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Planning Retirement Online

Beyond the Headlines

July 2014


By Jeanne DavisJeanne Davis

Each month our resident writer and commentator Jeanne Davis goes behind recent news stories to comment on various ideas and subjects that have special resonance for our age group.

Written in her usual thought provoking and entertaining style, we know you will enjoy this addition every month

To view all of Jeanne's articles visit the Interest Index.



Why do they still call me a Spinster?


“Don’t call me a spinster!” This was the headline in a recent article in the Guardian. “Why do people think there’s something wrong with a woman who isn’t married?”, wrote Claudia Cornell. “It’s hard to believe a ring on your finger is still the ultimate stamp of success.”

“Every birthday I have celebrated since the age of 35,” she says, “has brought with it one guarantee – among the cards will be one depicting an old crone in fingerless gloves, surrounded by dozens of cats. It is a joke apparently, directed at the fact that I am a single – because all unmarried women eventually turn into crazy cat ladies, don’t you know.”

“We live in a time when we have made great strides forward in the acceptance of alternative lifestyles, relationships and families. From same-sex marriage to gay adoption, polyandry and celibacy, you name it and anything goes. Yet when it comes to the spinster, society just can’t seem to make peace with us. The stereotypical image of long ago of the oddball woman in the village who makes people feel a bit uncomfortable still sticks. The notion of the happy unattached female is a myth as far as most are concerned.”

“We are seen as sad, lonely and unfulfilled. For me to reach middle age as I have at 47, and not to have married means there must be something wrong with me. Too fussy, too independent, too smart are just some of the defects of which I have been accused over the years.”

The single shaming is a phenomenon that seems only to be directed at women. The unattached woman is to be pitied while the unattached man is to be envied and respected. A simple game of word association is enough to hammer home the point. Think of the word ‘spinster’ and what images pop into your head? Now do the same with ‘bachelor’. A Miss Marple figure surrounded by cats and coupons for the woman and a suntanned hunk in a sport’s car for him.

Being unmarried is equated with failure. Think of Bridget Jones. After a 15-year-hiatus, Helen Fielding reintroduced us to the singleton’s poster girl last year only for us to learn she had married Mark Darcy. OK, he’d snuffed it and she is now a widow – but at least she made it down the aisle.

Not much seems to have changed since I was considered a spinster some 50 years ago. My sister and I were unmarried twenty-somethings living and working in New York. The family were becoming very worried. Was there something wrong with us? Were we too fussy, to independent, too sure of ourselves?

Well, in reasonable time we did get married, pursued careers, had children and grandchildren. But for the past fourteen years, I have been a widow. The women I see socially most often now are singles, either widows or spinsters. And these spinster women, now in their 80s and 90s, prove to be the exceptions to the rule. They are not lonely old ladies surrounded by cats.

The two I see frequently are fulfilled. They are happy and fun to be with. They have led full lives, both with careers, one in business and the other with an international agency. The worst sin the single has committed say the detractors is that they have not had children. But good meaningful lives can be lived without reproducing.

Both spinster friends have been the beloved aunts to nephews and nieces and now grand-nephews and nieces. One always had each nephew and niece come to stay with her in Paris where she worked and now their children take turns coming over for a Sunday lunch on their own with Aunt Peggy in her London flat. Anne has guided her brother’s offspring through their university years and always has a bed for them when they need to chill.

In the same issue of the Guardian, Tim Lott writes a column on a new book titled “Why Won’t My Teenager Talk To Me?” The book goes to great lengths and uses considerable research to try to answer the question. The trouble is parents want to be supportive and may think they are being non-judgemental. But the essence of being a teenager is achieving a sort of separation from parents, from their values and interventions.

This is where my single great aunts have come in. They are not judgemental or disappointed if the offspring have behaved badly now show undue worry if they want to do something daring. They have the rare ability to listen to what is being said (and not said) with sensitivity and understanding. They have become a safe space in which the young ones can find comfort if they so wish.

By the way, there are some societies where spinsterhood is a respected tradition. In Burma last year I met a number of delightful single women who were not married. As the eldest daughters in the family they were expected to remain in the family home to take care of the parents when they aged. They were happy. They had careers and male friends. It was an obligation they did not question.


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The above article is part of the features section of called laterlife interest. laterlife interest contains a variety of articles of interest for visitors to written by a number of experienced and new journalists.

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