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Mixed Fruit, or the Unmarried Conglomerate (Donna Ward Interview, Part 3) June 22, 2021

Posted by Onely in book review, childfree/childless, Guest Posts.
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Welcome to the latest installment in our series, Onelers Of The World. This is the third part of my interview with Australian author Donna Ward, who elaborates on aspects of her beautiful memoir She I Dare Not Name: A spinster’s meditations on lifeHere are the first and second parts of the interview. The third part, below, talks about the Unmarried Conglomerate, the term Donna coined to refer to the diverse group of people lumped together simply because of what they are not: married. There’s also a bonus vocab section!  (I am the one who bolded some of the sentences in Donna’s answers.)

Christina: In your book, you raise an interesting issue, one that is not discussed much in singles advocacy:  By splitting society sharply into Married or Not-Married, we create a false sense that all unmarried people are alike, with the same feelings and needs:  

Assuming spinsters and bachelors live the same lives as the conglomerate commonly referred to as single renders memoirs and social research on the subject impotent witnesses of less-daunting single lives. It conceals the social, personal, and political implications of living a life mostly, or completely, without a partner and children.” (10)  

After you had this realization, you visited the U.S. Census website. Can you tell us why, what you found there, and how it made you feel?  

Donna:   Ha! Well, I guess it was one of a series of events that made me write the book. Way back, twenty years or so ago, when I began writing this book, I did a lot of reading about the research on the health, wellbeing, and you guessed it, happiness of non-married versus married people. I visited the U.S. Census website and discovered the American government was, can I say, worse at collecting data on singles than our Australian Bureau of Statistics. I did Research Methods 101 at university, and the first thing you learn is to compare apples with apples, not apples with pears, or oranges, or apples with a bag of mixed fruit. But that’s just what our official statisticians were doing. I smelt a rat, and the rat’s name was prejudice. Both our countries, and probably every country in the world, could not see that the statistical group, not married, was a bag of mixed fruit. As you know from the book, I got scared about the prejudice unravelling before my eyes. The unwitting, unexamined, basic research flaw that statisticians overlooked when it came to measuring the happiness automatically implied with getting married. I didn’t want to know that I was the subject of such a benign stigma. And there was a group of fierce feminists that also frightened the bejesus out of me. So, I bound my nascent manuscript in brown paper and put it in a box in a dark corner of my cupboard.

In 2016, the US Census Bureau announced, in horrified tones, that 110.6 million Americans were living alone. Of course I wondered if they’d progressed their data collection methods. After all, we have done so in Australia, and I believe are becoming more refined on this as I speak. But, when I returned to US Census site, everything was exactly the same. That 110.6 million Americans living alone are still a bag of mixed fruit—spinsters and enduring bachelors, people who are not-yet-married, committed people living apart, divorcees, single parents, widows and widowers. Things had not changed at all. Despite the National Singles Week changing its name to National Unmarried and Single Americans Week, to acknowledge everyone who doesn’t identify as single because they are parents, or widowed. How did it make me feel? Well, I realized how important it is to use the word, spinster, to differentiate my single life from all the rest in that bag of fruit. And it made me feel like writing the book.  


Christina: You use the term “bunny boiler” a couple times. I had never heard this phrase prior to reading your book, and then days later I noticed it in an Irish mystery novel. Is this a British-English term? I believe it might come from the American film Fatal Attraction where Glen Close, the psychotic single woman ditched by her married lover, boils the lover’s daughter’s pet rabbit. And yet I’ve never heard it in American English. Thoughts?  

Donna: Oh, gosh, I’m surprised. I had no idea the phrase had origins earlier than Fatal Attraction. The phrase and its meaning shuddered through the Australian soul because of that movie, and remains very common parlance here.  

Christina: To clarify, I think the Irish novel I read was set in the post-Fatal-Attraction era, so that movie may have been the impetus for the term bunny-boiler.  Unless the moviemakers were clever and put in that scene because the term was already in the parlance. But I doubt it. Anyway, this is an excuse to end with another quote from She I Dare Not Name

No! I do not want your husband, your wife, your partner or your lover. Yes! I am capable of love, though I don’t have a pet, a partner, a child. If I spend an afternoon with a man it does not mean anything. I am looking for love, but not desperately. I am not a bunny boiler.


Photo credit: Manda Ford


1. Kathleen Quigley - June 25, 2021

So interesting. I used to foreclose on homes. Some of the old mortgages used the term spinster if an unmarried woman was buying a home. So judgey.

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