“No one can love you until you learn to love yourself.”
Emma and I were comparing notes, of terrible things said to us by terrible therapists, but this one was a howler. “She must have read it off of a bumper sticker before she came into the office that day.”
“The only people I know who love themselves are narcissists and members of yoga cults. But it’s true, they always seem to be in relationships.”
When you’re long term single, people say horrible things to you to explain to you why this may be. This happens because they are trying to convince themselves that there is something wrong with you, that is not wrong with them, and they would never have to worry about spending eight years, nine years, ten years, on their own.
All hail the spinsters of literature, of W Somerset Maugham novels, of Henry James novels, of Barbara Pym novels. All hail the spinster Henry James. All hail the writers who understood that spinsterhood is not something to pity, it is, if done well, a spectacular life.
Fie on Jane Austen’s neat little weddings that solve everything, fie on Happily Ever After.
To me, the Nine of Cups is the spinster card. Not spinster in the way of Miss Havisham, twisted physically and psychically by betrayal and loneliness. Spinster by way of Coco Chanel. Spinster as in control of her shit.
Men can be spinsters, too. Bachelor always seemed like the pejorative word to me. It suggests prolonged adolescence, a man constantly needing to take his willy out to receive outside confirmation that yes, it is so very impressive, yes it works, let’s just get on with it already. But spinster, that has a dignity to it.
Here on this card we have a spinster, man or woman, surrounded by bountiful, overflowing cups. There is a sense of satisfaction, there is a sense of yes to all of it. And yet our spinster is alone. Alone, surrounded by all of these cups, no one to share the bounty with.
Does that image make us sad? Lonesome? Proud? Smug? What is your reaction to a man or woman sitting all alone, the rewards of hard labor surrounding them? This isn’t coins, it’s not a big stack of money that they are sitting on. We’re here in the Cups, sitting around stewing in our emotions. If it were Coins, the image would be one of hoarding. It would be gross. But because it’s Cups, it’s emotional stability, and the ability to enjoy one’s own company. It is a quiet sense of pride and truly knowing, without outside confirmation, that you have done something well. That is a harder thing to accomplish than sitting around surrounded by our material goods. Most of us have to be dragged into the Nine of Cups state kicking and screaming.
Which is why, maybe, we still see that solitary figure and think failure. There must be something really wrong with that person that no one wants to stand by them.
Oh, the men I have loved who could not love themselves.
Oh, the hateful, selfish, destructive behavior of people who claim they love themselves.
And oh, all the long nights spent castigating myself for falling short, all the nights I tore myself to pieces for missing perfection, and all the love I have received in my life anyway.
I was reading one of these dreadful melodramas. It was a ripping read, but I was definitely putting it under my couch cushion when people came over, so they wouldn’t see it.
I was supposed to see the woman as a victim, that much was clear. Unable to make her own money, this was pre-WWI, she decided to marry a man who loved her but who she did not love. He was fucking loaded, though. He became obsessive, trying to win her love with all of the wrong moves, and then demanding, and then rageful when he discovered she had a lover. I was supposed to think, poor woman. Instead I thought, what a dreadful tart.
Using someone’s affections against them, to secure yourself into a relationship, simply because you are afraid of being alone, is an act of abuse. Everyone deserves, at the very least, a shot at finding someone who loves them back. And to steal away that possibility, to close off their entryway when you know you can’t provide it yourself, is cruelty.
And despite our new ability to go out and support ourselves, women still do this. Despite men being in charge of the world, or so it would seem, they do it, too. Strip away the excuses and rationalizations, the act is still at the bottom this: I don’t mind ripping up both of our futures as long as I don’t have to ponder uncertainty in mine.
When I was 27, tired of waiting for men who said they were going to take me to Ireland but never made the time to go, I took myself to Ireland. It was November, off season, when I wandered into Kinsale. Many of the restaurants had closed, but one had not. I was two weeks into my trip, and this was the first time I felt up to dining alone.
I had eaten alone, sure. Take out from restaurants, or sandwiches at cafes. But to sit in a nice restaurant, to endure multiple courses with the chair opposite me remaining empty, I had not yet found the strength. But now here I was.
I remember the clams, the wine. I remember the book I stared down into, sure that everyone was looking over at me in pity. But most of what I remember were the black walnuts on the cheese plate. They were extraordinary, as if I had never truly eaten a walnut before. Rich and bitter. I had that impulse to share the information, that “try these,” that sharing of the experience. But there was no one else there. I had to learn, in that moment, to enjoy the walnuts only for myself. I felt that Nine of Cups feeling, of satisfaction and wholeness. It turned my loneliness into solitude. But it also made me want to cry a little.
Coco Chanel, at the end of her life, expressed regret that she never married, and yet it seemed that for most of her life she worked hard to avoid marriage. It may have been simply a wistful, I wonder what it would have been like moment. A married Coco Chanel. I can’t even imagine.
The trick to being a good spinster, and even married people can do this, is to be present. Not to fiddle with the future, trying to scheme and plan so that you will end up with the tidiest of outcomes. Not to muddle with the past, to drag out old hurts and insecurities and vulnerabilities. And not to always be looking from side to side, looking for someone to share our burdens. And yes, sometimes joy, if it does not come to us dressed in the right suit, can feel like a burden.
Something is presented. You accept. You stay there, accepting and incorporating. You don’t look to someone else to say, oh, how special are you? You don’t immediately break it in half and take it to someone else. You accept it as it is presented. That is the yes of the Nine of Cups. And that is the yes of the spinster.
Jessa Crispin is the editor and founder of Bookslut.com and Spoliamag.com. She reads tarot cards specifically for writers and artists, meant to unearth creativity and remove blocks. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Additional info is here.
Jen May is a Scorpio and artist living in Brooklyn, NY with 3 cats. She keeps a tumblr updated regularly with horoscope images and everything else.