The following is an excerpt from Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own, which details Kate Bolick’s decision not to marry.
Only now are we beginning to understand how profoundly the decoupling of sex from marriage has shaped modern courtship and the family.
By the time I entered the fray, what seemed more immediately pressing was the decoupling of sex from emotion. Granted, my proclivities skewed my findings. At last, I was sustaining a life more wild, and less bounded, than the one I’d known again and again through serial monogamy, but — paradoxically — in my quest to not be “tied down,” rather than open the door to all comers, I’d unconsciously altered my very chemistry: where once I’d gone for emotionally available men, I was now irresistibly drawn to the noncommittal, who had no interest in making me their girlfriend.
With them I felt bracingly invisible, objectified, absent, as if I could be anyone I wanted, no matter that my reinventions were almost comically modest and legible only to myself; for someone like me, who’d always remained within her fixed identity, the smallest alteration was an adventure. The type of man who (unsuspectingly) helped make this happen certainly wasn’t in short supply, and they seemed to pride themselves on this quality, as if evasiveness were evidence of manliness.
What bothered me was the assumption that because I was a woman in her early thirties, I must be “desperate” for marriage. At first this seemed only irritating; every romantic encounter arrived in the same cumbersome frame I had to repeatedly dismantle. But after a while, the fixedness of this belief felt not merely claustrophobic and repetitive but downright pernicious. Figuring out how you feel about another person is a notoriously complicated business. The ubiquity of received attitudes about what men and women did and did not want seemed to relieve everyone of the responsibility to actually examine their desires, leading to some pretty bizarre behavior.
One stifling August, a man I’d been only casually involved with — we hadn’t even had sex — asked me to meet him for a drink. He was a good-looking lawyer with a dry wit, and we had an odd, sweet relationship; every so often he’d take me out for a romantic dinner, hold my hand as he walked me home, kiss me good-bye at my doorstep, and more often than not, not come in. We obviously enjoyed our time together, but something fundamental was missing.
On this particular evening he surprised me with a most Victorian proposal: if I married him, he could offer me the financial stability I’d obviously never find as a writer, along with a brownstone in the West Village and a country house in Connecticut. He hadn’t bought them yet, he explained; we could choose them together.
We were sitting at a little round café table that wobbled when I set down my drink. I was speechless. Where had this come from? Clearly I liked him, but what had made him think we had a future together?
Having no idea how to respond, I said, weakly, that I’d think about it and get back to him.
I relay this anecdote not to convince you of my desirability, or even to point to the obvious fact that, contrary to popular belief, plenty of men are looking for committed relationships, but to show how the script’s omnipresence convinces otherwise very intelligent, sensitive people to ignore their own complexity.
Obviously this man wasn’t in love with me, but regarded me primarily as an idea, even a solution — providing me with a fascinating glimpse into the funhouse mirror of my generation’s gender politics. When men complained that women were looking only for commitment or marriage, I now understood what it was like to be sitting across from someone who considered me interchangeable with anyone else willing to fulfill the job description.
Copyright © 2015 by Kate Bolick. From SPINSTER: Making a Life of One’s Own, published by Crown Publishers, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC, New York. Reprinted with permission.