Having turned thirty last year, I've been trying to reclaim the term "spinster" for myself. At times it seems like the best possible life, and at others it seems very sad. Here is what I understand the term to mean: a childless single woman thirty or older who has never been married, divorced, or widowed. I'm a little bit torn on whether people who have had significant, years-long relationships (but not marriages) that have since ended can qualify as spinsters or not, but I suppose that I'll have to leave it to a case-by-case basis. Louisa May Alcott, a spinster herself, wrote this about spinsters in Little Women:
...[I]t's not so bad as it looks, and one can get on quite happily if one has something in one's self to fall back upon. At twenty-five, girls begin to talk about being old maids, but secretly resolve that they never will; at thirty, they say nothing about it, but quietly accept the fact, and, if sensible, console themselves by remembering that they have twenty more useful, happy years, in which they may be learning to grow old gracefully. Don't laugh at the spinsters, dear girls, for often very tender, tragical romances are hidden away in the hearts that beat so quietly under the sober gowns, and many silent sacrifices of youth, health, ambition, love itself, make the faded faces beautiful in God's sight.This is all true except for the part where "they say nothing about it" because I am here to explicate how you should deal with that weird, perpetually single woman you know. Does anyone need this guide? I'm not sure. Maybe the fact that I feel left out sometimes is just my own neuroses. Certainly I wish there were a guide for how to talk to your friends with kids. I will note right off the bat that not all spinsters are alike and while I hope I've carefully considered what I've written, if the spinster in your life isn't me, these points may not all apply equally to her.
The Spinster Does Whatever She Wants
Let's start with the positive.
The best thing about being a spinster is that you get to do whatever you want whenever you want (allowing for things like having to work for a living, feed yourself, clean up after your cats, etc.). The Spinster doesn't watch movies she doesn't want to watch, she doesn't attend events she's not interested in. She eats food that she likes. Nobody tells the Spinster what to do. This means that if the Spinster has graced you with her presence, she's happy to be there and excited to talk to you.
You may be at a loss about what to talk to the Spinster about for reasons that may soon become clear. The Spinster doesn't know what to talk to you about either, because she imagines that your life is entirely wrapped up with your partner and familial responsibilities. Do people with children even watch movies?
Ask the Spinster what books she's reading lately, or if she can recommend a good tv show. The Spinster has opinions and she will share them with you.
The Spinster Wants to See You
Like I said, if the Spinster is spending time with you, it's because she wants to. In fact, she probably wants to spend more time with you. She might be lonely.
All that stuff that you do with other couples and people with kids? Spinsters don't necessarily hate children or other people's romantic happiness, and they'd love to be invited along on those outings. Are you worried that the Spinster might be uncomfortable? Don't be. See above. Spinsters will decline invitations as necessary. I guarantee you that I personally would appreciate an invitation even if something seems outside of my comfort zone. This even extends to travel. It seems to me from the outside like a lot of couples go on vacation together. Invite the Spinster to come with you.
But won't she be a third/fifth/eleventh wheel? I hear you asking.
The Spinster Is Used to Being Alone
Spinsters are so good at being alone that they've avoided all of the intense societal expectations to get married and have children, whether this was intentional or not. The Spinster appreciates her alone time and knows how to fill it. You don't need to worry about entertaining the Spinster, because she is adept and/or expert at entertaining herself. Three couples in Mexico with their spinster friend do not need to be concerned that they'll have to account for her in the evenings. Unless the Spinster in your life is someone who is constantly contacting you in the evening, or complaining that she can never leave the house due to her lack of companionship, she knows how to spend an evening alone.
I hope it doesn't seem like I'm directing this at anyone in particular who has been travelling without me lately. It's more that I've noticed that couples often do things together. But your spinster friend would love to come along!
The Spinster Has Time For You/Probably Doesn't Have Any Plans
You know all that love that you direct at your spouse and children? The Spinster has the same capacity for affection but doesn't have any of the obvious outlets. The Spinster is putting all that energy into her wider family and social circles, i.e. you. Yes, this probably means that the Spinster has more invested in your relationship with her than you do, and she might get hurt if that disparity becomes too obvious. It also means that she'll be available when you need her. Never be afraid to reach out to the Spinster.
The Spinster Doesn't Want to Talk to You About Her Love Life
I struggled with where to include this one, because this is where the bitterness threatens to come in. Spinsters in the 21st century aren't necessarily the dusty old maids Alcott described so sympathetically in the passage above—a person who has a new sexual partner every night of the week would still fit within my "spinster" definition. Of course there's a lot of room between the two extremes. Some spinsters may be actively looking for partners, others may be dating now and then with long stretches in between, still others may have given up altogether but secretly be hoping for a gift from the universe.
The one thing they have in common is that if the Spinster wants you to know anything about her love life or lack thereof, she'll tell you about it. I'm fortunate in that my loved ones have mostly not bothered me about being a spinster. I know that not everyone is so lucky, though, and I know how annoyed and hurt I get when anyone brings up the topic uninvited. But listen. The Spinster isn't asking you about the state of your marriage in casual conversation. If the Spinster has shown up to a family gathering alone again it's probably because she isn't seeing anyone that she wants to bring along, and you don't need to ask her about it.
So there's my primer on dealing with the Spinster in your life. I hope this helps.
If there are any other spinsters out there reading this, I'd love to hear from you and see if I was able to make this universal enough!
And happy Valentine's Day ♥
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