The Benefits of Spinsterhood

A bedroom with white walls and two large windows. In the middle is a bed covered with colorful blankets and pillows.
Photo by Emily May (CC BY 2.0)

Men who live alone have a special name for their homes: bachelor pads. But what do women who live alone have, other than the ability to absorb and discard endless comments about when they’re going to get married? In Curbed, solo-living advocate Ashley Fetters looks at the history, stereotypes, and trends around women who choose to maintain their own spaces.

Solitude is often considered a privilege when we can afford to choose it and a punishment when it’s thrust upon us, and the same seems to extend to solo-living situations: Moving out to a place of one’s own for peace, quiet, and privacy is an occasion for congratulations, while living alone as a result of being abandoned or left behind is a much more pitiable affair. In other words, there’s an assertive, active image of living alone and there’s a sad, passive image of living alone.

And as anyone who’s read Simone de Beauvoir might intuit, it’s easy to assign a certain masculinity to the “active” and a femininity to the “passive”—hence, for example, the disparity between the mischievous way one might say “bachelor” and the pitying or scornful way one might say “spinster” (no matter how much work women like Kate Bolick have put into arguing that spinsterhood is something to aspire to).

There’s been a tendency over the last century or two to imagine the solo-living man as someone who has chosen peaceful privacy and the solo-living woman as a sort of flawed societal leftover. Or perhaps more alarmingly, a woman who has chosen to reject her preordained role as helper to a husband and family.

Read the essay