May 24, 2019

The Not So Lonely Life of a Single Person

“To love is no easy task. An abundance of literature and pop culture warns us of its trickiness, and often, personal experience emphasizes the point. We love, when people are disagreeable and obnoxious; when our feelings are unrequited; and when our affections are diminished, or worse, scorned as criminal. We love, when doing so drags us to the very edges of ourselves, leaving us ragged and wrung out like old cloth. Loving is hard, and perhaps what makes it hardest is its fundamental paradox: that it is also easy, so easy that we struggle to stop, even when we are desperate to do so, and even when it’s in our best interest.

Throughout the course of her debut essay collection, Hard to Love, Briallen Hopper contemplates this thorny and capacious emotion from the position of someone whose love life defies traditional conceptions of the term: It is nourishing, brimming, but wholly untethered to sexual romance. These essays trace the specifically knotted, yet exuberant experience of living in the world as a single woman, whose intellectual passions both brought her into the fold of the Ivy League and then, for years, entangled her within academia’s particular variety of elite financial and professional precarity. She proudly wears the mantle of “spinster”—“It’s the spinsters who made me,” she proclaims—and ushers us, sometimes dreamily, other times with searing attention, into a personal narrative about her life amid a mutually supportive “found family” and intimate friends.

Although Hard to Love covers diverse territory, Hopper’s primary concern is to understand what it means to be a single woman who has built a life, predominantly, through close friendships with other women. Her history and milieu, we learn, is deeply feminine: She was raised among five siblings, four of them sisters, collectively the “formerly homeschooled children of religious hippies.” Although Hopper lovingly sustains these familial bonds, she moves from the Pacific Northwest, where she was raised, to the East Coast, in search of some distance from her snug but fraught home. After breaking up with her graduate school boyfriend, she stopped actively dating and began to seek out other possibilities for mutual care.”

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