Reclaiming spinsterhood and bachelorhood

I have read a couple of dissenting reviews of Kate Bolick’s Spinster, but Briallen Hopper’s is the liveliest and most allusive. The crux of her counterargument: although Bolick is correct to reclaim spinsterhood as a desirable state, the assumptions on which this state rests still get defined by men. “Whom to marry, and when will it happen — these two questions define every woman’s existence, regardless of where she was raised or what religion she does or doesn’t practice,” Bolick writes.

I haven’t read the book, so I’m in no position to question the accuracy of what Hopper calls Bolick’s “anachronistic absolutes.” The reality is complicated, as spinsters in literature, TV, and film have demonstrated. I was happy Hopper spent time on The Bostonians, Henry James’ trenchant, remarkable novel about the crosscurrents of radicalism, repressed lesbianism, and making a living. No one emerges unscathed; it’s possible that’s why the book has never been among James’ most popular. I appreciated her mentioning My Best Friend’s Wedding; it reminded me of Robin Wood’s affection for this 1997 Julia Roberts mega hit, particularly its ending, which to Wood “fulfills the traditional Hollywood obligation to progress toward the ‘construction of the couple,’ but it is no longer the ‘construction of the heterosexual couple.'” The work of Ellen Willis, still too little cited, also posits spaces in which friendships provide the companionship of couples without the angst (she didn’t say no angst). The point, as Hopper writes, is how Bolick’s definition of spinsterhood incarnates “an arbitrary conflation of marriage with the commitments and responsibilities of adult life sometimes turns unmarried people into second-class citizens, and devalues many necessary forms of love.”

As a gay man living in a post-Obergefell world I’ve gotten more than a few well-meant inquiries into the state of my own affairs. The easy answer: “I haven’t found a man.” The real answer: “I’m not looking very hard.” Sex still interests me as an end, as much as books and writing and music and film and conversations over dinner and wine. Allowing homosexuals to enter into marriage contracts does create dangers. Disappointed and often demoralized — in the literal sense of the world, as in stripped of our morals — by a straight world, we rush to join the institution whose tenets persuaded parents, teachers, and siblings to hate us. As an older gay man I can, to quote Wood again, “view from the outside the social conventions and behavior patterns” from which heterosexuals have never quite emancipated themselves.” This is why the parents, teachers, and siblings who love us also find solace in our company. It’s not “What do you know?”; it’s “What have you seen?”

P.S.: While thinking about which songs celebrate friendship I’d no trouble finding songs about women reveling in bachelorhood but not many by men (there is, of course, a rich tradition of songs by men for men: from the Beatles’ “Two of Us” and Bruce Springsteen’s “Bobby Jean” to Young Thug and T.I.’s “About the Money”). All I could think of was Morrissey’s typically bombastic “Will Never Marry.” Suggestions welcome.

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