Happy Spinster

How many times we have heard from friends, colleagues, family and even from ourselves, how little we care about others’ judgements or opinions but definitely deep inside we know it is not true, and most of the times we do care. More than we wish to.

Reading books like Spinster by Kate Bolick , helps in that search of the Holy Grail which is the key for impermeableness, the secret agent for becoming immune to critics. It is not another Self-Improvement best seller which promises to provide us with the magic powder to emerge as a completed self-assured individual, but certainly it encourages us to follow our own path.

Kate addresses herself to the reader in first person, she writes with an open heart and using a direct language her endeavours during her youth and her adult years trying to understand her personal needs and choices. She fights a bittersweet internal battle with the aim of exiting society’s protocols and single direction minds in order to choose her own life, concentrated at not letting herself get confused along the way, trying not to get distracted from her own definition of a fulfilling life.

Six women assisted her in that journey, six awakeners as she defines them, the first one being her own mother who died very young of a cancer. Those who followed were columnist Neith Boyce, essayist Maeve Brennan, social visionary Charlotte Perkins Gilman, poet Edna St. Vincent Millay and novelist Edith Wharton. These women were for her examples on how to be a free spirit, being able to overcome social obstacles related to the times they happened to live, end of the nineteenth century and beginning of the twentieth for most of them. Back then they were witnesses of a timid change in society, where the Bohemian life commenced to be somehow accepted. It was a taxing effort for those wanting to live outside the social parameters at the time but mostly for women. They needed to have extraordinary determined personalities in order to defend what they believed in, and above all, to protect their freedom and independence.

Maeve Brennan in an undated photo.
Maeve Brennan in an undated photo

All of them had fascinating characters, a mix of passion, rebelliousness and determination, Kate manages to deliver a rich and well defined portrait of each of them and their influence on her own decisions.

On this book’s pages we finally find out where the term Spinster comes from. It happens to refer to the first documented group of women who lived in households without the protection of a husband or a father and worked in the textile factories during the Industrial Revolution in Great Britain. They were the first women willing to recognise and appreciate their status of single working women, they were also pioneers in getting organised to secure their rights, they also published some journals. This form of organisation would later lead to the movement of the Suffragettes.

The writer examines the causes of the term Spinster being denigrated until becoming what is today, a word carrying negative connotations to define a single woman.

Along this excellent essay we assist to the deconstruction of the negativity of the term, but more important, of the status of being single. Kate Bolick gets to the bottom of the issue, the question that many men and women ask themselves now days. What if I really do not want to live in a couple? What if I do not want to marry? What if I do not want to have children? What if I believe I am happier without a family to whom go back every day after work? What if I believe there are hundreds of other things I rather do in life that have nothing to do with changing nappies?

Society, but more precisely, our family and friends, do not believe those feelings are genuine. They are amazingly convinced that the reason we question the status quo is because we have not yet found the appropriate person or we have not reached yet that age where the parenthood ancestral urge will transform us in desperate hunters searching for a person at any price with whom start that family. Or worst, often they think we talk this way because we feel confused or depressed, since they simply cannot believe a life outside this template could be a happy one.


Kate offers herself to walk this path along us, letting us discover what we really want of our lives, it can be after all to have a family, but it can be not. The most important is to live a life according with our wishes and not those of others. This book is a rush of fresh air for those who question the current standards of happiness and pushes us to follow our most deeply desires, like being a writer for example.

This is a great read for either men and women since even if the pressure for women is higher on the subject of having children and getting married, many men find themselves having to justify their personal choices on this matter.

Building a family is a beautiful endeavour that can make a person very happy however we should not feel forced to do it if we do not genuine wish it just because is what we are supposed to do. Many people are frustrated and therefore unhappy incapable of enjoying all other good things in life just because they do not find the right person with whom to start a family or they have physical problems to conceive. We are lucky enough to live in a society with choices, in most of the countries there are not so many opportunities to live a fulfilling life doing what you really want to do, so why to put so much pressure on ourselves in order to mimic a unique form of life? We often forget the importance of being the person you really want to be, doing what you really want to do and loving the person you are truly in love with. Life is too short not to live it as close as possible to our true selves.


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