Thursday, September 24, 2015

In Praise of Spinsterhood -- on the Eve of my Wedding

It's finally here: Beau and I are getting married in two weeks! The wedding, my first, will be on my 45th birthday. I tell this to anyone who cares to listen. Somehow, it's been very important for me that everyone knows I've never been married before, and that I'm middle-aged. Why, I've wondered, do I keep talking about those two facts? I finally realized that I've been bragging.

You see, I'm proud of all my years as a spinster. I'm proud that I didn't rush into marriage. I enjoyed being single and I loved living alone. And, above all, I know it is not a tragedy to be single for life. Spinsterhood can be delicious. I'm leaving spinsterhood because Beau is even more delicious, not because I felt incomplete or unfulfilled as a spinster.

So, odd as it may seem, I want my last post as an unmarried woman to be an ode to spinsterhood, and a shout-out to all the women who choose to remain single when the whole world tells us we're "supposed" to get married.

Of course, I have an outfit to go with my ode, a wonderful, prim, spinsterish, 1930s inspired outfit.

My books! Beau has a few of his here too but most of these are mine. I also have many more in my study.
I lived alone for 20 years before I moved in with Beau and his two sons. Depending on how you count, I was single for 12 years, or 20, or my whole life. When I was 23, my live-in girlfriend and I got engaged, but casually and not terribly seriously. Soon after we broke up, I quite imprudently moved in with my rebound girlfriend for a whopping five months. I lived alone for the next 20 years, though I did have a tempestuous, doomed, on and off, four year affair with an unavailable man that ended just as I turned 30.

Apply whatever math works for you -- I was a spinster for life, or 12 years, or 20 years. The point is that I was single for a very long time.

And I liked it.

I accomplished a lot in those years, starting when I left home at 17 and moved first to Toronto, just for the heck of it, and then to Montreal to study Creative Writing. I got a BA in English and Communications, a two year Teaching ESL certificate, and an MA in English literature and English language, including Old and Middle English.

Skirt: ModCloth; Shoes: Munro; Reading glasses: from dollar stores; Blouse, brooch, watch, earrings, hair-clips, dress-clips, purse, and cape: vintage
I amassed a fantastic personal library, sold it all to pay for my move to New York (an attempt to end the above mentioned tumultuous affair), moved back to my home city, re-amassed my library and added to it, moved it all to Toronto with me for my MA, and moved it all back home again.

I moved a lot and made some choices that often impoverished me. I simply could not have done that if I'd been married. One can hardly expect one's spouse to keep moving across the continent just so one can satiate one's endless hunger for learning. I had the freedom for that kind of selfish delight, and I pursued it.

I also wrote for various small newspapers, including LGBT ones, and worked hard for LGBT rights. Doing so yielded very little remuneratively but a great deal emotionally. I taught ESL, here and in New York for many years. I grew bored with that, so I went back to school in my 30s to get my MA. Eventually, all that education and reading led to a career as a college English instructor.

A women's reading room, in a library, I think.
Of course, I also dated. I was no nun. But my primary interests were not love, dating, finding The One, or getting married. It may come as a shock to some, but there are and have always been a lot of other women just like me.

As Virginia Woolf so beautifully pointed out in A Room of One's Own, there is a whole world that women inhabit that has nothing to do with men or marriage (and yes, she was also alluding to lesbianism in that section of her book).

Check out the National Geographic from the 1920s.
My world was and is one of literature, writing, study, history, art, and, as you all know, style and vintage fashion (and so much more) -- with or without a romantic partner.

As a spinster, how I lived and how I spent my money was entirely up to me. Once I had a little extra money, I saved a lot of it, and I filled my home with the things I loved.

The base of a vintage lamp, between my vintage magazine stand and my vintage sofa
With the money I earned, I collected beauty ...

... on my own, eclectic terms. I filled my life and my home with books, Tiffany lamps (knock-offs, of course) ...

... Art Deco, waterfall dressers ...

... vintage and vintage style radios ...

... antique clocks ...

... clothes ...

... and jewelry, naturally.

I didn't own a car, I didn't own a home, I didn't want children. I was a spinster, free to earn and spend my money as I pleased.

People kept asking why I was single. "You're educated, you're attractive. Why isn't anyone interested in a woman like you?" Their implication was that no woman would be a spinster by choice. Their implication was that if a man, virtually any man, expressed an interest in me, I would jump at the chance to be married. Virtually everyone repeatedly forgot that I am bisexual, preferring to assume not only that I naturally wanted to be married but that, naturally, I wanted to be married to a man, as all real women do.

Of course, there are some women (and men) who remain single because they find that no-one is interested in them romantically. That does sometimes happen, often for no discernible reason whatsoever. But such people are in no way lesser than or inferior to anyone else, and their lives of spinsterhood are also not tragedies. Our merit and the merit of our lives should never be determined by whether or not another person wants us. We are so much more than that.

The truth in my case is that men and women were interested in me but I wasn't particularly interested in them. I was far happier alone than I would have been with the wrong person. Nothing is lonelier than being in a relationship with the wrong person. I know; I've tried it, and I broke her heart. I vowed never to do that to anyone again. I did not remain single because, as many asserted, I had a "fear of commitment" though I did have a fear of being bored and/or miserable.

But that wasn't my main reason for remaining single. Just as it's a myth that women are spinsters because nobody wants them, it's a myth that women are spinsters because they're afraid. Some women just prefer the single the life. Imagine that!

It would have been nice if love had come along, but I was not planning for it, or pining for it, or dressing for it.

Teaching staff at a small school

Like many spinsters, I had a rich life, full of friends, study, dance, caf├ęs, interesting conversations, travel, lovers, and blissful solitude. 

I don't know the whole story behind this photo. The woman was called "tante," aunt, and seems to have raised the girl. I think they were Jewish and escaped Poland together around World War II.
Yes, there were children in my life too. A spinster's life need not be a childless life. One need not give birth to children to form meaningful bonds with children.

And there were cats ...

... obviously.

Most importantly, for an introvert like me, there was solitude. Quiet, still, calm, glorious solitude.

I loved it.

There were times when I spent up to 90% of my meagre income for the privilege of living alone.  

A little bathroom reading.
I could indulge my quiet eccentricities just as I pleased.

Virginia Woolf
When Beau and I decided to live together, I was very firm that I would have a room of my own, just as Virginia Woolf said every writing woman should. I don't need to sleep alone but do need to be alone, often. Luckily for me, Beau is also an introvert so he understood. In our home, he too has a room of his own.

As my spinsterhood stretched over years and passed a decade, I grew older, and my age showed in my face and body. I knew that this lowered my chances of finding love but it did not particularly concern me. I still had no interest in doing the "done thing" and getting married for the sake of getting married. Nor did I feel a need to have children so I felt no biological clock ticking within me.

There have always been women like me, women who embrace the spinster's life, no matter how denigrated the word "spinster" has become (as compared to the dashing word, "bachelor"). For this post, I wore an outfit that hearkened back to spinsters of yore, the particular yore being the 1930s.

It started with the skirt ...

... the wonderful, schoolmarm, librarian, spinster skirt.

The Tate Library

In the 1930s, such skirts were wildly popular with career women, like the librarians on the right ...

Scholars on an archaeological dig
... like these archaeologists, trekking the world ...

Again, scholars from the same school, on an archaeological dig

... like these scholars getting and giving an education ...

... just as I did.

I believe I'm right in saying that these are the founders of the National Council of Negro Women, which appears to still be active today. They all have such great pocket books!

How many women, spinsters and otherwise, changed the world in outfits like mine? What a wonderful legacy to emulate.

It seems to me that this type of skirt looks particularly good on stout women of a certain age ...

The first female graduates of the University of Delaware, here at a reunion in the 1930s.

... like these early, trail blazing, college graduates, at least two of whom remained spinsters at their 1930s reunion.

I'm a little stout myself. When I look at all these photos of my stout, educated, independent forebears, I grow quite fond of my body type because it looks like theirs. 

Sensible, laced shoes, were almost required with outfits like mine. My grandmother was a young woman in the 1930s and it was from her that I learned that shoes like these are perfectly acceptable, handsome even (as she would have said), with dresses and skirts. I bought these shoes mostly because they remind me of her.

Yet another Foncie's Photo

In the 30s, they were very popular with old women ...

Don't you just love my living room floor!?

... and middle aged women ...

A group of high school students, dressed almost identically to their elders.

... and young women too. They were worn by students ...

High school teachers

... and their teachers ...

... teachers like me ...

... and her. 

What also goes well with a spinsterish skirt? Why, a 1930s P.G. Wodhouse novel, of course! If you have not yet read this man's novels and short stories, you are in for a huge treat. He is crazy funny, especially if, like me, you love word play. Along with Agatha Christie, he is my go-to bedtime author.

Jean Rhys' four novellas are also a very good match for my outfit, but they are sad. Sad sad sad. So let us move on ...

... to my schoolmarm bow blouse and brooch. (The stain only shows in very bright light but brought the price of the blouse down to five dollars.)

Judy Garland in Everybody Sing, 1938

Though mine is probably from the 1980s, such blouses were a staple for career women in the 1930s, from Judy Garland ...

Eleanor Roosevelt in centre. The two other women are said to have been a lesbian couple, so would have been seen as spinsters in the 1930s, though we would now see them as what they were: a married couple.

... to Eleanor Roosevelt.

Finally, I added a cape. Why? Because cape, that's all. Just: fun cape.

Isn't it lovely?

I completed the look with vintage accessories like these sweater clips ...

... this 1930s purse ...

 ... this vintage watch ...

Westfield was actually a Canadian division of Bulova so this watch is quite collectable and worth far more than the $30 I paid for it. Whoever owned it wore it every day, and loved it very much, so it's a bit beaten up. Someday, I'll get it cleaned and replace the crystal.
... (that is a pride and joy so let's get a closer look) ...

... and these earrings, which are probably actually from the 1950s or 60s ...

Finally, there is this vintage-inspired engagement ring.

And that brings us, finally, to my engagement to marry Beau. After all these years as a spinster, here I am getting married!

Here we are, with RSVP cards on my writing table. Here we are, tearing our hair out planning a wedding! Who would have thought I would ever be doing this?

I had long ago made peace with the solitary life ...

... and its quiet, unhurried pleasures.

Spinsterhood was lovely, but Beau is even lovelier. I'm marrying Beau because I love Beau, specifically Beau, not because I ever felt the need to marry to be complete or happy or fulfilled.

He does add a sparkle and a new kind of peace to my life that was absent before. He also adds some strife at times, if we're going through a rough patch. Just as spinsterhood brings both joys and compromises, so too does marriage. Neither is perfect. Neither is the correct way for a woman to live her life.

But I do like the sparkle he brings me.

I love the idea of people finding love later in life. C.S. Lewis did. So did I.

I like the idea of a middle aged spinster suddenly realizing that she is sexy, not despite her age, independence, and erudition, but because of it.

You can see it in my eyes: the look of a spinster who is now loved and adored not just by any old person, but by the right person. Yeah, I'm strutting a little bit. That's okay, right?

Being in love with and loved by a person whom I admire and respect is nice, wonderful even. 

But being a spinster for life can also be nice and wonderful. It is a rich, varied, peopled life. It is not a tragedy.

I knew that then, and I still know it now, even though I am deeply in love and very happy to be getting married, for the first time, on my 45th birthday. Wish us both a heartfelt mazel tov.

I'm taking a little hiatus from the blog till after the wedding. Who knew wedding planning was so exhausting?! See ya'll on the other side. And yes, I promise to share our wedding photos.

(I'm sharing this with Rachel the HatHappiness at Midlife, Not Dead Yet, Not Dressed As Lamb, Honest Mum, and Fashion Should Be Fun.)