Photo: Instagram/ emmawattsonn
When I first heard the term ‘self-partnered’ coined by Emma Watson, I rolled my eyes. Probably just as hard as when I heard ‘conscious uncoupling’ - thanks to actress Gwyneth Paltrow - and ‘co-parenting’. I found these terms laughable and wondered why there is a need to have new words describe old situations – single, divorced, and platonic parents who share children but are not married or dating each other anymore.
The Harry Potter actress who turns 30 - a milestone age - in April 2020 recently had an interview with British Vogue where she said: “I was like, ‘Why does everyone make such a big fuss about turning 30? This is not a big deal…’ Cut to 29, and I’m like, ‘Oh my God, I feel so stressed and anxious.
“And I realise it’s because there is suddenly this bloody influx of subliminal messaging around. If you have not built a home, if you do not have a husband, if you do not have a baby, and you are turning 30, and you’re not in some incredibly secure, stable place in your career, or you’re still figuring things out…There’s just this incredible amount of anxiety.”
Just as I thought Ms Watson was describing my life (even at 40), she added: “I never believed the whole ‘I’m happy single’ spiel…I was like, ‘This is totally spiel.’ It took me a long time, but I’m very happy [being single]. I call it being self-partnered.”
Cue eye-roll. While I agree with her sentiments, there was something about coining this new term to describe a happy singledom that bothered me. Did the word hold so much negativity that it needed a new term to change it to something more positive?
In short, yes.
Elyakim Kislev, Ph.D., in Psychology Today explains: “The negative stereotypes of singlehood are more often applied to women than to men. Single women are either depicted as leading empty, meaningless lives and being morally lacking, or as occupying a confrontational position against the patriarchy. Single men generally escape such stereotyping: unmarried men are assumed to choose their single status.”
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Just as with ‘conscious uncoupling’ to replace divorce and ‘co-parenting’ to describe the platonic parental relationship, the new terms help to remove the negativity surrounding the original words and place more emphasis on the positive outcomes – that you can have a negative situation but you’ll be OK and two people can still co-exist positively together.
The Guardian’s senior writer Brigid Delaney is all about creating new words to describe our experiences: “Being able to accurately frame our current experiences is part of being human – and we need more nuanced language to better tell our story.”
She adds: “We’re getting better at not labelling sexuality; at accepting that it’s fluid, on a continuum and sometimes hard to categorise. But as the world, its politics and the fear of impending apocalypse change how we relate to ourselves, other people and our futures, we’re still stuck with outdated and limiting language around romantic relationships – and around the lack of them.”
So perhaps I should stop the eye-rolling, especially for someone who works with the written word, and appreciate having a new term to describe the positive life I am living. Afterall, I have battled the negativity of being single since my mid-twenties.
Mashable’s writer Rachel Thompson makes a staggering point: “We don't need new words. We need our culture to change the way they view single women. We need you to face up to the attitudes that are nothing more than hangovers from a bygone era.”
Hear, hear! Perhaps by creating new words, it helps to kickstart a cultural change. And since Ms Watson is also well-known for her feminism, for her to come up with a term, consciously or not, is impactful.
Psychology Today adds: “In these narratives of choice, singlehood is commonly described in terms of autonomy, self-development, and achievement rather than in terms of deficit or lack. 'Self-partnered' is, therefore, a well-justified term on the scale of relationship statuses and Watson is right in promoting it.”
When asked about the term blowing up during a red carpet interview for the premiere of Little Women, the latest film she is starring in, The Independent reported Ms Watson saying: “I literally said it as a throwaway comment, thinking it would go no further, and then I woke up the next morning and my phone’s blowing up and I don’t know why. It’s all my friends messaging me being like, ‘Self-partnered, this thing’s gone crazy’.
“I’m so happy people feel empowered by my stressful moment. It’s great.”
Explaining what self-partnered means to her, Ms Watson said: “For me it’s much more about your relationship with yourself and the feeling of you’re not somehow deficient, in some way, because you aren’t with someone…You’re like, ‘I’ve got this. I’ve got myself’.”
One fellow actor and close friend of Ms Watson’s is Tom Felton who showed his support for the term in an interview with MailOnline.
“I like it! I'm in the same category to be honest with you, quite happily self-partnered.
“I think in this day and age it's not a necessity to be with someone just for the sake of being with someone, so I like the idea of self-partnering. I think you need to love yourself before you can love anyone else, so that's a start,” said Mr Felton. (Also read about these 7 powerful females who remind us that self-love is the best type of love there is)
And rightly so. I have been happily self-partnered for a while now, enjoying my freedom, rethinking the meaning of soulmate and The One. I have fulfilling relationships with my besties who I generally believe are my soulmates and The Ones.
Why should only a romantic partner be that title; why can’t it be the best friends I have known most of my life who know me inside out?
“It seems the search for The One is no longer about finding the only person who can make your life what it’s supposed to be. It’s more like a quest for someone who will join you on the lifelong journey of growth. Sometimes, though, the only suitable companion may be yourself,” wrote associate professor Bradley B. Onishi for The New York Times, summing it up nicely.
In moving forward to the new year (read also about how Greta Thunberg is inspiring us for 2020), let’s show support for our self-partnered friends and relatives by not emphasising the lack of a partner. We all strive to live fulfilling lives in our own ways. And if we’re not achieving that, here are three humble suggestions on how to do that, whether you are self-partnered or not:
1. There is nothing wrong in doing things solo
I am a major advocate for all things solo. I have been solo-traveling since my mid-twenties and did nine months of it in 2018 after I quit my day job. I happily eat meals alone. Once you get over your nerves for saying, “table for one”, your confidence will fly when you have to repeat, “yes, just one” with no condescending tone.
Take yourself out shopping, to the movies, museum, or anything you enjoy that you don’t always find company to do it with. It is fun, freeing and your self-esteem will thank you.
2. Be more self-aware by evaluating your patterns
If you happen to repeatedly date emotionally unavailable partners or you relish in the drama of issues, you need to take a step back and figure out why this is so. The universe tends to give you the same lesson over and over until you learn from it. Take time away from dating and be truly single in order to figure out what’s going on.
Meditate, journal, do yoga, take walks to think, listen to empowering podcasts, read self-help books, talk to your closest trusted friends about your patterns. If you can afford a therapist, do that. Self-awareness is key to maintaining fulfilling relationships.
3. Be patient, be kind to yourself
The better you treat yourself, the better your self-worth, the better the relationships you acquire. Creating boundaries and realising what is good for you is an ever-growing self-partnership you will always have. Relish it, love yourself first.