Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Preparing to leave Spinsterhood

Spinster: an unmarried woman past the common age of marriage. The estimated median age, at first marriage, in the United States for 2000-2003 was 27 and 25 years old, for men and women respectively.

Friends have asked if I'll be having a bachelorette party before I marry, whenever that will be. I have responded with, "No! If I have any kind of party, it will be a spinster party."

I have cherished my spinsterhood. I have also cursed it. I have also figured that if I weren't going to be married by the time I left my 30's, I might as well be dead. I would hear of an untimely death -- maybe a young mother who caught a stray bullet or an honored soldier killed in Iraq -- and I'd invariably think, "There's another person who's leaving behind children, a spouse, people who depend on them. Why not me instead? Why couldn't I die since I have no one depending on me?" It seemed so horribly unfair. I learned of the deaths of so many people whose place I felt I would have gladly taken, me, a spinster coming up fast on 40 (this was in 2003).

So I can't glorify my spinsterhood, but I made the best of it I could. I spent over 12 years living by myself, supporting myself financially, working damn hard to build a community of friends, in part to take the place of the primary, intimate relationship I usually didn't have.

I believe bachelorette (imagine my sneer) parties developed as the counterpart to the male pre-wedding ritual that gives a man his last chance to have fun before the walls of marriage close in. Similarly, bachelorette parties are meant to close out the sexually carefree stage of a woman's life, celebrating her many conquests, acquired skills and the appropriate number of sexual partners that now allows her to go peacefully into a monogamous, interminable relationship.

Screw that. I'm not reducing being single to a period of frenzied sexual activity.

Being single allowed me to answer to no one, sticking my finger in the peanut butter jar, leaving the maxi's out all month long, debating and discussing with my girlfriends into the night as the dishes sat in the sink. I could clean or not clean, eat cake for dinner, date a different man every weekend (and I did). I saved my money carefully and then blew it on exactly what I wanted. I made life decisions about changing jobs and churches and gods and neighborhoods and the only person I had to convince was myself. I had to deal with no one else's laundry and no one else's mother. IT WAS GREAT.

AND IT SUCKED. I will never have to wonder if I've had enough boyfriends to satisfy me through a lifetime of monogamy (I'm good, thanks). I've had enough of imagining how long it would take someone to find me if I died in my one-bedroom apartment. I have loved my independence dearly and I have declared my spinsterhood proudly, but now I am ready to try a different challenge. There are women in their 40's who face for the first time the challenges of self-sufficiency and dating and living on their own. I, in my 40's, face for the first time the challenges of compromise, sleeping with the loudest snoring in the world and deciding with someone else what we are going to do with our savings.

At my spinster party, I would reflect on what was good and what was bad about being a spinster. I'd like to honor that time of my life -- because it went on for a LONG time -- and gratefully say good-bye to it. Unlike being single, which you can go back to as soon as the divorce is final, I believe spinsterhood can be enjoyed only once, before the first marriage. I think of it as similar to virginity.

These are the kinds of things I'm considering as I anticipate becoming a wife. These days people ridiculously like to say to me, "You only get married once!" to which I usually respond, "Or as many times as you get married." Maybe I'll start replying "No, you're only a spinster once." That's the life shift I won't be able to undo.

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