By 1699, in legal terms in England, the term “spinster” meant an older unmarried woman. This term was used by the Anglican Church In marriage certificates indicating an unmarried woman. It came to mean older women who chose not to get married or were never asked, or who never fell in love.
Recently, because of circumstances in my life, and for the first time in my life, I have been around quite a few single women over the age of 30. In years past, as a teacher, most of my university and college students were in their 20s, although now and then I would have an older student who was female. Most of my friends are either nine years younger or more than me, placing them in their late 50s or early 60s, or are in their thirties, but married. Some of my friends are older than I am by nine or ten years. All but one are or have been married.
Because of something that happened in the past few weeks, I was recollecting that all my closest female friends are married and that most of my closest male friends are single.
I began to wonder about friendships, ages, interests, personalities, and began to see something about women, my own fair sex, which is not entirely attractive. I thought of the word “spinster” in its negative connotations of a woman who is fussy, too fussy, let us say about things in the house, or a woman who is prissy about dress or even critical of people.
Let me explain something about the difference between married women and single mature women, married men and single men when it comes to friendship.
The reason why my personal observations seem important is that there are definite trends not only in my own experience, but in society, which are alarming and can be sifted down to a common denominator.
The true friend is unselfish, loyal, able to go with the flow of life and friendship, affirming, honest without being criticising, open, kind, and loving. All of my closest friends are also highly intelligent and very interesting people, people of ideas. Idea people do not talk about other people or things, but ideas.
Let me return to my point about women of a certain age. Because of the number of single people now in the Western world, a phenomenon which has happened in ages past for the same societal and cultural reasons, that of stress in the world, the angst which is now the main cause why young people are not getting married, there are more and more single women. I have met in the past year more single women in their 40s and 50s than I ever have in a decade.
There is a huge problem with staying single and that is the lack of challenge to selfishness. One sees this is both sexes—men becoming self-centred and women becoming self-centred..but there is a huge difference. While men who live in selfishness can maintain a level of friendship as it pleases them to do so, especially intellectual men who like to meet and talk about ideas over a glass of wine, or share experiences from a rational point of view, women who live by and for themselves fall into a particular kind of pickiness, a type of seeking after perfection in daily trivia. The “type” of the old auntie who is “persnickety” is found in many humous novels and plays. This type of woman has become the picky woman because her seeking after perfection has taken over her entire life. She may even act like someone with OCD, wanting everything to be just right and in the same place. She must have this or that thing to be just the way she wants it or she becomes irritated. She has not submitted her soul and body to anyone else. She should be in a perfect position to allow God to be her bridegroom, but this seems not to happen.
The single man falls into the opposite fault of being too slothful, too easy going, but then, those character flaws do not interfere with true friendship. I do know at least one fussy, persnickety man, and he has a strong feminine side. His lack of manliness makes him act like a spinster. This is no accident.
Children break down one’s self-absorbed life.
The Scriptures have an interesting phrase which the feminists hate but which is a gem of wisdom.
1 Timothy 2:15 Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (RSVCE) Yet woman will be saved through bearing children, if she continues in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.
This idea that women are saved by childbirth may seen contentious.
However, I can fully understand the wisdom of Timothy’s words.
Getting married, and especially having a child or more than one, forces a woman out of this tendency to want perfection in little things and big things. Husbands and children interrupt this seeking after perfection in daily matters, such as cleaning, organising, having things “just so.” The fussy woman could not endure the happy chaos of family life.
The happiness of married life with children ends that persnickety tendency to want things the way “I want.” Dying to self comes with the baby…the list of things which force a women to stop thinking of herself and her needs and concentrate on the child and husband is endless.
Without those challenged of loving someone completely different from one’s self, people fall into self-occupation. Egocentricity is an easy trap for the single person.
Sadly, the single women in their 50s and 60s frequently do not have the edges of their characters smoothed into docility and love. Their egos want things “my way.”
One cannot possibly be friends with someone who insists always on their own way and nurses hurts or even, worse, fixations and manipulations to make things go her way.
As all of my closest female friends are married, we can have real friendships, based not only on love but on real care for the “other.”
The selfishness of the single woman turns her into an ugly caricature of a women, who is to being beauty and love into a home, an extended family, a parish, but who brings ugliness instead because of gross egocentric behaviour.
Once this tendency to selfishness is allowed to grow, the person becomes even more intense on things being “just so” according to her way of looking at life. Eccentricities begin to emerge in the self-centred personality, which become more and more demanding in time. While married women in good marriages become softer and more feminine, the opposite happens to the single woman. If the single woman would join a convent, for example, she would have the chance to give up her self to the community, die to self for the good of the whole, as a wife and mother does in a good marriage.
Although a woman has a chance to become holy as a single person, not having to please a man but able to please Christ directly more, the danger of becoming selfish even in one’s relationship with God is a reality. I now know too many single women who spend hours going from one prayer meeting to another or one Church activity to another without seeing that their interior life has shrunk into that of the narrow narcissist’s heart, bent on having her own way. The give and take of family life stops this type of cancer. Religious orientated women need to live in a community, as with nuns or sisters. To be alone, or single with other singles who do not challenge her, does not force the women to step out of her comfort zone and learn to die to self.
Marriage and childbearing do this for a woman—allowing for the heart to expand in love and selflessness. A vocation to the monastery or convent also allows for the death of self and the growth of charity.
I am blessed with the friendship of married women or widows who have known what it is to sacrifice self on the altar of daily service to others. This is the only way to get to heaven, not the chasing after spiritual experiences and the day of spiritual self-absorption, but the daily challenge of giving in and giving up desires, dreams, the ego.
For the few years I was married, I faced the challenges of dying to self. For the many years of being a single mum, I had even more chances to die to self. Some of these graces I passed up out of selfishness, but overall, I overcame many things and desires, many dreams based on what I wanted rather than what God wanted. A single mum sacrifices for the sake of the child or children. As to friendship, one cannot be a true friend if one is always thinking of one’s own needs or if one wants to control one’s space all the time. The spinster frequently becomes a “control freak,” wanting to be in control of not only her surroundings, but other people’s lives as well.
Selfishness caused Eve to offer the apple to Adam. She did not want to be alone in her crime. She demanded her way. Adam caved in to her desire rather than let her face her God alone.
We all have to face our God alone, but it is with others that we find our purification in this world. The call of the hermit comes only after one has been in community.
JMJ, pray for us!
God is good,