Not Exactly a Spinster

I was interested to read Kate Bolick’s Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own, which is a half memoir, half history lesson about how the author chose to remain unmarried and pursue a writing-oriented life, spiritually guided by her five “awakeners”: Neith Boyce, Maeve Brennan, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and Edith Wharton.

The author celebrates solitude and is satisfied that she did not heed the constant societal chant of “get married, have kids” that still plagues women to this day. I did find the title of the book misleading because although the author professed to be a spinster and “alone,” she always seemed to be with one man or another, and after she broke up with one guy, she’d go right on to the next one with little “single” time in between. She never lacked friends to go out with or social events to go to, which clashed with my image of a “spinster,” which was more of an eccentric celibate loner kind of person. I suppose “spinster,” like many other things, is in the eye of the beholder.

I feared that Spinster would turn into a feminist rant about how all women must liberate themselves from men and break down glass ceilings and march for equality in the public square, but the book had a refreshingly objective outlook, and the author didn’t have any kind of agenda to push (at least not that I noticed).

The main reason I read the book was to see how the author’s journey went and how she stayed true to herself and what she wanted. I enjoyed how the book was structured around the five historical figures the author chose to look up to. I strongly related to the author on certain things, especially about feeling as if you’re on a “timeline” imposed by biology, society, and curious acquaintances who always ask, “So, are you dating anyone?” I answer “no,” then wonder awkwardly, Why? Am I supposed to be?  

I think the real point of the book is in its subtitle: “making a life of one’s own.” Your life is yours, regardless of how society, friends, culture, family, and so forth may try to subtly (or not so subtly) sway you. There is no pattern to follow, and there is no predetermined path to take. The author figures this out on her journey, as none of her “awakeners” completely mirrors her own experience. This is something I’m coming to terms with as well; every person I attempted to model my life after turns out to be so flawed, so human, so different from me. So I remind myself that there is no “template” for being an adult. It’s just muddling along and finding things out as you go.

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