When I started writing my book about women who have never been married, I was hoping to change other people’s attitudes about us. What I didn’t realize was how much the book would change my attitude.
I’d always felt like a bit of a freak. Like the animals in Noah’s ark, people always seemed to be paired off. Being part of a couple was normal. Being single – past a certain age – was not.
I was so wrong
I’m a journalist by trade, so I set out to explore the topic in the way I know how: by interviewing people and doing research. What’s funny is that I thought I’d have difficulty finding enough old maids to talk to. (Yes, I’m claiming that phrase, along with the word “spinster” until a better descriptor can be found.) I had a few friends who’d never been married, either, but, as I said, that put us in the “freak” category, right? Surely there couldn’t be too many more of us out there, could there?
Boy, was I wrong! I have interviewed women all over the country who have never been married. They come from different backgrounds and have different values and experiences. Their ages range from early 40s to 68 (I chose 40 arbitrarily, since the likelihood of getting married past that age does diminish.) I talked to a corporate head, a ski bum, lots of entrepreneurs, teachers, former beauty queens, a retired firefighter, a stockbroker, a psychic medium, a nurse anesthetist, a fashion designer, an international business tycoon, a housecleaner and many others.
We are many
I met these women through referrals. It seems that just about every woman has a friend who has never been married. The sheer number of people I was able to talk to had a profound impact on me and, yes, made me feel like less of a freak. I am not alone. In fact, there are a great many of us. As a demographic segment, we are increasing in numbers, and advertisers and political parties are starting to take note. (I also explore this in the book.)
What these women have to say had an even greater affect on me. I was blown away by their honesty, their willingness to share the most intimate — often painful — details of their lives. Some avoided marriage. Some haven’t found the right man. Some are still open to marriage. Others have decided they’re perfectly happy just as they are. Whether they’re still hoping to take that walk down the aisle or not, everyone I talked to had this in common: they are NOT waiting for a husband to begin living their lives to the fullest. They are already doing that. They are also not afraid of flying solo. A sense of independence and self-sufficiency are recurring themes among them.
“I can go anywhere I want”
Stephanie had a serious relationship end when she was in her 20s – a relationship that may have led to marriage. “I was sad for a little while, but then I said, ‘Wow, this is kind of a blessing because I can go to graduate school and then I can go anywhere I want. Anyway, I always sensed that it gave me a freedom to realize things on my own and have my own life and I feel very lucky for that. I like it.”
“I’m totally content with being by myself,” said Lucy. “I actually love being by myself. I have no problem with being alone.”
Celia would like to be in a serious relationship, but: “I hear horror stories all the time about marriages and relationships that make me think, ‘Gee, being single and free to do what I want, when I want, without answering to anyone is kind of nice.’”
“To me, it was like, make yourself happy,” said Kay. “Follow your dreams. Do what you’re here to do. And if a man comes along, that’s icing on the cake, but that was not in the goal plan.”
Who I am v. who I’m supposed to be
I have learned so much from the women I talked to. Their attitudes about themselves and their lives have given me a new perspective on my own. Am I completely happy with my life? No. Is anyone? But I’ve attained a degree of peace and self-acceptance that had been missing. I find that I’m able to focus more on being who I am, and stop worrying about being what I think I’m supposed to be.
“The New Old Maid: How Happily Unmarried Women are Defying Spinster Stereotypes” is almost finished. I am currently seeking representation. If you know of a literary agent who would be interested in this book, please get in touch with me.