Geller argues that using the term ‘single’ to describe ourselves implies always a dichotomy with married. Single is never complete. Thus she is looking for a better term.
I think there are many terms that would better serve us [than using the term ‘single’]. In her excellent book, Beyond Straight and Gay Marriage, Nancy D. Polikoff suggests a few different phrases: “valuing all families;” “intra-dependent.” In my book I suggest reviving the term “spinster,” which in England, before the onset of the modern marriage mystique, just meant a financially independent woman who supported herself by spinning – by manufacturing textiles.
Because spinster has such a negative association nowadays, Geller suggests using “spinster by choice.” I have toyed with that idea – I actually like the word “spinster” itself and now knowing a little more history makes it more attractive. It also reminds of the redefinition of the word “queer.”
It’s important to realize that matrimony is a fluid, ever-changing institution. It’s not “natural” or “timeless,” in the sense that it has an origin. If we’ve been around as modern human beings for, let’s say 150,000 years, then marriage is actually a pretty recent phenomenon, dating from about 4,000 B.C.E. It emerges in the ancient near east, as part of a state-sanctioned system of male dominance.
Marriage is (relatively) modern and certainly patriarchal.
Now, one thing ancient, medieval, and Renaissance marriage was not is romantic. The belief that eroticism can by institutionalized is a modern one. Historians argue fiercely about when the transition from pragmatic to “affective” — personal – marriage, took place in Europe. It’s been placed anywhere from the fourteenth to the eighteenth century.
And certainly the idea of a romantic marriage is very new. That’s also the conclusion that Stephanie Coontz draws from the history of marriage: Marriage used to be between “yoke mates.” Only recently it started to be between “soul mates.”
And here’s part 2, which I haven’t read yet.