On Spinsterhood…

by Sadie Mills on July 8, 2013


And here we see one of the greatest aberrations of nature: the lone female homo sapien.  Mateless; dejected; eschewed by society, this thirty-something is doomed to a lifetime of watching Come Dine With Me (or Man Versus Food in the US) whilst eating microwaved dinners for one.  In her advancing years, she’ll develop a penchant for tweed, savings coupons and gaudy lipstick (to be applied liberally to the teeth).  Throughout the course of her tragic existence, she’ll work her way through 3-4 trillion gallons of Pinot Grigio, and amass an unholy number of cats.  In her latter stages of life, she’ll develop a fanatical devotion to crosswords, spectacle chains and Sudoku.

What does the word ‘bachelor’ conjure up in your mind’s eye?  Personally, I see a guy in a tux.  Top button undone, bowtie hanging loose, heart-wrenchingly handsome (the prefix eligible is a given).

If I say ‘spinster’…?


It really is a terrible word.  The sound of it alone is enough to make your sphincter retract.  The origins of the word ‘bachelor’ go back to Anglo-Norman times.  It means ‘young squire in training’ (to become a knight – golly, how dashing).  The word ‘spinster’ goes back to Medieval times and the occupation of spinning wool (this being the only trade a woman could engage in that was lucrative enough to allow her to support herself).

In Language and Woman’s Place (pah!) Robin Lakoff explains that:

“If someone is a spinster, by implication she is not eligible.  She has had her chance, and been passed by.”

How very inspiring.

The term ‘spinster’ is almost universally recognised to be a derogatory term now.  ‘Spinster’ and ‘Bachelor’ were dropped from UK Marriage Certificates in 2005 and replaced with the all-encompassing ‘Single’.  The term ‘bachelor’ remains without stigma, well, apart from being a bit of a gigolo, wink, wink; nudge, nudge.  What is the acceptable term for a single woman these days?  In the UK, we haven’t embraced ‘bachelorette’ just yet.  Really, there is nothing.

I don’t think it’s all down to that word anyway.  A rose by any other name would still smell as sweet.  To that end, so would a turd.

There’s a negative connotation for any woman of my age (don’t even think about asking) still remaining ‘up on the shelf’.  How often do you hear that term applied to men?  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a raging feminist; I’m not about to go burning my bra (perish the thought).  All I’m saying is there’s a dual standard.

A single man in his thirties may attract a light ribbing by his mates, but part of them’s still wondering “How did he do it?”.  Whilst they’re wading through Pampas and getting up in the middle of the night, his life is apparently one long party.  This loser in love attracts nothing but sly glances of admiration (or maybe they suspect he’s still in the closet).  Young(ish) free and single, he has the world on a plate.  Conversely, we ladies get sympathetic looks from our friends.  As Helen Fielding put it best in Briget Jones’s Diary, because “underneath our clothes our entire bodies are covered in scales”.

Here’s my take on single life.

I’ve spent the vast majority of my adult life hopelessly ensconced in one relationship or another.  Singledom is a relatively new concept to me.  It’s only in the past few years that I’ve finally embraced it.  I do not enjoy being the third, fifth, seventh, ninth [insert unhappy odd number here] at a dinner party.  I don’t like turning up to weddings alone.  I do miss physical and emotional intimacy.  I do get lonely from time to time.

However, from my vast experience of fatally flawed relationships, I can say with hand on heart that the loneliest place in the world is to be trapped in the confines of one of those.  There’s a lot to be said for being skipper of your own ship and not knowing what’s over the horizon.  As John Lennon put it best: “For tomorrow, who knows”.  It is disconcerting to know that some of my best friends have children who’ve finished school already, whereas I haven’t even started yet.  The clock is ticking, and grows louder by the year.  But I’m holding out for Mr Right, not Mr Right Now.  My tastes have grown progressively more selective over the years.

The demise of a relationship gives a person the opportunity to go one of two ways.  They can either spiral into self-pitying oblivion, or they use it to learn from and grow.  Incidentally, I don’t know how many ladies get this, but personally, ice cream holds no attraction for me when a relationship has just crashed and burned.  My body goes into starvation mode – the mere whiff of food makes me feel violently sick.  On the plus side though, I think it’s mother nature’s way of preparing you for the next suitor.  You drop pounds.  Atkins diet?  Pah!

Acting, learning to scuba dive, travelling across Egypt, skydiving, writing – these all came to me off the back of being a spinster.  I can’t really knock it.  It’s a free pass to be utterly selfish – do what you want, whenever you want, with whomever you want – without having to feel bad about it or explain yourself.  You report to no one.  Now and again I may see a couple walking hand-in-hand along the seafront, smile sadly and think ‘I miss that.’.  Bickering over the remote; missed Birthdays; smelly socks?  Yeah, not so much.

These past couple of years have been the best of my life.  I have accomplished so much.  I know exactly who I am; what I like and what I don’t.  Maybe I’m better placed to enter into a relationship now that I’m finally comfortable in my own skin?  It would have to be someone pretty special though.  I’m thinking an Italian-speaking skydiver who enjoys opera.  Maybe an American – Americans are pretty hot.  He’d have to be an animal-lover though.  Not really religious, but not an atheist either (it’s kind of pessimistic).  Must have a thick head of lustrous dark hair (curly or straight, I’m not fussy).  Obviously enjoys washing up and, above all else, ironing.  Likes travel, romantic comedies, scuba, the theatre; Chinese, Indian and Thai food.  Must have a wicked smile, a great sense of humour, and all-in-all be one heck of a good guy.

I guess until he steps up to the plate, I’ll be enjoying my freedom for a  little while longer.

“As for tomorrow?  Who knows.”





{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

ParrotDye July 15, 2013 at 9:01 pm

On Bachelorhood…

In the same picture we note the absence of the bachelor: the lone homo sapien. He cares naught for Doris and Geoff whose memorial the Spinster’s reverie was cushioned by, nor for the manner of their passing. He cares for nothing and no one, for he is his own man; independent; self-sustaining; a hermit. Destined to a life of solitude, riddled with poor hygiene, occasional shopping, and copious TV. Once the acceptance of Bachelorhood sets in, he will begin counting down his lifetime allowance of 40,000 pints of Fosters and 1000 boxes of Kleenex; he considers borrowing a cash-n-carry card to make a bulk purchase. He resolves to keep his waist size fewer in inches than his life in years with the full knowledge that, in this regard at least, he is guaranteed success lest he die at 36.

Enough sass; and please accept my apology for it. This Bachelor/Spinster dichotomy could be largely an etymology issue. I found that a Bachelor was a man who was considered socially to be of marriageable age. In todays money, this is applied to any unmarried man, yet the source material used to defend this view “The Complete Tales Of Washington Irving by Charles Neider” described the ‘old bachelor’ as being spurned by a young girl after which Irving subsequently removed himself from the game of courtship altogether.

I agree that the word Spinster is more derogatory than Bachelor, however Spinsterhood has more to do with elderly women than any other age. Therein lies the problem: A bachelor is a boy while a Spinster is an elderly woman, both of whom are unmarried. Both terms are used liberally as accounts for people outside the age range for which the original descriptors were intended. What is more concerning is that labelling a man as a bachelor implies he may mature and marry while labelling a woman as a spinster implies she has matured into an irreversible social position; it strikes me that this is ageism rather than sexism.

Regarding what men think about their single friends, my experience is that they too pity their single wingmen. They also don’t invite them to BBQs as frequently. Perhaps there is more honour among women, but I assure you that men find friends that fit their lifestyle and abandon those that do not. This sounds unrealistic, yet empirically explains why public houses are filled with gangs of Bachelors waiting for the impending influx of Spinsters whilst their married school friends are making polite conversation with the husbands of their wives’ friends.

If I may continue to use my experiences as the template for all men (yeah I know, right!) I would be more concerned with seeking a relationship once I had achieved a few basics which are currently lacking. I need a well paid job, a better car, a fitter body, more fashionable clothes, a more positive outlook, more hair, more time, more class, a few kittens or puppies, better cooking skills including the knowledge of how to make ice cream, a place in my community and a much much larger cock (at least 10″): Then I’ll ‘be ready’ to date again.

Once I am ready, I will seek out the perfect women; a woman with the wisdom of the generation ahead with the body of the generation behind. A woman who does something other than emulate rom-com antics. A woman who spurns racists, bigots, fascists, homophobes and extremists of all creeds. A woman without cats. A woman who earns enough to pay for a washer-dryer, dishwasher, ironing service, cleaner and child care. A woman who votes yet understands the futility of fighting hegemony. A woman who will accept me with fewer of my relationship readiness goals than optimum. In other words, a perfect woman who is just naive enough to accept my imperfect ass for a partner, and long will the search be.

Ach, this reply is too long, huh? I hope it is more entertaining than “you go, sister!”
Pretty weak ending too, I guess I’ll have to work on closure. Anyway…
Much Love 🙂


Sadie Mills July 15, 2013 at 9:14 pm

It’s always interesting to see things from the other side of the fence. But a woman… without cats? Could such creature exist? A dog lover then, surely…?

Personally, I’m always suspicious of those who ‘don’t like’ animals. Although, I did once read that Hitler doted on his Alsatian, and look what happened there…


ParrotDye July 16, 2013 at 2:34 am

There is a episode of Horizon called The Secret Life Of The Cat which shows how cats have a sound akin to a babies cry embedded within their purr. It’s being called the Solicitation Purr, and cats can switch it on/off at will to bend their owner into action. I’m not sure how I feel about that really, it’s a bit creepy to think cats pretend to be babies to get what they want. Sneaky little buggers. Luckily for me, allergies have saved me from a life of feline servitude.

Thanks for the tip on Hitler’s dog. It’s good to know Hitler treated Blondi well.. until he tested his cyanide capsules on her… hmmm.


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