother would do if she could have done things differently. After her Mother passes, Kate vows to take some of her Mother’s spirit in stride and focus on building a pretty outstanding resume. After some hesitation, she packs up everything (including W) and moves to NYC. New York is the town in which Kate begins to discover the woman she wants to be with the help of some pretty inspirational ladies. She picks up some work by Maeve Brennan, an Irish writer who received huge accolades in the United States, specifically New York and her life was forever changed. Maeve was a contributor for The New Yorker known as “The Long-Winded Lady”. It’s through reading some of her work (novellas, articles and essays), that Kate begins to mirror specific qualities about Maeve. She doesn’t do this consciously, she naturally starts to emulate Maeve’s confidence and self reliance. She then begins to find strength in how to articulate her new way of thinking about single-hood when she starts reading Neith Boyce’s work. Surprisingly, when you Google Neith, you get very little information, but a more specific search with a term I learned in Kate’s book, known as “Bachelor Girl” produced an article that Kate herself wrote about Neith in the New York Observer titled, “She Was All That: This Single Chick Broke the Mold“. She shares that as early as 1898, Neith had no ceilings,
I was born a bachelor, but of course several years elapsed … before my predestination to this career became obvious. Up to that time people acknowledged threatening indications by calling me queer, while elderly persons who wished to be disagreeable said that I was independent. [Their] prediction … has so far been justified. I did not marry. The alternative of course was a profession.
I’m only giving you a quick glance at two of the women that started to help formulate new ideas about the definition of the word “spinster”. She of course gives much more details in her book and continues her understanding by adapting policies from Charlotte Perkins Gilman (author of one of my favourite books, The Yellow Wallpaper), poet Edna St. Vincent Millay and novelist Edith Wharten.
Every one’s path is a different path, everyone has to find their own icons and their own inspiration, but the ideas and principles that Kate Bolick examines in her memoir, Spinster, make a very solid case about why everyone should reevaluate the message we’re sending when we label someone a spinster. What if it didn’t mean loneliness, cats and tv dinners? What if it meant time, what if it meant exploration and most importantly, what if it meant happiness?
For the first time in a long time, Kate Bolick’s memoir helped me to focus on the pleasures of what it means to be single. When I meet someone who’s the right fit, it’ll be great, I’m sure of it. But for right now, I think I’ll go sing Taylor Swift at the top of my lungs, make hot chocolate for one and watch Gilmore Girls for the 700th time.