Never being two.
Re-arrange the furniture,
There's nothing else to do.
Keep an empty house.
Watch your brothers wed.
Dream an empty dream at night
Upon an empty bed.
Old maid! Old maid!
When a female character reaches a certain vaguely-defined age threshold (anywhere from 25-40, depending on whom you ask), she will eventually be subjected to the most terrible of insults: "Old Maid". The underlying assumption is, of course, that a woman's value exists only in how successfully she serves and pleases her husband and family, so a woman who is unable to snag a husband is a pathetic worthless failure at life who deserves contempt and ridicule, particularly in older stories from times where traditional gender roles were more strongly enforced. A woman doesn't even have to be called an old maid outright to be threatened; even the hint that someday she might become an old maid — usually because she's not acting in a sufficiently conformist way — is enough to make her either conform or fall into despair.
The insult is still used today, but mostly as a generic inflammatory comment towards women that the speaker doesn't like. Reference will often be made to cats, homely appearance, unlikable demeanor, loneliness, and uselessness. Nosy parents who are wanting for grandkids or are worried about their child's happiness are a rife source of this, as well.
While not invariable, the reasons for their never marrying may bring them more or less sympathy. Never marrying after the intended bridegroom of an Arranged Marriage died may be regarded as honorable; if it was a love match, it may be regarded as romantic. This can apply also if the man had to marry for reasons of honor — or state. Having your heart broken by a cad, or quarreling with a sweetheart, may also be romantic, and makes the character less pathetic than an old maid who never managed to attract anyone — but the Proud Beauty who rejected a whole slew of offers only to find her beauty faded and herself unable to attract a man may be regarded as suffering Laser-Guided Karma.
The relatively rare romance is usually DecemberDecember Romance. The commonest plot is New Old Flame for an old maid who quarreled with her love. A Second Love is possibly for a woman whose true love is deceased. Old Flame Fizzle is rare but not unknown. This is sometimes reinforced with tropes like Men Get Old, Women Get Replaced, with women leaving the main story after they grow old or start families.
- Christmas Cake: Japanese consider 25 to be a defined moment in which women become "Old" Maids. (Note this may not be Truth in Television, but the term is strictly defined and commonly used in the culture.)
- Maiden Aunt: Old Maids who have remained unmarried and (theoretically) virginal into their twilight years, transferring their resources and familial affection to their siblings' children.
All other examples should be listed here. Male counterparts to this would be the result of Loners Are Freaks and You Need to Get Laid. Compare and contrast White-Dwarf Starlet. But dont confuse with an actual domestic servant of advanced age or experience.
- My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom!
- Katarina's personal maid Anne is in her early 20s and approaching the point where women find it difficult to marry. Katarina and her father, Duke Claes, are both worried about her not being able to get married, so when Anne's father comes with a marriage partner the duke is relieved. However, Katarina can't bear to part from her maid and close friend and begs her not to go, leaving Anne to call it off. However, Anne is secretly relieved because even apart from her proposed fiancee being a creep, she doesn't like her own father and didn't want to get married in the first place. She's much happier serving Katarina and truly adores her, so becoming an old maid isn't just okay, it's actually what she wants. If she doesn't marry she can stay with Katarina forever.
- The head maid is a straighter example. She wasn't as pretty or outgoing as her sisters, so she focused on her career instead. When she got promoted to head maid she focused even harder to show she deserved the job. Before she knew it, she had become the strict no-fun boss that nobody really likes even though she's actually quite a kind person and has lots of girly hobbies like making sweets. Katarina helps her open up a little and, unlike Anne, she was rather lonely and is surprised to find a young gardener courting her not long after.
- Not as Planned is about a girl from our modern world who falls into The Lord of the Rings, but has no chance to marry famous characters like Legolas or Aragorn. When the girl is twenty, she is already an old maid. To escape this label, she enters a loveless marriage.
- In Supergirl fanfic Hellsister Trilogy, it's brought up by Mrs. Berkowitz, who is worried her twenty-year-old tenant Linda Danvers is clinging to a guy she just met because she's afraid of becoming an old maid.
"I see a nice woman like you. 29 and you ain't never been with a man. Am I right?"
"That's right," nodded Linda. "Not... before Dev, that is."
"So you know this man? How?"
Linda drew a breath. "I know this man very well, Mrs. B. A lot more than you'd believe?"
"Oh? You do? How, Linda?" She held up her hands again to stop Linda's reply. "Listen to me. Yesterday you go to Mr. Clark Kent's wedding, the nice man whom you met in Metropolis when you was in the orphanage. You were excited, sure, but not like you are today. I even think you were a little sad. Now, today, you're up in the air, your feet don't touch the ground unless they're anchored. You say you met him after the wedding."
"That's correct," Linda said.
"In other words, this gentleman sweeps you off your feet just after you see two people get married, and you're maybe thinking that you're never going to go to your own wedding in your lifetime. Also correct?"
Linda opened her mouth. No words came out.
Ida Berkowitz looked at Linda with some pity.
- In The Eternity Effect (a sequel to Not Completely, Altogether Here), which takes place roughly in the late 1800s, Pfannee is 26 and already considers herself to be too old to be unmarried. She says that she's lucky if a man even looked at her as a marriage prospect.
- Master and Student In this Mob Psycho 100 gender swap Reigen(female) is constantly reminded of her Christmas cake status. Even Mob's mother talks about it, giving Mob (female) the unhealthy idea that she needs a boyfriend right now because she needs to be married by the time she's twenty five.
- Airplane! is an American film but has a character bemoaning the fact she is twenty-six and still not married.
- An Autumn Afternoon: The fear of Michiko becoming one drives Shuhei's desire to find her a husband, and thus most of the movie's plot.
- Becoming Jane:
- Jane Austen falls in love with Tom Lefroy and they plan to elope,but Jane breaks if off and she remains single. We see her as a woman approaching a middle age unmarried, but she appears satisfied with her lot in life. She's an admired writer.
- Cassandra Austen gets engaged early in the movie, but her fiancée dies. Like her sister Jane, she never marries.
- In Darby O'Gill and the Little People Katie gets warnings about becoming one of these if she doesn't settle down soon.
- Katherine Hepburn fit this trope in at least three different leading roles: The African Queen, Summertime and The Rainmaker.
- The Heiress plays with this trope and ends up being one of the few works to portray it positively; the main character never marries her Gold Digger love interest or anyone, and is shown to embrace spinsterhood and be confident in herself in a way she never was when she had to worry about the prospects of marriage.
- A notable example in It's a Wonderful Life: when George wishes he never existed, he discovers, to his horror, that his wife is (gasp) an old maid.
- Toula of My Big Fat Greek Wedding is only 30, but her parents seem to think she needs to get married right away.
- The title character in the 1930s film The Old Maid.
- In Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, Marion is motivated to set the film's action in motion that is, steal $40,000, and run off with it in order to pay off her boyfriend's debts so he can marry her in part because she is over 35, and desperate to get married. The film was released in 1960, and audiences believed this character motivation. When Gus Van Sant remade the film shot-for-shot in 1998, with a younger Anne Heche as Marion, the motive vanishes. Aside from the age of the character, an audience in 1998 was not inclined to believe a woman would commit a felony to avoid being an old maid.
- In Robin Hood (2010), it is mentioned that Lady Marion didn't marry until her early thirties, and was already established as an old maid by that time.
- In the card game, the point is to avoid being stuck with the Old Maid card, the only unmatched one in the deck.
- Jane Austen:
- Charlotte of Pride and Prejudice. This concern only really shows up when Elizabeth objects to Charlotte marrying Mr. Collins under the assumption she's doing it to help Elizabeth's family. Charlotte tells Elizabeth point blank that she [Charlotte] is a 27-year-old single woman with no prospects and no familythe fact that the marriage also helps solve a problem of the Bennetts is only an added incentive.
- Sense and Sensibility:
- Elinor is only 19, but based upon easy-going remarks from acquaintances (that aren't meant to be cruel but still hurt Elinor), a few people think she should marry soon. For the 1995 film adaptation, Elinor was aged up from 19 to 27, because Ang Lee, the director, thought that a 19-year-old worrying about spinsterhood would strain the modern audience's credulity.
- The trope is alluded to by Marianne, who notes that a woman of 27 would be lucky to marry the 35-year-old Colonel Brandon since she's past the age at which she could properly feel anything anyway.
- Miss Bates never married, and there's no indication that there was ever anyone she might have married. Her ordeal is quite hard, because she comes from a respectable genteel family, but after her father's death the family lost their chief source of important income and they are poor. She takes care of her elderly mother and she adores her niece Jane who is an orphan.
- Discussed when Emma talks about her intention of never getting married. Harriet thinks it is a dreadful thing to be an old maid like Miss Bates, but Emma argues that a rich single woman of consequence can command as much respect as anybody, and be as pleasant and sensible as anybody else. She thinks she has an active mind and will always have something to occupy herself with, and her sister has five children, so she will have people to love later in her life as well without having to get married.
- In Persuasion, the female lead character, Anne Elliot is considered nearly unmarriagable due to her age — she's 27.
- On her eighteenth birthday, Bella Swan has nightmares that she has turned into an ancient lady and her forever-young vampire boyfriend Edward
won't love her anymorewill keep loving her and treating her just the same. (Visualize a world-class handsome young man tending to an extremely old woman in a wheelchair, and adolescent, utterly lovestruck expression on his face as he gently caters to her every need while whispering the cheesiest, kindest, sincerest terms of endearment...)
- Avoiding becoming an Old Maid is the motivation of Irma Prunesquallor in Gormenghast. She marries an eighty-six year old man out of desperation, meeting him after holding a party with no women invited, wherein the only invitees were hopelessly pathetic professors of the castle's school.
- Washington Square plays with this trope and ends up being one of the few works to portray it positively; the main character never marries her Gold Digger love interest or anyone, and is shown to embrace spinsterhood and be confident in herself in a way she never was when she had to worry about the prospects of marriage.
- Bridget Jones considers herself to be a spinster, though she is just over thirty and has had some serious relationships, so she could as well see herself as a young modern woman.
- Alix Crown in Quill's Window is an especially blatant example, as she is attractive and wealthy in addition to being single at twenty-five. Incidentally, she does have a good reason for this, as legally she would stand to lose many of her legal rights if she were to get married.
- In the Little House books starring Laura's daughter, Rose, the Wilders board an old maid teacher. Rose's town friend, Blanche Coday, sings a mean song about how she must be ugly if no one wants to marry her. Rose asks her why, thinking to herself that her blind Aunt Mary is an old maid. Blanche basically shrugs and says that what everyone says. After some mishaps, the teacher does end up married.
- Jo of Little Women was originally meant to be this, as Alcott was quite intent on showing that marriage is not the most important thing in the life of a woman and being an old maid is perfectly okay. Sadly, she had to give in to fan pressure.
- A Song of Ice and Fire: Arianne Martell is only 23, but is considered to be one of these. After all, she lives in a world where marriage at 14 is far from unheard of. Still, while she wants to get married, she doesn't suffer the usual social consequences of being a so-called Old Maid — after all, she is a princess and the heiress of Dorne, she is obviously very attractive and can lead a sexually liberated life and lives in a region where contempt for unmarried women is mostly non-existent, in contrast for the rest of the Seven Kingdoms.
- In The Thorn Birds, this idea is referenced several times. Meggie is nearly twenty-five and has never dated due to her continued love for Father Ralph. This leads her to quickly marry Luke O'Neill. Meggie's daughter, Justine is similar, at the end of the novel, she is nearly thirty, and is not close to marriage, but ends up finding love in her longtime friend, Rain.
- Charlotte M. Yonge's The Clever Woman of the Family (1865) achieves two twists on this trope: At the beginning of the book, Rachel is secretly happy to have reached age 25 without marrying, because her family no longer expects her to marry, and she would prefer to be an old maid. By the end of the book, though, Rachel has married, in spite of her age and disinclination.
- In Lonely Werewolf Girl Thrix falls (reluctantly) into this category, not so much due to her being a werwolf with a borderline psychotic family, but more to her being a chronic workaholic.
- Gone with the Wind:
- Scarlett is not an example, but she considers herself to be unmarriageable at 19 years old, worrying that her chances for remarrying are slim due to her age, ("Men always prefer silly young things") and the fact that she is also a widow with a child. Scarlett eventually marries two other times, she wasn't so much worried about remarrying (with the exception of Ashley), she was more worried about being considered homely and unattractive.
- The book refers to a woman who is considered a spinster at 25. Extreme example but Justified Trope considering that girls married very young in those days.
- The Gargoyle: Trope is referenced by name and explained in relation to Sayuri and her family; she disregards the 'rule' and goes off to America, where she eventually meets and marries a man named Gregor, although the wedding comes a bit late, and well after 25.
- In The Age of Innocence, Newland Archer's sister Janie is indicated to be approaching this point. When her mother balks at giving away her wedding dress, wanting to save it for her daughter, she is reminded that Janie is "nearing the age where pearl grey poplin and no bridesmaids would be more appropriate", rather than the elaborate ceremonies meant for younger brides.
- V. C. Andrews:
- In Garden of Shadows, Olivia mentions that at 24 years old she was already considered an "old maid." She rapidly deludes herself into thinking that she loves Malcolm Foxworth because she believes she will never have another chance at marriage.
- Olivia Gordon of the Logan Series marries a man she doesn't love — partly to show that she can land a wealthy man like her sister, but also because she's close to this trope and all the girls who attended school with her are now married.
- In the De Beers series, Willow's cousin Margaret worries about being too old for marriage and is envious of Willow marrying young.
- An extreme example is mentioned in Heaven. The hill people marry very young (Heaven's own mother was 13 when she married). Heaven's grandmother advises her to wait until 15, considered a daringly late age, because she would then be old enough to make a sensible choice.
- L. M. Montgomery visits the topic of the old maid and Maiden Aunt frequently in her books. Often the old maid character was either prevented from marriage by an overbearing father, or a quarrel, or an outstanding duty to a family member (something Montgomery herself was familiar with, as she delayed her own marriage many years in order to take care of her grandmother.) Some specific examples:
- Marilla Cuthbert in Anne of Green Gables was courted by John Blythe, but they had an argument for which Marilla was too proud to forgive him. By the time she came to regret this, John had moved on, eventually marrying another woman and having a son with her. Later in life, Marilla takes some consolation in the fact that John's son Gilbert and her adopted daughter Anne have fallen in love and married.
- Miss Lavendar Lewis in Anne of Avonlea has a similar story: her engagement to marry Stephen Irving broke off due to a quarrel, after which Stephen moved to America and Lavendar became an old maid. This time, however, the story has a happier ending. Now a widower, Stephen sends his young son Paul to attend school in Avonlea while Anne is teaching there, around the same time that Anne meets and befriends Miss Lavendar. On a whim, Anne introduces Lavendar to Paul, who writes a letter to his father... which inspires Stephen to return to Avonlea and ask Lavendar to marry him.
- In "The Materialization of Duncan McTavish", an old maid tells some girls that she had once had a romance and quarreled with him, to prevent their pity and contempt. It works at first — she becomes popular and interesting for the first time in decades. Then... well, the title tells you the rest of the plot. They do end up married.
- In Emily of New Moon — book three — Emily's Quest, the Murray family eventually gives up on finding Emily a husband, concluding that, eccentric, artistic, and temperamental as she is, she'll never settle down to be a proper housewife.
- A Rose for Emily tells the story of Emily Grierson, an old maid whose father dominated her and kept her from ever meeting men. She took up with a handsome fellow, but just as it seemed things were getting serious, he vanished. The townspeople therefore refer to her and treat her as an Old Maid, but are never really sure...
- In Stephanie Burgis's A Most Improper Magick, Stepmama's friends commiserate with her, marrying a man Unable to Support a Wife in a suitable style — but Kat knows that she snatched him because she was already aging unwed.
- Domina Adelheid von Stechlin and the other members of the foundation for unmarried noblewomen in Kloster Wutz in Theodor Fontane's Der Stechlin.
- Amer of Tooth and Claw, despite the fact that she, like every other character in the story, is a dragon. Her role as a servant to the Agornin establishment is implied to have saved her from the fate most female dragons in her situation would've suffered. In the setting, a female is either a maiden, married... or dinner.
- In The Parasol Protectorate series. Alexia Tarrabotti is considered a spinster in the alternate Victorian world the books and manga take place in, though she would still be considered rather young by modern standards.
- In A Brother's Price, there is a family of old maids, who sell their business to Jerin's sisters because they don't have any daughters who could inherit it. As women in this culture are of marriageable age as long as one of their sisters is fertile, they are really old maids.
- Patience and Sarah: Patience starts the book at age twenty-seven. She's already considered getting on in age and is difficult to marry off to anyone but a widower. Patience jokes that she's already an Maiden Aunt. Patience's deceased father guessed she'd never marry, but her brother tries to provoke her to settle down. Patience doesn't necessarily dislike the idea of marriage. She just isn't interested in marrying a man.
- On The Dick Van Dyke Show, all of Sally's man chasing was due to her fear of becoming an Old Maid. During the run of the show the actress (and by extension the character) turned 40, which even now is considered pretty old for a never-been-married woman who doesn't want to stay unmarried.
- At least one character in Sex and the City obsessed over becoming an old maid when she hit her late 30s unmarried.
- Considering Desperate Housewives stars characters that all seem to be constantly fluctuating between married and single in their mid 40's. This either averts the trope or plays it straight with everyone rapidly seeking relationships to avoid this.
- The titular Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman calls herself this, depressed about her looming 35th birthday with no husband to speak of, a major taboo in those days.
- Liz Lemon's constant worry in 30 Rock; her parents bother her about it, too. "It's Never Too Late For Now" has her temporarily embracing "spinsterhood", wearing baggy clothing and a Chip Clip in her hair and adopting a stray cat, which she names Emily Dickinson in the wake of the end of her relationship with Carol. This ends in Season 6, when she gets herself a good boyfriend; and is confirmed done in Season 7, when she gets married.
- In Doctor Who, there is the vaguely Bridget Jones-esque companion Donna. She was going to get married right before The Doctor poofed into her life, however. Literally, it's her wedding day. On the other hand, in a flashback, she was seen begging her boyfriend to get married and the wedding was only being held to keep her around for a nefarious plot her fiancé centered around her and the coffee she drank every morning. Still, she did wind up happily married in Forest of the Dead. This ends rather abruptly, when it turns out that her children don't really exist and she and her husband were actually "saved" in the dream world of a child-computer and the two are "uploaded" along with everything else. She figures that her husband never existed and leaves just as he calls out to her before being teleported home. Poor Donna has terrible luck... She finally gets married at the end of The End Of Time.
- The unbelievably stunning Joan in Mad Men would nevertheless appear to be headed this way, judging by the reaction in an episode when an ex-boyfriend distributed a photocopy of her driver's license with the birthdate circled; she's 31, which is pretty far along for a single woman in 1962. Perhaps in panic, she found a nice doctor a year or so later and married him. No more waiting for her MUCH older lover to divorce his wife. Except, as it turns out, he's a complete douchebag, who doesn't get the surgical position he desires and joins the army (just in time for The Vietnam War). She does end up having a child—by Roger, the aforementioned older lover, while her dick of a husband is away. However, things don't quite work out between her and Roger—she ends up divorcing her surgeon husband and embracing the life of the successful professional single mother, ending up founding her own production company for promotional films, while Roger (who, it should be noted, always keeps a soft spot for Joan even if they aren't currently together), after marrying and ditching his even-younger secretary, ends up with Don's second ex-wife's possibly-divorced (Quebec in the '70s wasn't entirely liberated) mother.
- The Nanny:
- Fran Fine has more in common with the looming age limit variant of this trope, especially during the early seasons of the series.
- C.C. Babcock is a more subdued version. She's in her thirties and not married, and she keeps thinking she will end up with Fran's boss.
- Deanna Troi on Star Trek: The Next Generation, at least as far as her mother is concerned. Notable in that Lwaxana never thought being married should restrict her activities except for who she slept with, and holds the same views with regards to her daughter; she just wishes her daughter would hurry up and get hitched. Which she does, to a human Starfleet Officer (Riker); following in her mother's footsteps.
- Carnivàle's snake charmer Ruthie (who has a son and has no intention of getting married), bearded lady Lila (whose whatever-that-is relationship with Lodz isn't marriage), and Iris Crowe (whose relationship with her brother doesn't leave too much time for getting married).
- The title character of Ally McBeal is severely insecure about her age, her inability to form a viable relationship with a man and her "biological clock". These insecurities of her is often the butt of other (similarly aged and unmarried) female characters' jokes, but it is implied that she is just being crazy over nothing, and her actually celebrating her 32nd birthday (instead of, you know, spending the day wanting to die) in the show's last season is treated as a sign of huge character growth.
- Downton Abbey (Edwardian Era England):
- Lady Mary borders on this trope when she's still unmarried in her mid-20s. - Violet is keen to see her get married "before the bloom is quite gone off the rose." After her husband Matthew dies, this problem shows up with Mary again, although being a widow is more respectable than being a spinster.
- After Mary marries Matthew and Sibyl marries Branson, the parents start to wonder about Edith (who repeatedly worries that she is to become the "maiden aunt", and whom Cora commented was most likely to take care of her parents in old age).
- Lampshaded by Eun Bi from Flower Boy Ramyun Shop in the first episode when she laments that nobody will want to date her since she's twenty-five.
- Chilean night Soap Opera Soltera otra vez (Single again) has a Christmas Cake named Cristina as the main character, following her in her search for a new flame and her interactions with others. The radio ads for the series took the trope and ran away with it, too.
- On My Name Is Earl, a friend of Earl's named Jasper purchases a Mail-Order Bride from Russia over the Internet. Part of the reason he bought her in particular (in spite of the huge mole on her chin and a rather abrasive personality) is that the agency he bought her from offers free shipping if the women are over 30.
- Friends: Monica's mother nags her to get married so she can avoid this. Bear in mind this is set in modern day and Monica is only twenty four at the beginning, and thirty when she does get married. Justified as Judy is an emotionally abusive Jerkass, and clearly ridiculous in thinking stunningly attractive and kind-hearted Monica won't get married. Despite her abuse having zero logic, Judy does leave Monica with serious insecurities regarding this trope. Luckily though, Monica's best friend Chandler's efforts to prove she won't die alone note , directly lead to them falling in love and getting married, long before the rest of the characters.
- A Different World. When the girls go out to celebrate Whitley's birthday, Freddy's order is described by the waitress as "the spinster special". When Freddy takes offense to the name, the waitress snarks back, "You got a man?". At this point, Jalesa sheepishly declares, "Better make that two spinster specials." When the waitress asks if anyone else wants it, all of the women in the group raise their hands.
- On Good Eats, Alton remarks that doing popcorn a certain way will result in fewer "old maids." An old lady comes up and hits him with her Handbag of Hurt.
- Discussed on Game of Thrones. Not only is middle-aged Brienne of Tarth unmarried and never been in love, she had never even had sex before falling in love with Jamie. Before him, the few men who approached the subject with her were either not her type or not concerned about her consent. However, occasional hints are dropped that she may be asexual rather than unlucky in love, with a Single-Target Sexuality towards Jamie.
- Rilo Kiley's song "XMas Cake" appears to be about this trope. The lyrics tell the story of a woman who is "twenty-five years old (with) a bachelor's degree" but has no job prospects and already looks "old and defeated" without her makeup on.
- 22 in which Lily Allen laments for her 30-year-old protagonist:
It's sad but it's true how society says her life is already overThere's nothing to do and there's nothing to sayUntil the man of her dreams comes along picks her up and puts her over his shoulderIt seems so unlikely in this day and age
- The American folk standard "I'll not marry at all" is a rather positive portrayal; it essentially list a long litany of types of men, gives (more or less good) reasons why they aren't husband material and the chorus is:
I'll take my stool and sit in the shadefor I'm determined to be an Old Maidand I'll not marry at all, at all,and I'll not marry at all.
- In America, we have former WWE General Manager Vickie Guerrero, a middle-aged but still reasonably attractive woman who is relentlessly mocked for being "fat" and "ugly." Edge, however, genuinely loved her and once almost married her, making him a cake eater.
- However Vickie is now visibly more attractive than she used to be and this is referenced by her being called a cougar by everyone. It's only Jerry Lawler who still makes jokes about her weight.
- In the 2000s, the WWE Divas were likely to be released once they hit their 30s. The exception was Ivory who was signed while she was in her 30s and kept with the company well into her 40s. Victoria was also kept on into her late 30s, but was working solely as a Jobber-to-the-stars at that point. Nowadays, WWE hires actual women wrestlers instead of eye-candy models as in-ring talent, and since it takes years to become experienced enough to wrestle for a major company, many of the modern women wrestlers on WWE's roster are in their thirties.
- Larita of Easy Virtue. She and John like to tease eachother about the age difference; he jokingly refers to her as "Grandma".
- In Hello, Dolly!, Ermengarde is driven to tears when her uncle, Horace Vandegelder, won't let her marry her boyfriend. Her reason? "I'm seventeen and in another year, I'll be an old maid!" Mr. Vandegelder replies that if she turns out to be an old maid, he cut her off without a cent.
- Parodied in the Li'l Abner musical, which gives Daisy Mae the song "I'm Past My Prime," lamenting that she's an old maid at 17. Apparently in the Deep South girls are supposed to be married at an even younger age.
- In The Pirates of Penzance, Frederic's nanny Ruth (canonically 47 according to the script, but various productions may take considerably liberty upward with this) is one.
Pirates: Ruth is very well, very well indeed! There are the remains of a fine woman about her!noteand later, when Frederic asks Ruth herself:Frederic: Compared with other women, are you beautiful?Ruth: I have been told so, dear master.Frederic: Ah, but lately?Ruth: Oh, no; years and years ago.
- Lizzie in The Rainmaker and its musical adaptation 110 in the Shade is 27 years old, and has had no luck in finding suitors. When Noah tells Lizzie she's going to be an old maid, the words drive her numb with fear before the thought of her brothers marrying one day and her being a Maiden Aunt to their children sends her flying into a hysterical despair.
- Marian the librarian in The Music Man with the first motive being her mother saying "this might be your last chance", although she presumably gets married at the end.
- Charmian from Antony and Cleopatra laments her lack of a husband and children to the point of becoming deadpan about others' love situations.
- In Picnic, Rosemary is a spinster schoolteacher in late middle age who is utterly terrified of being an old maid. She openly begs her boyfriend Hal to marry her, and at the end of the play more or less browbeats him into agreeing.
- In Dream Girl, Georgina isn't quite twenty-four yet, but sees that as "practically thirty" and worries about her age a lot, with a character in one of her Dream Sequences referring to her as "this spinster."
- In act I, Scene 2 of the famed William Shakespeare tragedy Romeo and Juliet Juliet's mother seems to think she is a Renaissance Italian version of this. Makes sense considering that Lady Capulet was already a mother at Juliet's age (13), but everyone else sensibly believes Juliet might be a bit young to get married. Her father has a whole speech in which he says that he wouldn't consider her even eligible for marriage until she's sixteen, only capitulating later when he's drunk and grieving his nephew. On top of that, church records show the average age at first marriage when the play was written wasn't that far from what it is today, meaning even the first audience would have thought Lady Capulet was being pretty hyperbolic.
- Ruddigore: Dame Hannah states that she has pledged herself to an eternal maidenhood after being forced by ethical and moral considerations to stand up her love at the altar many years before.
- Introduced by the fandom of Touhou for joke material. While most character ages are ambiguous even in the World Building Bonus Material, and most bosses in the games are canonically Really 700 Years Old anyway, there are certain characters that have categorized into an "old maid alliance." This generally gives them an excuse to be depicted dressing up in silly clothing in an attempt to be seen as younger and getting angry when addressed as "obaachan," even when it would only be proper.
- Bonnie MacFarlane from Red Dead Redemption is only 29, but given the time period (1911) she's considered a spinster. When she gets kidnapped towards the end of the first act of the story, the In-Universe newspaper says that it can't have been for "personal" reasons (meaning rape) because she's a washed up old spinster and no man would find her attractive. She develops a crush on the protagonist John (who unbeknownst to her for a while is Happily Married) when he shows up as a charming and mysterious stranger to her father's ranch. The crush is so obvious that even his wife Abigail teases him about it. However, it's mentioned in the epilogue that takes place three years later that she has gotten married.
- In Brütal Legend, the demonic Battle Nuns are a parody of this trope. They are self-conscious and all too eager to have Emperor Doviculus' demonic babies, right there, in the middle of the battlefield.
"I should be breeding now! I'm not getting any younger!"
- The Victorian Way: Mrs Crocombe is a servant, so her "Mrs" title is honorary. Like other servants, she's not married. However, video "The real Mrs Crocombe" revealed that the inspiration for this character (there really was a cook of this name in Audley End House) later left the service and got married when she was in her early to mid forties.
- Miss Censordoll of Moral Orel. To make it worse, even though she's only 40, she looks even older than that. It's implied that having her reproductive organs removed as an infant caused her to age badly.
- Miss Prissy from Looney Tunes. Many of her appearances involve her trying to snag Foghorn Leghorn as a husband, by hook or by crook. Or by rolling pin.
- Patty and Selma from The Simpsons. They were shown to be (for the most part) rather content with their lives, until their Maiden Aunt Gladys passed away and (despite opening her video will with a reading of "The Road Less Traveled" by Robert Frost), implored them to find husbands and not die alone like her. (She even gave Selma her grandfather clock as a reminder that her biological clock is ticking. Selma takes this as intended, while Patty just views it at face value.) Selma begins a desperate search for a husband (and though she does find several, all her marriages end in divorce). Patty doesn't seem to care much about finding a man, and it's eventually revealed that she's a lesbian. Both of them were often depicted as hideously ugly, with revolting personalities to match, and voices that were unattractively deep and raspy. (Partly because it's In the Blood, and partly because of decades' worth of heavy smoking.) Their aunt Gladys was even mistaken for a man at her open-casket funeral! (She was also shown to be something of a Cloud Cuckoolander in her video will, such as keeping a pet iguana that she held like a baby, and referring to a bunch of irregularly-shaped potato chips as her "children.")It's also revealed that at least part of their intense dislike and maltreatment of Homer stems from resentment that their younger sister got married before they did.
- In China, women who are unmarried past the age of 27 are called "sheng nu", or "leftover women" even in state-run media.
- This trope inspired the name for a cocktail consisting of muddled strawberries, light rum, cognac, pear liqueur, vanilla syrup, lime juice, and egg white (for body). Originally, it was called "The Bachelor," but it was more popular with women (particularly older single women), so it was renamed "The Spinster." When one customer complained to the bartender that he "might as well call it the Social Stigma," the name stuck.
- The oft-quoted article from 1985 about a study (now recognized as severely flawed note ) that states that a woman over the age of 30 has a better chance of getting killed by a terrorist than of getting married.