“You know what you are?” she asked, and I braced myself. My car has been the setting for countless conversations about my household of one. When I first drove it home 10 years ago, my sister-in-law announced I’d have to sell it as soon as I got married. Another friend noted the lack of a back seat and suggested I get a different car. And a second nightstand, while I’m at it. I should make more room in my life, she said. For the things I’d like to fill it.
“There’s an empty seat right next to me,” I said. “Half of my queen-size bed.” She was silent after that.
“You’re a bachelor,” Theo said. I laughed, knowing exactly what she meant — there is no word in the English language to describe a woman in her 40s who enjoys being single. According to the stereotype, we’re all crying into our oversized, food-stained sweaters, sobs of despair echoing through our apartments as if we’ve just been told we have 10 days to live. That, or we’re cast as asexual, gray-faced zombies in prim floral blouses, slogging through the motions of life. Spinsterhood personified, images as foul and pejorative as the word itself. No one, with the exception of author Kate Bolick (whose singlehood may be better defined as serial monogamy) wants to claim, or reclaim, that word.
Even Neith Boyce — one of Bolick’s inspirations — who wrote Vogue’s “Bachelor Girl” column in the 1890s, avoided that semantic trap. She’d never be an old maid she said, referring to her then-rebellious moniker. (She was right; she married at 27, had four kids and lived on her husband’s income.)
Still, even Boyce knew then what I’ve known forever. A bachelor’s independence is admirable. His lifestyle is never described — like one interviewer called mine — as “isolationist.” He is desired and desirable. Graceful, glamorous and unpredictable. Successful, elusive and smart. A bachelor’s wardrobe is always on point, his apartment is beautifully furnished. A bachelor does not wring his hands, overanalyze his romantic communications, or binge-eat his low self-esteem. A bachelor can be a bachelor at any age.
A bachelorette, on the other hand, is in her 20s. She’s defined by cocktail dresses, smeared eyeliner and late-morning walks of shame, hair-pulling catfights and possibly a short-lived bisexual phase, carefully curated to entice the porn-fed hordes of men who will soon vie for the chance to buy her a ring large enough to prove — once and for all — that they are totally over those “crazy” women they dated before. Because underneath all the rhinestones and Spanx, the vodka-fueled girl-on-girl, the bachelorette is a straight woman — and what she really wants is a Costco membership, a monthly yoga pass, and children smart enough to avoid gluten and remember their sunscreen. She wants a house with a yard in a good neighborhood. A stain remover that works on tough stains.
Both are caricatures, obviously. Tired tropes to stand in for the complicated experience of being single — a situation I know well. Singlehood can be lonely and difficult to manage at times; but then again, isn’t partnership? Love, the way I see it, means giving someone the power to ruin your life. The best partners won’t take advantage of that leverage, but we all know there’s no guarantee. And I’m one of the lucky ones; I have a choice.
Choice is the reason I protect my singlehood so fiercely. Sure, sometimes I’m afraid I don’t know who I’d be in a couple. I’m wary of giving anyone that kind of power to ruin me, and I’ve not met anyone who feels worth the risk. But more than that, I’ve had the privilege of choosing a life for myself. That’s a thing few women before my generation were allowed, given legislation, economics and cultural roadblocks. Choice is a thing too few women, even now, for that same list of reasons, enjoy. I know how rare it is. How precious, to have control, as much as anyone can, over my life.
Bachelorhood is not about fear — of either love or commitment. It’s about holding out hope. That tomorrow, or next week, or five minutes from now, I’ll find a love that doesn’t feel like self-destruction. I imagine one day — in the tradition of Warren Beatty, George Clooney and every other famously fallen bachelor — I’ll meet someone who makes me want to eat at home and make an extra set of keys. Until then, I’ll gladly remain a party of one.