A compelling book about the herstory and current state of being a single woman in the US. Some new information for me, but also referenced some books I’ve read before! This was my new Letter A for Litsy A to Z once I realized I need to change it.
In 2009, award-winning journalist Rebecca Traister started All the Single Ladies about the twenty-first century phenomenon of the American single woman. It was the year the proportion of American women who were married dropped below fifty percent; and the median age of first marriages, which had remained between twenty and twenty-two years old for nearly a century (1890–1980), had risen dramatically to twenty-seven.
But over the course of her vast research and more than a hundred interviews with academics and social scientists and prominent single women, Traister discovered a startling truth: the phenomenon of the single woman in America is not a new one. And historically, when women were given options beyond early heterosexual marriage, the results were massive social change—temperance, abolition, secondary education, and more. Today, only twenty percent of Americans are married by age twenty-nine, compared to nearly sixty percent in 1960.
It’s exciting for me that she references books I’ve read. It means that I might just be catching up on the state feminism and a reasonable amount of it’s herstory and therefore taking that information out of “cold storage” and into active use.
I have not been “single” but because of both my and my husband’s jobs, I’ve spent time alone and totally understand some of the reasons listed for not wanting to get involved with a partner, let alone married. I have always missed my husband when I or he was on travel for work, and my son since his birth as well, but I understand how great it can be to not have to worry about what they want to do today or how long it will take them to get ready or how long we can stay somewhere. One or the other of us has been gone for months and we’ve used the time to do pretty much what these single women do but without even having to worry about dating. We’ve also had our share of bad times enough to know that it takes a lot to have a good marriage and both have to be in it all the way. In other words, it’s not something to enter into lightly and I appreciate that these women are taking their time to be sure about tying their lives to someone else’s.
Because of this, I cannot properly express my appreciation of Traister’s inclusion of the facts on marriage, specifically bad marriage. It is far from a guarantee on almost everything that people tell you to get married for. In fact, if someone is telling you that you should marry, you probably shouldn’t. In my opinion, it’s a sign you aren’t ready yet. I love her sentiment that marriage is increasingly being reserved as special. It is special. It is something that you should want more than anything when you do it, much like having children. But it’s also not something that everyone should do and not something that everyone needs to want (also like kids). I don’t understand the craze over the declining birth rates but I have noticed that we’ve stopped talking about overpopulation, which was a major problem that needed solving when I was a kid. Now we’re back to encouraging women to get married and pop out babies.
Well, affluent white women. Yeah, it was also great that Traister includes the differences in the messages to women of color and poor women. Marriage is not the answer to financial stability. It can help and for some it is an answer, but financial stability is not a good reason to hitch your life and well-being to someone else. They may not deliver. You may grow to hate them. They may grow to hate you. They might leave or die. There are no guarantees in life and Traister reminds the reader of that.
Marriage is great, when it’s great. Some of us are in it good enough to even work through what we consider hard times. Others of us have to deal with various forms of abuse. It is not an answer to how to make life great because it can be awful. It can be the worst thing for you. So waiting to marry until you really want to, I have always thought was a good idea.
More than all this, painting the picture of a single woman as one who is happy with her life is an incredible and beautiful thing. Yes, being in love is great, but so is being you. We shouldn’t be painted as needing a partner to be whole or fulfilled or happy. We should be able to be happy with ourselves. I have known plenty of women who are happy on their own and with what their lives are giving them and don’t feel a family would increase this feeling. Mine does for me, but I know these same two people could make others very not happy. Between the book and personal experience, I am compelled to believe that surrounding ourselves with people who we can be ourselves and happy around is the best way to live, it just doesn’t always include legal styles of partnering like marriage.
I love the idea of celebrations of singledom. I don’t have many single friends (it just happens when you’re married or single that we migrate to separate circles) but I would happily buy one a present for some other milestone. I also find that the way we lavish expense on weddings to be extreme and unnecessary and demanding friends to partake in expensive gifts is not cool. I’ve had a big wedding and a small one and I can tell you that they require so much compromise and cause so much stress that the lavishness wasn’t worth it for me. The small wedding was better, more hectic in the preparations but relaxed during the ceremony and party and I could actually enjoy myself instead of worrying about all the tables I needed to stop by and other disasters, including that I’ve just put myself and my family in extra debt for just a day. Though, I guess it can seem okay when we expect to reciprocate eventually, but when most women get married around the same age, it can be drain on everyone around us. And then, yeah, baby showers are completely necessary still and those don’t preclude single women, though they can be drain on the wallet too. Personally, I’d rather save it for the baby shower because babies require a lot of set up costs.
Still, we should be able to celebrate singledom. We should be able to be happy for each other when someone is doing something we wouldn’t necessarily do. I don’t know what those celebrations should be, but I’m all for it. Maybe a ‘moving out on your own’ party, or something. I don’t know. Single people, let us know!
I really enjoyed this book. It did get a low at times, explaining the realities of both singledom and marriage in many of their forms both good and bad, but overall, it was an enjoyable read. It gave me hope for the future and the direction that women are going in this country. It was inclusive of many ways of being single and/or married and the evolution of some problems for both. It’s an important book to read and I’d pair it with The Feminine Mystique if you haven’t read it. Not only is it mentioned, but they work well together to further illuminate the evolution of women in this country in a way that neither does well on it’s own. Obviously, The Feminine Mystique is technically about 55 years behind the times, but you’ll cringe to see how similar the times can really be while appreciating those changes that have been made.
Progress is slow but real. It seems like a crawl and like we take two steps back for every step forward, but reading some of the older texts definitely helps me realize the changes, though subtle, that have taken place in our impressions of our own society.