alone · choices · keep trying · labels · old maid · single · spinster · who are we

On My Own

“The archetype of the spinster is still alive in our unconscious: she has simply morphed into her present incarnation as the woman alone – that is to say, into the stoic, sometimes quietly mournful woman who has missed out on the possibility of finding a partner and carried some shame and guilt about it.”

On My Own –The Liberation of Being a Woman Alone

by Florence Falk

I am aware that the topics that I chose to muse upon in this blog wander and meander somewhat but that doesn’t mean that I have forgotten that this is about my journey towards more acceptance of being a spinster. All those years ago I was so confused and lost – laid low by grief and bad career choices – and yet still obsessed by the fact that I was single. Alone. Unchosen. I am happy to say that, whilst I am still confused and growing, most of the time I am not as obsessed with the fact that I am a spinster. Yet I still don’t love it; I still feel the need to joke about it or excuse it in some way and I still have a long way to go on the whole lack of family stuff.

So, in a bid to continue with my self-acceptance, I have been plundering the library again. It seems that, unsurprisingly, I am not the first person to try and grapple with the notion of being a spinster and the quote at the top of this entry is from my most recent read. Florence Falk has written a thoughtful and insightful book about the stigmas of being a single woman and how we spinsters can find ways to embrace our status and grow into embracing our time alone.

I won’t attempt to do proper justice to the mechanisms that she discusses; if you are interested in this topic I urge you to read the book for yourself as I found it really beneficial. But I do want to briefly highlight some of my favourite quotes from the earlier sections where she discusses the depth of societal stigmas that a modern day spinster is still fighting against, even as the female population is single in increasing numbers. This next, quite lengthy, quote really stuck out for me as a lover of old novels and romantic comedies:

“Once upon a time the spinster was, quite simply, a spinner of thread. And since spinning was most commonly done by young unmarried women, the term came to represent unmarried women in English legal documents dating from as early as the 1600s. By the following century, it was used to describe any “woman still unmarried and beyond the usual age for it.” Over time, this spinster morphed into The Spinster: female archetype of the once luscious woman gone to seed, also known by such carious synonyms as “thornback,” “stale maid,” and “antique virgin.”

“There were plenty of spinsters in the novels we read, but we certainly didn’t spend much time thinking about them. Instead, we identified our longings and fears with the heroine’s, whose chances for marriage were often in jeopardy. Usually, this heroine had the good fortune – the only acceptable fortune – to be sought after by, won over by, and eventually marry Mr Right. That’s where the story ended, and we closed the book. That was the future we all placed our bets on.”

This really resonated for me – for some time I was frustrated by the fact that I felt as though my life had stagnated and I was just playing a supporting role in the lives of my family and friends. So many of my favourite heroines, perhaps all of them, from Elizabeth Bennett (Pride and Prejudice) to Celia Bowen (The Night Circus), end up finding their resolution with another person, even if they are denied a fairy tale romantic ending. I was so scared that I would become a Miss Bates (Emma) – an archetype old maid – that my insecurities threatened to form into a self-fulfilling prophecy. There are still very few single but happy women in popular fiction; they are either evil career obsessives like Katharine Parker (Working Girl) or the kooky best friends who seem to be there just to make the heroine seem more awesome. Even Sex and the City, which proclaimed that it celebrated the female single person ended up with them all in long term relationships. We spinsters still have some way to go. So, I will end with a quote from the middle of the book, as Ms Falk starts to urge us to fight back:

“Just reading the dictionary’s synonyms for aloneness – “solitary,” “lonely,” “lonesome,” “lone,” “forlorn,” “desolate”- underscores our apprehension. We need to demystify aloneness, to rid it of the taint of isolation and despair, and to understand that it is an essentially “neutral” state. On its vast spectrum, our experience of aloneness can veer from the loss and emptiness of isolation on one end to the spaciousness and plenitude of solitude on the other. The direction women need to pursue is toward solitude. That is where we will find the nourishment to harvest our inner resources.”

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