When I die, of whatever, at whatever age, in whatever circumstance, people will shake their heads and mutter:
“ Such a shame… She could have had plenty of opportunity… If only she had listened…”
For when I die, emblazoned… etched deep on my bones, written in my ashes, chiselled onto my tombstone and rapped out in my eulogy in big, shameful, unavoidable letters will be the word “spinster”. Yep, that’s me. Give me an S, give me a P, give me an I, give me an N, give me a STER… what do you get?
Actually, what you get is an embarrassed silence followed by overenthusiastic, patronising demurrals that go along the following lines:
“Don’t say that! You’re not a spinster! You’ll find somebody! It’ll happen for you one day, you’ll see!”
Because the association with the word is far from flattering. To most people, the word spinster conjures images of haggard old crones with wiry grey hair, sometimes crazed with a squint and twenty unruly cats, sometimes prim and schoolmarmish with a sour expression and a bitter outlook.
But the word “bachelor”…? Why, that’s a successful man of any age, surely. Living alone, carefree, happy, having the time of his life.
Presumably, the semantics of two words that essentially mean the same thing boils down to western society’s delusion that women want (or even need) to get married and men don’t. Unfortunately, this belief is so ground into your average person’s subconscious, that genuine pity and scorn are felt for the poor poor spinster, who is surely desperate to find a husband.
It starts at birth. I’m loath to delve too far into my opinions of marriage, because I feel those deserve a missive in their own right; however, I can begin to neither make my point nor attempt to reclaim the balance of spinster Vs bachelor without touching on the subject. From the moment we are born, our indoctrination begins: we are taught that, if we are normal, we will grow up, marry someone of the opposite sex and have the generic 2.4 children. Now, there may be people who never attempted to stuff this down your throat, but the odds are against anyone who tries to raise a child differently. Disney, chick-flicks, Mills & Boon… in fact, these forms of love propaganda are obvious and honest about the ideal they’re selling – it’s the rest of the media you have to watch out for: conservatives sell the notion of the nuclear family, as does Christianity in its many forms; films that claim to be historically accurate always revolve around a love story; books (and again, films) about vampires involve the choice between two loves, the true one and the false and, ultimately, between good and evil. Wherever you look, the myth of the “one true love” is being subliminally and literally shoved down our throats. And yet, for the most part, we’re so used to it, we don’t even notice. This is not so much my reason for not marrying as the reason I am subject to a stigma I cannot, and will never be able to, shake. Whether it’s a conscious smugness or not, mingled with the pity shown by a married to a spinster, is the superior air of someone who considers themselves to have “made it” in life where the spinster failed.
Of course, there is the Americanism of the “bachelorette.” Far less evocative of powdery old ladies. In my head, the term bachelorette applies to 3am girls in their twenties; bolshy, thriving on youthful energy and binge drinking* sessions. It’s probably an unfair picture to paint and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that lifestyle if you can hack it. What I’m trying to say, v.incoherently, is that one can only be a bachelorette for a finite period of time. That is to say, I can’t imagine that in my forties, I will be commonly thought of as a bachelorette. And whether I have incorrectly twisted the definition of the word to fit into my world or not, the fact remains that it isn’t even a word! An unmarried woman is a spinster. End of.
And what’s wrong with that? It would take decades to dissolve the ideology of the perfect life**, maybe hundreds of decades, the conditioning goes so deep. But while the majority of people subscribe to this, maybe it would be prudent for that majority to look at the spinster from a different perspective; try looking at her as a person who has chosen to live a certain way, not as someone who had no choice in the matter. And if you are a spinster who’s always looking for a partner, desperate to be loved, maybe take a good, long look at the life of the married and seriously consider the implications of promising your v.existence to someone else. Is that really what you want? Or could it be possible that maybe, just maybe, if you feel that something is missing from your life, it is because others have made you feel that way? I would urge any spinster to never ever allow anyone else to make you feel a failure for not seeing things the way the rest of the western world seems to. Scratch the surface of any marriage and you’ll find that nothing’s perfect. Though society presents marrieds as a shining example, are they really blissfully happy? Does doubt flicker under the solid exterior? And, with so much obvious discontent in the average modern marriage, why is this way of life still pushed upon us?
The inability of people to put themselves in others’ shoes or at least to understand that the way we’re always taught it should be is not the only one is v.frustrating to me.
I have a womb that will never be occupied, although I will not cut it out; I have breasts that will only ever be used to hang clothes from; I have a partner I will never marry, though I love v.deeply***; and I have genitalia, the purpose of which will only ever be to pass urine or for the instance of pleasure****. These hips will never have my children perched on them. These hands will never change a nappy or bear a solitaire chip or throttling band, nor will they clasp a swaddled newborn warm from my belly; they will not make meals, scrub floors, fetch washing, bleach bathrooms or unclog drains whilst my husband slouches in front of a telly or swans off to the pub with his mates whilst my children scream for more attention. I will never stay sober at a party so that my other half can have a lift home. This is my choice, not my fate!
And until we come to our senses and invent one encompassing word for both unmarried women and unmarried men (and even then I’m not sure we need one, since singletons are not second class citizens!) I am a spinster. And don’t ever presume that I am short† of anything.
So… give me an S, give me a P, give me an I, give me an N, give me a STER… what do you get?
A whole woman, living a full life!
* I realise that my binge drinking is legendary in some circles, but bear with me.
** A la marriage to a person of the opposite sex and the 2.4 children
*** Don’t tell on me. I am fine with spouting opinions, but feelings stay tucked away inside me.
**** Never at the same time, of course.
† Physically short, yes, but not lacking in my life.