March 20, 2019

Defining Single & Mad Respect For The Spinster (Don't Judge)

I consider it both a privilege and an honour to hear the stories of others. It has become my goal to listen with the intent to hear; an area I've improved in through study, mindful intention, and hundreds of hours of practice. And when I hear, I get to peek into a person's heart. These stories from clients, feedback from the (Singles' Wellness) survey, and recent conversations with singles have strengthened my resolve to nurture, serve, and love this specific community.

Embracing Single is an initiative to help singles in their single season. Its purpose is to inspire them to a heightened sense of self (individuation) while concurrently helping them define, seek out, and create nurturing communities for life-giving connection.

The more I research and study singleness, have conversations with singles, and experience singleness through my own lived experience, the more intriguing the subject becomes.

Try just defining single(ness)/singledom, for example. It is a legal status with many complexities by definition and continues to morph. The term is also used as social status, and unfortunately oft carries negative connotations as if being "alone", "single", "uncoupled", or "unmarried" is a negative thing. The default mentality in our history (especially for women), our culture and sub-cultures, is that singleness is a negative, less desirable, and a less respected status.

And if the over-arching mentality is that being a single is "less than" (as opposed to being a couple) than it's no surprise those sentiments turn into actions and why singles feel like second class citizens in families and in "church family" settings. For example, singles are expected (just because they are single) to be free to volunteer countless hours, yet this same demographic is usually left without a group of "their own" to be connected to in family-centric church culture. This statement is direct feedback from the Singles Wellness Survey as well as discussions I've had with single women. I intend to address this as part of my Singles Wellness Initiative with Pastors and Church/Ministry Leaders. My message is not one of criticism but more along the lines of "let's do better" and embrace and nurture singles in our church culture.

Time out.

Can we just take a minute to rethink how we treat the single person in our midst? I am not implying that "they" are helpless and cannot fend for themselves. In fact, many singles are fantastically individuated and confident, great with boundaries, saying "yes" and "no" like a champ when asked to volunteer, and feel safe and secure when in a group of couples, or in a room full of families. Others are not (yet). So I'm speaking out for them.

There is an invisibility factor when you are single, especially if you are a single woman. (I promise to research further to see if it's as true for men). Google it! Psychology Today. It's everywhere. I'll address "invisible" in a future blog.

Defining Single.

I want to define "single" for the purpose of the Singles' Wellness Initiative, Embracing Single. We may find that we don't agree on the definition of single. That's okay. I am committed to approaching people with "unconditional positive regard" which I believe is the most non-judgemental and loving approach I can take as a coach, a counsellor, a conversation facilitator, and in my non-professional life too. I must, therefore, be open to hearing someone else's perspective and definition of singleness. And, I might, therefore, agree, or agree to disagree with you. We can still be friends, peers, colleagues... I hope.

As I engage with more singles such as the singles' Meetup group in Victoria (Embracing Single: Conversations for Singles in Greater Victoria), defining single may be a great first topic to tackle for the purpose of clarity and as an opportunity to learn from others.

Here is how I define "single" for the purpose of an Embracing Single group, workshop, or program (and I reserve the right to refine and redefine as I go and as a life-long learner).

An "Embracing Single" is:

-  an individual who is not in a committed (or even a casual) relationship; that is, they are not cohabitating and/or engaging in a sexual relationship with another individual;
- an individual who is financially self-supporting;
- an individual who is not married (separated, divorced, or never married);
- an individual choosing to remain single for a season or a lifetime;
- an individual who is taking time to work on individuation and is not dating or pursuing a relationship during this single season (for a determined or even undetermined amount of time).

According to Wikipedia, "In legal definitions for interpersonal status, a single person is someone who is unmarried, not in a relationship and not part of a civil union."

Based on the above definition of an Embracing Single, I want to inspire single individuals (especially those who have not experienced singleness as an adult due to being being married young and who is now divorced and for those who have experienced mutliple relationships throughout their adulthood without time and space in between to heal or individuate) to see the opportunities and the possibilities that a single season can bring, whether they choose to remain single or couple again.

I want to be a part of a movement to change the narrative around singleness to that of a positive one. To do so, we must start with the belief system of single individuals. I hope to help singles feel embraced, seen, empowered, freed from the pressures of society/family to couple for the sake of coupling, and most of all feel understood by this initiative!

The Spinster, The Old Maid, and The Bachelor

A spinster, an old maid, and a bachelor walk into a bar... okay that's not the beginning of a joke... but it is a joke that the verbiage about women who are unmarried is far more derogatory than men who are unmarried.

Check out this definition of "Spinster."

According to Wikipedia, "Spinster is a term referring to an unmarried woman who is older than what is perceived as the prime age range during which women should marry. It could also indicate that a woman is considered unlikely to ever marry.[1] The term originally denoted a woman whose occupation was to spin. A synonymous but more pejorative term is old maid. The closest equivalent term for males is 'bachelor', but this generally does not carry the same pejorative connotations in reference to age and perceived desirability in the marriage."

Let's talk old maid and bachelor first, then we'll check out the spinster.

The "bachelor" in pop culture seems to describe an "unmarried" man who is free, cool, eligble, prime marriage material - quite celebrated - yet the "unmarried" woman is an "old maid." I do note here that there is a TV show called "The Bachelorette", which seems to level the playing field a little with regard to gendre and terminology. Where it falls apart is that this plays into the notion that this "prime candidate" must "couple" to be truly happy and live happily ever after. I imagine if they had called it "The Spinster" or "The Old Maid" it wouldn't have gone over so well. I'm counting on the millennials to never use terms like "old maid." Let's all put the "old maid" term out to pasture where it belongs!

Now for "Spinster."

Recently I was in conversation with a person (you know who you are) and they were describing a woman who had never been married using the "s" word! Immediately I jumped to the unmarried-no-children-woman's defence and declared, "She's not a spinster! She just chose to Embrace Single(ness)!"

Some quick research and I've found some things to (re)consider with regard to that term that I thought was derogatory. Let's glimpse at the history and then you can decide for yourselves (especially you single women out there) whether you'd like to be referred to as a spinster or not! I'll warn you, it's growing on me. I would put money on the fact that if I asked for a show of hands to see how many would be comfortable with being referred to as a "spinster" (before learning the history and context) that most women would reject the use of the term because they too view it as a negative term for (ahem) mature, unmarried women.

The more I read about the word "spinster" the more I might embrace being in that category myself. In the historical sense, it was a term to describe an "unmarried" woman with no children. That doesn't apply to me as I have been married and I do have a child. However, I found it to be an interesting term when it comes to the individuation process. It could be argued that these women "the spinsters of the 1800s" were highly individuated as opposed to those who married young (due to pressures of the day - society, culture, religion). Here's how I'm processing the term "spinster" as it aligns with my thoughts on the importance of individuation:


- took full responsibility for their individuality and (financial) independence and took on work - outside the home - which wasn't the "cultural norm" for women living in the 1800s.

 - spun wool to provide for themselves instead of depending on a man for financial stability (marrying young as others might have in that day).

- were possibly more authentic, sincere, or true to themselves remaining single rather than marrying because it was the thing to do

"One 19th-century editorial in the fashion publication Peterson's Magazine encouraged women to remain choosy in selecting a mate — even at the price of never marrying. The editorial, titled "Honorable Often to Be an Old Maid", advised women: "Marry for a home! Marry to escape the ridicule of being called an old maid? How dare you, then, pervert the most sacred institution of the Almighty, by becoming the wife of a man for whom you can feel no emotions of love, or respect even?"[8]

Mad respect. (That's me trying to be hip and use urban slang for my millennial peeps.) Spinsters are so much cooler than I once thought they were. They are independent thinkers, hard workers, possibly fearless! That's not how I would have described them a week ago. And spinsters really get hip in my books if you think of them as women of mystery! Read on.

Here's another great quote from the article, "In her 2015 book, Spinster, Making a Life of One's Own, Kate Bolick has written, "To me, the spinster is self-reliant and inscrutable. We think we know what the wife is up to and what the mother is up to but the single woman is mysterious. I like that mystery. So the term is a useful way to hold onto the idea of autonomy that can get so easily lost inside of marriage or motherhood."[14]

Autonomous. Self-reliant. Self-aware. Independent. Fearless. Mysterous. And this, my friends, is part of individuation! So my little ditty, "Wait! Don't Date! Individuate! might be something those 19th Century Spinsters may have said to me - had I bothered to stop and ask. And for my millennial friends, I've coined the phrase, "After graduation! Individuation!" No matter what stage of life you find yourself in, I truly believe that individuation is key for single wellness, not to mention the value it brings into future coupling!

Move over hipsters. Is there room for us spinsters? I think so. There's much more to learn from the spinster. I'll keep digging and learning and defining and listening. To be continued.

Because every one counts.

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