Happy Singles’ Awareness Day … or … Being Jo March

Louisa May Alcottby Dora

Reading over Little Women, as I’m apt to do annually, I had an A-Haaaa moment. Marmee, in her first talk about marriage with Meg and Jo, counseled,

… better be happy old maids than unhappy wives, or unmaidenly girls, running about to find husbands … Don’t be troubled … Leave these things to time; make this home happy, so that you may be fit for homes of your own, if they are offered to you, and contented here if they are not. One thing remember, my girls: mother is always ready to be your confidante, father to be your friend; and both of us trust and hope that our daughters, whether married or single, will be the pride and comfort of our lives.

Now, I realize that feminism is not generally a prevailing tenet in children’s literature, and that “Happily Ever After” generally follows the wedding, but I like a good dose of healthy, realistic optimism.

The other month I was sitting in the chapel, listening to the chatter that precedes every sacrament meeting, despite the quiet example of the primary aged reverence monitor facing the congregation. Old friends chatting with each other. People making home and visiting teaching appointments.The murmur of babies and young children. Greeters offering salutations and programs. And suddenly I felt very alone, and very sad and lonely …

I wallowed in it for about a week. The next Sunday, as suddenly as it came, my loneliness evaporated. I realized that I’m not that unique. Looking at the faces that surrounded me, I could identify people who are dealing with illness, accidents, death, marital problems, divorce, spite and pettiness, lost jobs, and loneliness. Yes, we are here to have joy. However, it came to me in a flash thatwe all have trials and tragedies in the spaces between the joy. My insight was that I need to learn to manage both the joy and tragedy of this earthly existence.

I don’t think I’ve ever been someone’s Valentine. There are large gaps in my dating career, and none of them seem to overlap with this hugely overblown, silly holiday. I say silly, because I agree with Heather that trying to fit a year’s worth of love into one calendar day is ridiculous (http://the-exponent.com/2009/02/04/merry-valentines-day/). Of course, there have been years when I would have given my eyeteeth to have a tall, dark and handsome man provide chocolates (milk), roses (blush) and fancy dinner reservations (Japanese or Italian), but that more about wanting the appearance of love, rather than actual love. Like Jo, there were times that I broke my heart over wanting someone who didn’t want me. Also like Jo, there were times when I’ve redirected or put the brakes on relationships that weren’t meant to be.

In a recent note to a few friends, I wrote that despite my outer cynicism, I really do believe that love conquers all. Not because I’m a hopeless romantic … I’m quite pragmatic … but because I believe that as we learn to feel and express the many dimensions of love, we can conquer ourselves. When we feel and share philia, eros and agape appropriately, then we can see ourselves and others with godly eyes, that understand and love, despite the imperfections.

Unlike her semi-autobiographical heroine, Louisa May Alcott never married. When I reflect on my future, it is unsure that I will marry either. Not that I don’t want to, because I do want it. But that if I can’t do it with a firm conviction of its rightness, it’s better to do without. And yet, it was with delight that I learned that I am now the same age as when Little Women started appearing in print. I look at the lives of my single friends, and am amazed at all that we accomplish … defending the public, saving lives, creating beauty, learning, teaching, serving. Our lives may not have the inward focus of many nuclear families, but it does give us license to devote our efforts to the outer world. I’d like to make a batch of valentines and just throw them over the wall to whoever may find them. So, Happy Valentine’s Day. Today. And every day.


Dora is a pediatric critical care nurse. Therapy to alleviate the stress in her professional life include traveling around the world, reading, partner dancing and hosting dinner parties.

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13 Responses

  1. You and Jo just may become my patron saints, on Valentine’s Day and beyond. Thanks, Dora.

  2. Caroline says:

    Dora, this is beautiful! I loved every word of it.

  3. MJK says:

    I was named after two of the March sisters and my younger sister was named after the other two. You should be able to tell from my initials which two I was named after I guess, lol.
    This was a wonderful post.

  4. Deborah says:

    Wonderful. Passages like that are part of the reason I made many a trip to Alcott’s gravesite when I lived in Boston (it helped that Thoreau and Emerson also graced the same plot of land). Love Jo, Love Marme, Love Dora.

  5. Heather says:

    Thank you for being so wise and so articulate! I’m catching one of your valentines and holding it close.

  6. I have actually always wanted to be Marmie. I think she’s the perfect balance of feminism and domesticity.

  7. stacer says:


    “I realize that feminism is not generally a prevailing tenet in children’s literature”

    I beg to disagree! There’s some great books, especially modern ones, that are quite feminist. Children’s lit went through the waves of feminism along with its authors.


  8. stacer says:

    On topic, thanks for this post. I think this is a very important thing to remember when I get down–I have so much in my life to be thankful for, so much that I enjoy, and I do good in the world. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that when the pressure of being 34 and not married, and how different my life is from friends’ lives who went the married-at-20 route. But when it comes down to it, I’d rather be single (and happy) than wish I was.

  9. Dora says:

    Thank you for all the kind words! It was wonderful to reflect and write and share …

    When we were in Boston for the Exponent II Women’s retreat a couple of years ago, Jana and I were lucky enough to visit Orchard House. It was wonderful to visit the home where the Alcotts lived for a time, view the paintings on the sitting room wall, and take the few steps to the school. She, as opposed to Jo March, came alive to me then. When I later read Hospital Sketches, Alcott became one of my heroes. I still think of her as a peppery writer, abolitionist and ardent feminist. I wonder if, in a hundred years’ time, people will make pilgrimages to visit the homes of the authors who write for young people today. Stacer, if you have any recommendations to share, I’d love to read them!

  10. stacer says:

    Dora, I can’t remember if you’re into fantasy or not, but the Song of the Lioness quartet (the Alana series) by Tamora Pierce is a very cool 2nd wave book about a girl who becomes a knight. It’s one of the first books about “girls who kick butt” as Tamora puts it.

    Anything by Robin McKinley, but especially The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown are great 80s fantasy about a strong heroine. Also rather 2nd-wave feminist. Now I want to go back and read them again. Harry (the main girl character) is a tomboy in her very Victorian-esque culture, but when she finds she has an affinity for the desert people of the country she travels to (that is very India-like), she finds her place as a woman warrior. I can’t remember which book is Harry’s and which her ancestor’s. I think The Blue Sword is Harry. The other one is about a princess who decides she wants to fight dragons on horseback and goes against her family’s wishes to do so, devising her own anti-dragon-flame salve for her and her horse, etc. She goes on to become the revered hero of her people.

    Today, there’s Shannon Hale’s books (she says she likes to write about “sassy” girls–her girls are smart and even in trying circumstances figure things out for themselves), anything by Laurie Halse Anderson (especially Speak and Fever 1793), oh, I could go on and on. I don’t think I’ve done a YA fantasy booklist, but I have done a middle grade one which covers the gamut of everything that’s out there (not just feminist books). Of those I’d *really* recommend The Folk Keeper by Frannie Billingsley (girl pretends to be a boy and is taken on as a servant, magical mystery ensues), Babymouse by Jennifer L. Holm & Matthew Holm, *definitely* Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale, The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Pope, *definitely* The Sisters Grimm series by Michael Buckley, and Red Dragon Codex by R.D. Henham (which I’m biased about, because I edited it).

    And then there’s the historical fiction and nonfiction lists, which are not as fleshed out. Note the suggestions in comments, too, if you get around to needing an even huger long list of book recommendations. 😀

  11. Libby says:

    So glad you got a chance to visit Orchard House, Dora…you’re welcome to stay with us any time you need to see it again!

    My favorite feminist kid-lit book (and first-wave feminist at that): The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes.

  12. Sarita says:

    Really nice work! I loved the quote from Little Women. It reminds me of something I heard from John Bytheway, which I’m struggling to paraphrase but that if you’re not happily married better to be happily single, and if your unhappily single, better that, than unhappily married. (he words it much better)
    It’s also comforting to hear someone else having the loneliness blues at church as that very much is my struggle weekly. I find that as I think more about others and how I can serve and uplift that I don’t have time to feed the self pity that whelms inside me. I wish I didn’t have the feelings self pity for being single and feeling alone and wishing I had a family of my own. These feelings seem to quickly evolve to bitterness and envy, emotions that eat away at the soul and poison the joy that could otherwise be felt in the face of so much I have to be grateful for.
    So thank you for relating so beautifully your thoughts.

  13. Diane says:

    I know this is an old post, but, it struck me odd that you don’t consider this book to be about feminism, precisely because this is a book that made the list to read a banned book because of all things it taught feminist philosophy and that women could stand up for themselves.

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