Spinster is a term referring to an unmarried woman who is older than what is perceived as the prime age range during which women should marry. It could also indicate that a woman is considered unlikely to ever marry. The term originally denoted a woman whose occupation was to spin. A synonymous but more pejorative term is ‘old maid.’ The closest equivalent term for males is ‘bachelor’, but this doesn’t generally carry the same potentially pejorative connotations in reference to age and perceived desirability in the marriage.
When I began this blog, I was in my forties; beyond the prime age range for marriage. I had never been married and had no children. Back then, I thought perhaps I might marry. I recently had ended a relationship with a man to whom I purportedly was engaged. I say “purportedly” because, looking back, I don’t believe I intended to actually marry him, when push came to shove. I considered marrying him, knowing that it likely would not work out, so I could point to the failed marriage and say: “Yes, I’ve been married. I was chosen. I’m not completely unlovable or undesirable. I am not so difficult that not all men would forgo making a lifetime commitment to me.”
Around the period the engagement and breakup took place, I had just started a job with BigLaw via a merger of my tiny nine-lawyer firm with a thousand-lawyer firm. At the initial reception celebrating the merger, a married, handsome, forty-something male partner who hailed from one of our offices in the Northeast, inquired whether I was married or had children. When I answered in the negative on both counts, he said, “It will be okay. We’ll find you someone.” Yes, he actually said this. (Apropos of nothing, it later would be revealed that this particular partner was having an affair with another married partner, both of whom would divorce their spouses to marry; but not before they were forced out of the firm. Whether they were forced out for breaking some unwritten firm moral code, or something else, was not made public.)
What I inherently knew had been confirmed: To be successful at this firm, it would be helpful to be the kind of woman men desired to marry.
A few months following the merger party, the firm held its annual partnership retreat. I wore the ring from my recently-failed engagement throughout the days-long retreat. (I had kept the ring because I paid for it.) Looking back, I cringe at my acquiescence and attempt to comply with the expectations of my male-dominated law firm by farcically wearing the ring. (The “male-dominated” descriptor for a law firm generally goes without saying.) I also cringe that I contemplated marrying someone who was abusive and exploitative, in part so I could say I’d been married.
I understand I am far from being the only woman to contemplate marrying because of societal expectations. I understand I am far from being the only woman to, at times, feel broken or flawed for never having found a partner worthy of a life-long commitment.
When I began this blog, I used the term “unconfirmed” because I was not yet prepared to declare myself a life-long single woman. I thought maybe, if I was lucky, I would one day find a life partner. And it would take luck, seeing as I was doing nothing in pursuit of finding a partner. In fact, I was doing quite the opposite. I might even go so far as to call it active avoidance. I used the term “bachelorette” because I thought “spinster” was too harsh; it had negative connotations. It generated images of unhappy, lonely, old, bitter women, living with dozens of cats. I was, and am, a middle-aged woman living alone with cats; four cats, to be precise. (I lost dear Sally, one of the original black cats, to intestinal lymphoma nine months ago, and so now am sharing my home with four cats, rather than five.) I am not lonely. I am not bitter. I am not unhappy.
So now, eight years after starting this blog, I have been contemplating changing its name. I considered “Confirmed Bachelorette,” but “bachelorette,” albeit tongue-in-cheek, has always felt a bit cheesy, particularly in light of the television show. (Will you accept this rose?) I tossed around the idea of calling it “Confirmed Spinster.” The feedback on that was entirely mixed. Two friends found it amusing. Others found it negative and a bit repellent. I saw it as a way to reappropriate the term and chip away at the negative connotations.
Why do women get a bad rap for never marrying? Why are there pejorative terms for unmarried-women-of-a-certain-age, when there are none for men? There’s even a card game, Old Maid, where the penalty card with which you do not want to be left includes the image of an old, gray, woman, often surrounded by cats. What’s wrong with being surrounded by cats?
In contrast, the term “confirmed bachelor” evokes the image of men like George Clooney; men who are handsome and dashing, who have escaped the fate (until recently, for George) of being tied down by a woman. Why am I not viewed as lucky to not be tied down by a man? Why is my independence, my ability to take care of myself, to live life on my terms, not celebrated, as it is for lifelong male bachelors of a certain age?
It’s going to take much more than changing the name of my blog to assist in this course correction. It’s taken decades for me begin to correct the course of my own thinking. I shall continue to strive to do so. For now, I leave you with this: