Emma Watson has referred to herself as "self-partnered" instead of "single," thus effectively shattering stigma for single women everywhere—and making headlines across the globe.
For the record, she wasn't exactly trying to redefine what it means to be single by calling herself "self-partnered." She said it in an offhand way in her interview with Vogue, as part of a much larger statement about the anxieties she's facing about turning 30. "I was like, 'Why does everyone make such a big fuss about turning 30? This is not a big deal…'" she said. "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."
She added that it's taken her a while to get to a place where she can be content on her own. "I never believed the whole 'I'm happy single' spiel," she said. "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."
Since Watson first made this statement, the Internet has latched onto the term "self-partnered," viewing it as an alternative to the negative implications that come with the word "single." It's true that society can make things quite hard for single people. We live in a romance-obsessed world, one that feeds us Disney-movie weddings from an early age and tells us we have to shape ourselves around our romantic relationships.
So through this lens, in true #HeforShe fashion, the fact that Emma Watson has said that she's learning to be happy while single is inspiring, if unsurprising. Watson's been a proponent of various forms of self-love for a while (she was an ambassador for female pleasure website OMGYes) and has always been a proud feminist leader.
It's true that "self-partnership" shouldn't be our end-all, be-all gospel. After all, we all need relationships, love, and support from others. But so often, the world we live in doesn't encourage us to value the love we share with family and friends as much as we value romantic love. It doesn't encourage us to value our spiritual communities or our relationships with our artwork and our own bodies and minds half as much as it tells us to value our partners. It doesn't tell us to truly value ourselves.
What if there was a paradigm shift? So many of us grew up in homes where we bore witness to negative relationships, watching parents stay with each other unhappily because they were wedded (literally and figuratively) to the idea of their partnership. Particularly for women, many of us still struggle to find the strength to leave abusive relationships, instead staying with people who don't treat us right because we're too scared to be alone.
But what if we started valuing activism in the same way that we value and idealize romantic love? What if we valued everyday acts of kindness like we value relationships? These statements might seem incredibly idealistic, but the power of cultural expectations shouldn't be underestimated.
In general, we're in need of a shift in terms of how we view and understand relationships, both to others and ourselves. In some ways, the change has begun. So much has been written about the importance of developing one's relationship with ourselves before loving others, and the "love yourself" mentality has been peddled with increasing frequency.
Self-care is great. Going on dates with yourself, taking care of your space, recharging, exercising, focusing your energy on your health or craft, political organizing, or literally anything else besides dating are all perks of being single (or I guess "self-partnered" is the proper term). Watson's statement has inspired many women to share their own stories of why they love dating themselves.
Still, too often, the "love yourself" mantra is painted through the lens of neoliberal capitalism. Just paint your nails and take some selfies! the Internet yells at us. Love yourself and if you don't love yourself, you're failing! While self-care is important, it's rooted in an isolationist, black-and-white, selfish mentality that can often just make us feel worse in the end.
But what if instead of focusing on shallow self-love based in loving our appearances and parading our happiness around, we focused on long-term healing, deep connection, and growth within ourselves and our communities? In her book All About Love, bell hooks defines love as "the will to extend one's self for the purpose of nurturing one's own or another's spiritual growth." What if we used this definition of love instead of the traditional one?
hooks' definition is pliable, just like love itself. Love is amorphous and alive and it happens on a different timeline for us all. Of course we don't just find our one true love at 29 and sail off into the sunset. (The sunset is and was always an illusion created by Walt Disney and Coca Cola). Another extremely desirable bachelor, Keanu Reeves, 55, just started dating for the first time in years—and his girlfriend, 46-year-old Alexandra Grant, has some relevant advice for everyone, whether in a relationship or self-partnered. "I don't think we can help other people until we work on our own healing, or else we are going to keep promoting inherited or naturalized belief systems that aren't useful within the work we do," she said. "I think that we really are in a time where we need to love those who are different than we are, and take action and responsibility towards that."
Emma Watson's and Grant's philosophies don't imply that they want to be single forever or that they're anti-love, but they do imply that both of them feel it's important to focus on their growth, starting with what's on the inside. This is an important distinction, as there's a big difference between being happy being single in the moment and being totally closed off to the possibility of love; and there's a difference between feeling unworthy of love and committing yourself to growing, so you can be a better partner and person.
You don't have to be euphoric about being single, just like you don't have to be miserable about it, their statements imply. Whether you're in a relationship or not, you don't have to be anything. Regardless of how you feel about it, if you don't have a partner right now, you're not alone in that. The number of singles around the world has never been higher—and we've never been healthier. Some are worried about this trend, but others feel it could be a good thing, a step towards deconstructing the unsustainable and isolating structure that is the nuclear family.
These are just a few of the many reasons to embrace being "self-partnered." Plus, some of us just really, really enjoy being alone.