Musings on Spinsterhood

When I think of a spinster, I think of Mary Bennett from “Pride and Prejudice.”

Miss Mary Bennett

Yesterday, Jezebel.com posted a story called “Will The Rise In Female College Grads Create Smarter Spinsters?” I didn’t read the article initially, because I found the headline off-putting and offensive.

I’m 27. I have no romantic prospects. I’m focused on women’s rights, girls’ education, reducing my carbon footprint, writing, and my job with an amazing non-profit. Does the fact that I’m single and approaching 30 make me a spinster? Apparently, since I’m a college graduate with no wedding ring, boyfriend, or even a steady date in my life, I must be a spinster.

What, exactly, is a spinster? I turned, as always, to Merriam Webster to find out, officially, what it means:

spin·ster noun \spin(t)-stər\

Definition of SPINSTER

1: a woman whose occupation is to spin

2: a archaic : an unmarried woman of gentle family b : an unmarried woman and especially one past the common age for marrying

3: a woman who seems unlikely to marry

While unpacking the final few boxes in my apartment, I ran across my four college yearbooks. Being an all-women college, Hollins’s yearbook is called “The Spinster.” It’s funny! Look at us, educated women with no men around to distract us.

Hollins University: Churning out spinsters since 1842?

The yearbook has, as far back as I could see from the old copies we had in the library and the yearbook office, always been called “The Spinster.”

But Hollins also has a tradition of students who come from extremely well-heeled families, ones guaranteed to get married right after college, or maybe even during. And back then, “marrying down” wasn’t even an option.

There are still girls from exceptionally wealthy families who attend Hollins, but the vast majority of students who now attend this relic of plantation times come from middle-class to lower-income families. A lot of the women I went to college with (years above and years below) married soon after they graduated, or are currently engaged. Others, like myself, are focused on careers and trying to do some good for the world.

My three best friends from college, collectively called “The DFBs,” are all in serious relationships. One recently got engaged. But they don’t look at me and pity me because I’m not in a relationship. We respect each other for who we are and what we do. Regardless of the fact that my friends and family don’t have a problem with my singleton status, it’s the media, in fact, that makes me feel down about it.

Jezebel’s article isn’t necessarily about being perpetually single. Rather, they’re criticizing an article from The Daily Caller titled “Will Women Marry Down?” I think in a lot of cases the answer for many women is No. But I know equal numbers of women who have partnered with a man who makes more (or will in coming years) than they do and women who have partnered with men who are on the same pay scale. Come to think of it, I don’t know anyone who’s dating down.

Furthermore, how many men “marry up”? Someone answer me that.

Two of my last three boyfriends would have been considered “lower” than me—one was an (unsuccessful) actor-slash-bartender, while I was an assistant editor at a publishing house. The other boyfriend had never finished college and was working construction until he figured out what to do with himself. But really, he liked doing construction. Neither of these occupations really bugged me. (Okay, the actor thing, sure. Because the plays he did were atrocious. But I still loved him anyway.) Both men had outside hobbies, they still made enough money to survive and do fun things. What does it matter if they’re not working high-paying office jobs?

I suppose the problem would lie in if I were dating an utter loser – someone who is content to work at Best Buy forever. Someone who still lives with his parents and had no ambition to move out until he was in a relationship. Or a guy who wants to spend every night playing Xbox. Eew. And many of these guys exist. And the funny thing is, most of these guys have girlfriends, too. But their girlfriends are usually on the same wrung of the social ladder.

My answer is that yes, I would “marry down.” I wouldn’t hate being the primary bread winner (even though I don’t make much bread), but I do need a partner with ambition, someone supportive, someone intelligent. Someone who’s not one of the aforementioned losers.

So, what of “marrying down” and “marrying up”? I think my friend Jackie summed it up pretty well:

Regardless of whether they’re on your level or not it’s all about compatibility and mutual respect. That Kiefer dude was on a pretty nice career track but he made me feel so low. F*ck that. I just want someone who’s nice to me and whom I can feel comfortable just texting “what’s going on in your neck of the woods?” I’d take that any day over some high earning f*cktard.

Liz Lemon: Spinster?

So, what constitutes a spinster these days? My friend Regina thinks that there’s a big difference between a spinster and a career woman, and that the two are often used synonymously. And they shouldn’t be! No one would look down on a 50-year-old with no children or even a steady boyfriend with—gasp—pity. Would they? Though I bet there are a lot of people in society that would say a successful older single woman sacrificed a man and children for her career. That’s unfair. To me, a spinster is someone who after a certain age seems to give up on life, who’s extracurricular activities are limited. She doesn’t have many friends outside her family and she’s hardly ever social. That sounds like a fate worse than death to me. None of the women I spend time with could be considered “spinsters.”

And here’s another thought: Are older single women who have children and were once married considered spinsters? What’s the difference between a divorcee and a widow?

Are women who have the possibility of marrying, but “marrying down” considered more spinsterly? Are women who “marry down” thought to be “settling”?

It’s time to retire the word “spinster.” It simply doesn’t apply to our society anymore.

I like to think I’ll never be a spinster. I will always be a social, active, and proactive person. And if I never find The One? Hey, it’s cool. I have a great crop of friends to keep me company.

On the other hand, I did just get asked out by a 42-year-old who runs a hedge fund. Now, do I say yes or do I say no.

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One thought on “Musings on Spinsterhood

  1. This is all very interesting. I’ve always thought of “spinsters” more in terms of attitude- grouchy older, single women who are pissed because they think life was unfair to them (because they didn’t marry). Choosing to follow other paths during your “marrying years” is totally different. I got married at 20 (which has its own challenges!), so I can’t really relate, but I’m reminded of some friends, especially the wise and strong women I met when working in Juneau. That is a town full of independent life-long single folks and I wouldn’t call ANY of them “spinsters” (or the male equivalent) because of many reasons you mentioned- other focuses, hobbies, lust for life, etc.

    As for ladies of our age bracket or a bit higher who are single without prospects, I’m also reminded of some career women I know who just kept doing their thing, became amazing professionals, and eventually married their best friend/soul mate when s/he came along. Marrying later seems to work great for career-minded folks because it gives you a chance to be your own person and achieve some big goals first. Some of these people still had time to have kids and, I think, they enjoyed parenthood even more because they waited.

    This makes me think I should write a post about fitting a new career/coming of age moments into a young marriage. Being married is NOT the be-all-end-all!

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