Review: ‘Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own’ by Kate Bolick

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“Whom to marry, and when will it happen—these two questions define every woman’s existence.”

So begins Spinster, a revelatory look at the pleasures, problems and possibilities of living independently in the twenty-first century, reconsidering what it means – what it could mean – for women to ‘have it all’.

Rating: 5/5

Spinster sort of just happened to me. While not an explicit rulebook, it gave me a way forward in life and relationships. It is a torch illuminating the stony path winding across the mountain ahead, but hey, when you’re half blinded by ignorance and bewilderment, a flickering torch is better than none.

The author Kate Bolick is a single woman living in New York City. In Spinster, she explores the place of unmarried women in the past 150 years in America through the lenses of five female writers in history. Her discoveries are set within the context of her own life: how she comes to embrace her own “spinster wish” in modern-day America.

Spinster is brilliant. What Bolick’s five “awakeners” have to teach her about living the single life, we learn along with her – and Bolick’s writing is beautiful enough so that we are never bored, even through the history bits.

The book is also structured in such a way that these historical explorations unfold alongside Bolick’s life, and her own journey is a fascinating read – when her beloved mother passed away; when she chose to break up with her respective partners (despite seemingly bound for marriage); when she navigated the ups and downs of her writing career.

Her experiences might have been distinctly different from anything I might ever have, but her revelations are universally applicable.

Maeve, the first of my five awakeners, had supplied an image and point of view that set my adulthood into motion. Neith had given me the words to think critically about marriage, and actually establish a life of my own. Edna had led me through those early, confusing years of sex as a single person. What Edith taught me was this: to live happily alone requires a serious amount of intentional thought.

(pp. 231)

What this book gave me was myself back.

I have always considered myself a fiercely independent, pretty well-adjusted person. I don’t need a relationship. I am perfectly contented with my own company. It’s wonderful being alone. That is still true now, but I find that for the past year, I have been subconsciously accepting a rather toxic way of thinking: that my self-worth is to an extent tied to my relationship status.

I wondered, “Am I worth less because I am single?” This has led to ways of thinking that go against who I thought I was. I lost myself for a while there.

About 150 years ago, in a time when women only had value within the confines of marriage and child-bearing, Bolick’s five awakeners chose unconventional ways of living. They were dedicated to their craft and found deep meaning in their work. When they entered into (romantic) relationships, they did so (mostly) on their own terms.

They knew who they were, and they owned it. “Look, I’mma do my own thing, okay? Y’all stand aside now.”

That is the ultimate lesson of Spinster. Your worth and meaning is created by you. What my self-worth is, I define that. I am enough for myself, and by the by, I am enough for my partner too.

Get the book here.

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