When Lee Reilly tried to get her book Women Living Single published several years ago, the agent told her to forget it–a book about single women and the choices they’d made would never sell. “He basically told me it was a stupid idea,” she says. “He said that women really want to find out how to find a man and that a book like this was just depressing.”
A freelance writer, Reilly was interviewing Backlash author Susan Faludi a short time later and mentioned the incident to her. “She said that it was ridiculous, that the agent’s reaction was backlash.” So Reilly tried to sell the book again. After more rejections than she could count, it was finally sold to London-based Faber and Faber and released in June.
The idea for the book came from Reilly’s own experiences as a single woman. “I had a terrible time in my early 30s. It was the time the Newsweek article [about single women, terrorists, and marriage] came out, in 1986, and that had a terrible impact on me,” she says. “I was trying to place myself in the world, and when I went to the bookshelves, there was nothing there except basic sociology and psychology books. I just wanted a book that would help me find my identity as a heterosexual single woman. I wanted to look forward and know what’s going to happen. Was it going to be as awful as everyone thought?”
Through extensive interviews with single heterosexual women from all different backgrounds and ranging in age from 28 to 76, Reilly found that, though open to marriage, most women were happy with their single status. “When you look at the surveys taken over the last ten years, women will tell you that they want a fulfilling life–that’s what’s most important to them–and that marriage is just one of many ways to do that. But they don’t place marriage above personal fulfillment.” To back up her findings, Reilly talked to experts, read sociology and psychology books and studies, and watched “spinster” films such as All About Eve and Woman of the Year. Her research showed that as unmarried women get older–whether they’re separated, widowed, divorced, or ever single–the women who have never been married are the happiest and the least lonely. They also tend to be the most financially secure.
Some of the younger women Reilly interviewed were not happy with their status until they examined it from another viewpoint. “They felt like they’d never had a choice. They felt powerless,” she says. “[But] every single one had had some kind of choice. One wouldn’t marry outside of her religion, and many had chosen to look for men who would be equal partners. They actually had a lot of power in their lives. What they did was follow their values. As I listened to their stories, they saw that they had made all of these choices, and that they’d make those same choices again.”
Reilly will discuss and sign copies of her book Thursday at 7:30 at Women & Children First, 5233 N. Clark. Call 769-9299.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo of Lee Reilly by Nathan Mandell.