A few months ago, I read a book that I couldn’t put down.
Prior to peeling it open, I had found myself once again in the midst of reevaluating my stance on relationships, and even the far-off concept of marriage. I suddenly realized that I hadn’t yet stopped to consider my viewpoint on these topics. Looking back, it seems as though society instilled in me (and probabably you) a faith in my future early on—and it was one that would eventually involve saying “I do.”
Enter Spinster, a novel by Kate Bolick. The book begins like so:
“Whom to marry, and when it will happen—these two questions define every woman’s existence, regardless of where she was raised or what religion she does or doesn’t practice. She may grow up to love women instead of men, or to decide she simply doesn’t believe in marriage. No matter. These dual contingencies govern her until they’re answered, even if the answers are nobody and never.”
I distinctly remember reading the first sentence and feeling my heart beat heavy in my chest as I did. Obviously I can’t speak for all women, but what I can say is that I know this to be a truth for myself and for most women I know. Given that knowledge, I believe it’s absolutely essential to take a deeper look into what it all means. And that’s exactly what Bolick does.
The novel is half a memoir about the author’s own experience in and out of relationships, and half a historical look at a handful of influential and mostly single women who harbored unconventional beliefs about marriage. (She touches on writers Maeve Brennan and Edna St. Vincent Millay to name a few.) The juxtaposition of the two elements makes for a compelling and thought-provoking read. I’ll admit that my favorite parts of Spinster involve Bolick’s own musing about life in her twenties, as it’s something I can easily relate to. Having experienced a few substantial relationships, I found myself commiserating completely with her journey through the ups and downs of coupledom. More than that, I understood her fixation on independence and the subtle joys of being alone.
Some of my favorite excerpts (some she wrote, some she includes from other authors):
“How could I possibly become an adult if I didn’t know how to take care of myself?”
“Always do what you are afraid to do.”
“Of course, these were only dreams. How could a sensible women leave a happy marriage?”
“A life like that couldn’t be easy, but at least it was interesting.”
“The idea of love seemed an invasion. I had thoughts to think, a craft to learn, a self to discover. Solitude was a gift. A world was waiting to welcome me if I was willing to enter it alone.”
Bolick explores solitude honestly; and for the most part, she does it successfully. While some of her chapters do feel less impactful than others (and it can be difficult to differentiate between the variety of spinsters she chooses to highlight), she does confront some meaningful questions. For example, do you even want to get married? If so, why? How did you arrive at your conclusion?
These are exciting questions to pose. So many of our beliefs are culturally instilled in us from birth. For most of us, marriage is seen as a given our entire lives. When we take the time to dismantle it, what’s left is our true opinion. I spent months mulling this over and what I discovered is that I do want to get married—I think. Whatever materializes in my future, I own it. And I have the unabashed right to change my mind or adjust my perspective at any time. The freedom to choose and to question is what grants Spinster so much weight.
What I appreciate about this book is that Bolick doesn’t condemn anyone or dismiss the lure of marriage. She simply opens up a dialogue that should exist—especially for young women—and allows her audience room to consider their options. The moral is simple: Our lives encompass infinite possibilities. We shouldn’t limit ourselves to living just one.