I recently stumbled across this excellent Mental Floss post, a collection of tips from then-editor of Vogue, Marjorie Hill, for being single in the 1930s. Some of my favourites:
1. Take Care of Yourself.
“You have got to decide what kind of a life you want and then make it for yourself. You may think that you must do that anyway, but husbands and families modify the need considerably,” Hill explains.
Mental Floss adds: “Go out and buy that toolbox and step ladder now. You’ll need it.”
The spunk and grit of this rule appeals to me. If you want something to happen, make it happen. We women are not helpless without men. I may have to call my landlord to move in my new refrigerator, of course, but I can unclog my drains and open jars on my own!
4. Host Parties.
Mental Floss writes, “in the ‘30s, social mores dictated that if you got invited out, you needed to return the invitation, or people would stop hosting you. While we no longer practice precise tit-for-tat party hosting, it’s true that the easiest way to get yourself to a party is to throw one.”
I’d add that not only does throwing parties spice up your social life, it also makes your house more homey. As a single woman, I’ve learned that unless I’m careful, it’s easy for my apartment to become my fortress: a place where I retreat after work, shutting out the world. That’s not a home.
A home is (partly) defined as a place where we show hospitality, and married people need not have a monopoly on this. I do what I can to invite people in: bringing friends over for lunch or supper, or crowding a few students onto my tiny couch for a movie night.
7. Make Your Bed Luxurious.
“Hill,” Mental Floss writes, “was a big fan of the “treat yourself” lifestyle, encouraging women to buy fashionable clothes (even if no one was home to see), fresh flowers, and stylish furniture, even if most of it came from the thrift store. And she was a really, really big fan of getting all dolled up and going straight back to bed.”
The idea that single people should “treat themselves” to the fine things in life goes along with the final tip listed in the Mental Floss article:
9. Eat Well.
I love the way these final two tips celebrate beauty: gorgeous flowers, delicious food, comfortable bedding. The way our society is set up to privilege marriage, it’s easy to put the finer things in love off until marriage: No fancy ring until the engagement, no fine china until the wedding registry, an old T-shirt instead of a fancy nightie, and cereal for supper since nobody is there to enjoy good cooking.
But the truth is, this way of living is boring. We were made to enjoy beauty, and so why wait until marriage to enjoy lovely rings and yummy suppers?
A friend of mine is making plans to purchase a fancy ring for herself to celebrate a life milestone, perhaps her PhD graduation. Another friend purchased fancy nighties for herself long before she married her husband, simply because they helped her feel more feminine. I cook, if not elaborate meals, at least thoughtful and delicious ones, because I like good food.
Ultimately, I think these final two tips get at what I love about the Mental Floss list: living successfully as a single is about being proactive, and making for ourselves the kind of life we want.
We tend to picture the ideal life as involving a significant other. When you’re married, then you take exciting vacations (a honeymoon!) and buy gorgeous new furniture. When you’re married, you have someone to help you meet new people. When you’re married, you have someone to raise children with, someone to build a family with and find the true meaning of life. But if you’re single, get used to spending Friday nights alone with six cats.
As single women, it’s important to remember that these pictures are just stereotypes. If there’s something you want, go get it. Don’t wait for a husband. I take myself on dates to the ice cream shop or to the movies, because if I waited for a man (or even a friend!) to take me, I’d be waiting a long time. I haven’t been on a honeymoon, but I’ve been on several pretty cool vacations because I’m willing to go alone. I was traveling through the Southwest this summer and met a guy with the same philosophy, taking a ten-day road trip from L.A. through Arizona and New Mexico, up to North Dakota, and home again, on his own because he was done waiting for his friends to get on board.
Contentment doesn’t mean that we accept a colorless life without a fight. Contentment means that we make the most of the life we have, enjoying the things that God has given us to enjoy.
And importantly, being proactive in our singleness applies to our spiritual life as well. In the church, we tend to pinpoint marriage as the start of real fruitfulness: That’s when we women can fulfill our God-given nurturing qualities, we’re told, and that’s when we can start building a family to change the world for Christ.
But this is not true. We are complete in Christ, equally capable of living an abundant and fruitful spiritual life. I may not have a husband to whom I am committed, but I can show commitment to my relationships at church and in my friendships. I may not have the responsibilities of marriage to make me disciplined, but I have the responsibility of a quiet house to make me disciplined instead. I may not have biological children, but I can nurture my fellow believers, my neighbours, and my students.
The point is, there’s a widespread assumption that life, whether ordinary or spiritual, starts with marriage. It doesn’t. Life has already started, and we singles need to live it with gusto.