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‘Liberty is a Better Husband’ and Other Perspectives on Single Life

With Kate Bolick’s Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own continuing to inspire conversations across the media, and encouraged by the interest in my review of the book here at Psych Central and in my post, 50 Shades of Single, I thought I’d share some of my favorite quotes and insights from the book. And because Spinster does not include among the five inspirational figures from the past anyone who stayed single for life, I will also add a few words of wisdom from someone who did, Louisa May Alcott.

About her own experiences, Kate Bolick offers these thoughts:

  • From her Dec 23, 1997 journal entry: “What a luxury, to be twenty-five and unattached…”
  • A few years later: “What bothered me was the assumption that because I was a woman in her early thirties, I must be ‘desperate’ for marriage.”
  • Later still: “I was most alive when alone, negotiating odd encounters on the subway, surging along the sidewalk with a million faceless others. It was an expansive sensation, evasive, addictive.”
  • After a long-term relationship ended: “For the first time, I felt like an actual person who lives in the world and could carry on a conversation with another adult about something other than the minutiae of what I did that day and whose turn it was to get the groceries. Coupling, I realized, can encourage a fairly static way of being…Along with meeting new people I was discovering a new self.”

Some cultural and historical observations:

  • “It’s amazing, really, how deftly we hold in our collective consciousness this disconnect between what we want marriage to be and how so many marriages actually turn out.”
  • Despite all the blogs that were online by 2003, there were still no “serious conversations about the lives of unmarried women. Instead, whatever candor had erupted in the 1960s had been sucked into a black hole of constant chatter about dating, sex, marriage, children. The notion of not marrying was apparently so outlandish that it was consigned to fiction, whether chick-lit or television, as if the thought of single women was so threatening we had no choice but to trivialize it.”
  • About Edna St. Vincent Millay living “fully and without deference to convention. This embrace of possibility, and willingness to improvise rather than ‘nail down’ a life discomfits and disrupts now as much as it did then.”
  • “The flapper vanished with the Great Depression, as did anything smacking of frivolity and hedonism, at which point, for the first time in forty years, the single woman’s status dropped. Now that heterosexual sex was considered integral to mental health, unmarried women were increasingly represented as lonely, celibate spinsters. Meanwhile, the labor market became a battlefield. With so many people out of work, jobs became the privilege of men with families to feed – as if many single women weren’t also supporting their parents, siblings, and families.”
  • Why “the crazy bag lady” is the scariest: “…she’s living proof of what it means to not be loved. Her apparition will endure as long as women consider the love of a man the most supreme of all social validations.”

Some insights from other people mentioned in Spinster:

  • From Vivian Gornick, about waking up the morning after leaving her husband: “The idea of love seemed an invasion. I had thoughts to think, a craft to learn, a self to discover. Solitude was a gift. A world was waiting to welcome me if I was willing to enter it alone.”
  • From Neith Boyce (who wrote the “Bachelor Girl” column for Vogue magazine – starting in 1898!), on seeing the bright smile of her cousin on her wedding day: “Surely marriage was nothing to look so exuberant about, and coming down the aisle chatting and smiling to one another, as though they were dinner partners, seemed all wrong. Considering what marriage led to – children, bills, quarrels, the frightening forced association of two human beings – surely it was nothing to be light-minded about. [She} thought there should be a touch of sackcloth and ashes about it.”

And now for some wisdom from Louisa May Alcott, as noted by Jean R. Freedman in her Washington Post article:

  • “I’d rather be a free spinster and paddle my own canoe.”
  • “…liberty is a better husband than love to many of us.”
  • “My sisters, don’t be afraid of the words, ‘old maid,’ for it is in your power to make this a term of honor, not reproach.”

[Note: Thanks to Heather Steil for the heads-up about the Louisa May Alcott article.]

IgorGolovniov /

‘Liberty is a Better Husband’ and Other Perspectives on Single Life

Bella DePaulo, Ph.D

Bella DePaulo (Ph.D., Harvard; Academic Affiliate, Psychological and Brain Sciences, UC Santa Barbara), an expert on single life, is the author of several books, including "Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After" and "How We Live Now: Redefining Home and Family in the 21st Century." Her TEDx talk is "What no one ever told you about people who are single." Dr. DePaulo has discussed singles and single life on radio and television, including NPR and CNN, and her work has been described in newspapers such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and USA Today, and magazines such as Time, Atlantic, the Week, More, the Nation, Business Week, AARP Magazine, and Newsweek. Dr. DePaulo is in her sixties. She has always been single and always will be. She is "single at heart" -- single is how she lives her best and most meaningful life. Visit her website at

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APA Reference
DePaulo, B. (2015). ‘Liberty is a Better Husband’ and Other Perspectives on Single Life. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 20, 2020, from


Last updated: 30 Apr 2015
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