We live in an age of individuality, yet prize living in couples. Should women reclaim the idea of spinsterhood?by Hephzibah Anderson / May 21, 2015 / Leave a comment
Published in June 2015 issue of Prospect Magazine
Back in my early twenties, when such distinctions seemed both reliable and significant, I remember settling on the definition of a “girlfriend girl” with a college friend. We were at a housewarming—a shiny new rental in London’s docklands—and as we sipped warm wine from plastic cups, we decided she was pretty, responsible, had a sense of humour but probably never laughed too loudly. She was, most saliently of all, wife material. What she wasn’t was us, and even though there was an element of defensiveness in our posturing, we were defiant about it.
Not that I hadn’t recently been that girl. At university, I’d become the most girlfriendy of girlfriends, inseparable from the boyfriend with whom I slept, studied, partied. One night in a loud, light-strobed room, the air thick with dry ice, we’d found ourselves talking about kids. “You’d make a great mother,” he yelled into my ear. But come graduation, our togetherness began to feel constricting to me. Shortly before finals, we’d stayed up all night, me a lone Labour voter in a roomful of Tories, and watched as TV’s swingometer registered change and the beginning of the Tony Blair era. Within a few months, I’d started my first job and become single.
The meaning of being single changes as you leave your twenties behind and journey on into your thirties. For women, it can be an extra fraught moment, entangled as it is with ebbing fertility, and as 40 looms, all bets may as well be off: the true “girlfriend girls” are married with kids, and the rest of us are—well, what exactly? Spinsters? Old maids? Society has always found a large measure of benign tolerance for bachelors that is absent from these terms.
What doesn’t seem to change much is the way society relates to those of us who remain single—with patronising commiseration (you’d think marital strife and infidelity were non-existent), inequalities (be it tax breaks denied or single supplements imposed), and presumptuousness (if you’re single it cannot possibly be by choice; there must be something wrong with you). It’s evidently not in the interests of marriage for people to remember the extravagant joys of being alone.