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Bookshelf Project 2016: #8 All The Single Ladies

2016 May 2


As I mentioned in a “Things That Made Me Happy This Week” post a few weeks ago, I cheated a bit in the Bookshelf Project and bought myself a new book for my flight to LA. I was inspired to buy All the Single Ladies when I heard an interview with the author, Rebecca Traister, on one of my favorite podcasts, Call Your Girlfriend.  I’d also read many of Traister’s articles about marriage and relationships and women and politics before the book came out and I was a fan.

Admittedly, I have a complicated relationship with the notion of singlehood. Though I strongly identify with being a single woman, I’m technically also a divorced woman, which is considered by many as an entirely different thing. And perhaps it is, in many ways, but it doesn’t spare me or any other divorced or separated woman the pain, loneliness, judgements, and freedom that come with being unmarried–especially past a certain age.

Personal identity politics aside, I found this book insightful and illuminating. I learned a lot about the historical impact of unmarried women throughout history–logically, it makes sense that single women typically have a history of being more politically engaged and involved with their communities than those who were married, with families to take care of, but I never really considered it in that way before.

Though the history was really interesting, I was most drawn in by the stories of contemporary single women and how they’re navigating their lives. It’s certainly more socially acceptable to be unmarried than ever before, but it’s still a lifestyle choice (or circumstance) that’s seen as unconventional, and it can be difficult to live in a world geared toward the traditional couple and family structure.

Here were some of my favorite tidbits and passages I highlighted as I read:

  • “By the time I walked down the aisle…I had lived fourteen independent years, early adult years that my mother had spent married. I had made friends and fallen out with friends, had moved in and out of apartments, had been hired, fired, promoted, and quit. I had had roommates I liked and roommates I didn’t like and I had lived on my own; I’d been on several forms of birth control and navigated a few serious medical questions; I’d paid my own bills and failed to pay my own bills; I’d fallen in love and fallen out of love and spent five consecutive years with nary a fling. I’d learned my way around new neighborhoods, felt scared and felt completely at home; I’d been heartbroken, afraid, jubilant, and bored. I was a grown-up: a reasonably complicated person. I’d become that person not in the company of any one man, but alongside my friends, my family, my city, my work, and, simply, by myself.”
  • Birth control was illegal for single women until 1972. 
  • “What the women’s movement of the 1970s did, ultimately, was not to shrink marriage, or the desire for male companionship, as a reality for many women, but rather to enlarge the rest of the world to such an extent that marriage’s shadow became far less likely to blot out the sun of other possibilities.”
  • “the Equal Rights Amendment, which read, simply, ‘Men and women shall have equal rights throughout the United States and every place subject to its jurisdiction;’ it would be introduced to every Congressional session from 1923 until 1972, when it finally passed but was not ratified by the states. (It has been reintroduced, though never passed, in every session since 1982.)” This is some bullshit.
  • “Among the largely unacknowledged truths of female life is that women’s primary, foundational, formative relationships are as likely to be with each other as they are with the men we’ve been told since childhood are supposed to be the people who complete us.”
  • “Marriage and its ancillary, committed dating, are simply not the only relationships that sustain and help to give shape, direction, and passion to female life.”
  • “…despite the fact that people who live alone make up almost 30 percent of the population…, stigmas about single people, and especially women, as aberrant, weird, stunted, and perhaps especially as immature, persist.”
  • “After all, unmarried life is not a practice round or a staging ground or a suspension of real life. There is nothing automatically adolescent about moving through the world largely on one’s own–working, earning, spending, loving, screwing up, and having sex outside traditional marriage…But we’ve still got a lot of hardwired assumptions that the successful female life is measured not in professional achievements or friendships or even satisfying sexual relationships, but by whether you’re legally coupled….those assumptions are often undergirded by an unconscious conviction that, if a woman is not wed, it’s not because she’s made a set of active choices, but rather she has not been selected–chosen, desired, valued enough.”
  • “There is a sense of: ‘What happened? How are you still on the shelf? You must be a defective product because nobody bought you.’ This is the message she absorbs every time a friend tries to be encouraging by telling her, ‘I would think everyone would be after you!'”
  • “…They found that health, life, home, and car insurance all cost more for single people, and report that ‘It is not a federal crime for landlords to discriminate against potential renters based on their marital status.’..Looking at income tax policy, Social Security, healthcare, and housing costs, Campbell and Arnold found that ‘in each category, the singles paid or lost more than the marrieds.'”
  • “…marital rape was legal in some states until the 1990s.”
  • In the House of Representatives, “women only got their own ladies’ room in 2011.”
  • “…each of our loves is crucial and unique.” Gloria Steinem
  • “It is too rarely acknowledged that there are millions of ways that women leave marks on the world, and having children is but one of them.”
  • “We have to rebuild not just our internalized assumptions about individual freedoms and life paths; we almost must revise our social and economic structures to account for, acknowledge, and support women in the same way in which we have supported men for centuries.”


So, clearly, I took a lot away from the book. But I think the most important thing I got from reading it at this stage of my life is the acknowledgment of the validity and existence of alternate paths through life. It may seem silly to say that sometimes it feels as though single people’s lives aren’t as valid as coupled people’s, but it’s true. It’s something many of us feel every day. And it’s important to be reminded that being part of a couple isn’t some magical key to happiness or success or “real life” starting. Every day, I accept more and more the possibility that I will never get married again, that I will never have children, or a family of my own in a traditional sense. But that doesn’t mean that I won’t have love and romance and vacations and life-changing experiences and successes both creative and professional–those things I know are still available to me, and I know I will have them. We all will.


2 Responses Post a comment
  1. Dawn permalink
    May 3, 2016

    Love this. You definitely will have all those things, regardless of your marital status. So many good points here! So true about those primary, foundational female relationships too. Not always about the men!

  2. May 5, 2016

    Thanks, Jill. I’m heading into the single world again and loved this post. I am currently reading Spinster by Kate Bolick, which touches on similar themes as All the Single Ladies. I may have to read this one, too.

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