CULTURE

Emma Watson’s “Self-Partnership” Reminds Us: The Single Stigma Needs to End

Maybe it's time to reevaluate why we view romantic relationships as more important than all our other relationships.

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."

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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.



Music Features

On This Day: Shakira Liberated Everyone's “She Wolf”

"I was in the studio in a bad mood that day, then I got inspired and went to a corner and I wrote the lyrics and the melody in 10 minutes. The image of the she wolf just came to my head, and when I least expected it I was howling and panting," Shakira said.

By Fabio Alexx

11 years ago, on July 10th, 2009, Colombian singer Shakira released the first single off her third studio album.

"She Wolf" is a synth-pop banger built on a B minor progression. It was, in many ways, an insane song, born out of the singer's own frustration and ennui.

"I was in the studio in a bad mood that day, then I got inspired and went to a corner and I wrote the lyrics and the melody in 10 minutes. The image of the she wolf just came to my head, and when I least expected it I was howling and panting," Shakira said.

Though the music was composed by John Hill and Sam Endicott, lead singer of post-punk band The Bravery, the lyrics were all Shakira's own. "[Shakira] contacted him (Hill), asking if he had any stuff," said Endicott. "We never had her in mind. We just made the thing independently of her, and then she liked it a lot, and she sang over it. She used some of the melodies we put in there and then wrote these crazy lyrics about being a werewolf. And that's how it happened."

Shakira - She Wolf www.youtube.com


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In “Modern Love,” Anne Hathaway Shows Us Love Can’t Fix Bipolar Disorder

The show, based on Terri Cheney's column of the same title, provides a uniquely nuanced depiction of mental illness—and highlights the gaps that still exist in the ways we tell stories about it.

On the episode of Modern Love called "Take Me As I Am, Whoever I Am," Anne Hathaway's character Lexi spends half her time in bed.

She spends the other half of her life gallivanting around New York City, wearing sparkles and styling herself after famous actresses, asking out men in grocery stores and making up for the time and the lovers she lost while she was catatonically depressed.

zeleb.es

At best, the episode is a uniquely nuanced depiction of real mental illness, emphasizing the fact that Hathaway's illness may not be easily curable, refusing the temptation to glamorize her symptoms or suffocate her with pity and pessimism. At worst, it still falls into some old traps and perhaps could've done a better job of explaining the specifics of Lexi's diagnosis and the actuality of what bipolar is and is not.

Like all the episodes of Amazon Prime's new series Modern Love, it's based on a real-life story published in The New York Times' column of the same name. Hathaway's character is based on an essay by a woman named Terri Cheney, who specifies in the first paragraph that she suffers from what she refers to as "ultrararidian rapid cycling."

There are many different forms of bipolar disorder, far more than the typical binary of Bipolar I and II imply. Bipolar I, the best-known type, involves periods of severe mania and severe depression, whereas with Bipolar II, the manic episodes are usually slightly less severe, though periods of depression can be extremely intense. With both of these types, lengths and symptoms of manic and depressive episodes can vary, though most people experience one or two cycles per year, with episodes lasting around 13 weeks, according to a 2010 study. Episodes can be triggered by events such as seasonal changes, trauma, or grief, but they can also happen naturally due to to the vicissitudes of brain chemistry and daily life. Sometimes symptoms of mania and depression can co-occur, and this is referred to as a mixed episode.

There are many other variants of bipolar disorder, including cyclothymic disorder, which describes brief periods of mania and depression that are slightly less severe than full-on Bipolar I or II. Then there's the kind of extremely rapid switching that Hathaway's character experienced. Affecting 10-15% of people diagnosed with bipolar disorder, rapid cycling is officially diagnosed when someone experiences four or more cycles in one year. Ultra-rapid cycling is when a person cycles through episodes in one month or less, and the sort that Cheney and Lexi have is called ultra-ultra-rapid cycling or ultradian cycling, which means that cycles can occur within a 24-hour period.

As with most mental illnesses, every person's diagnosis is different. For Cheney, ultradian cycling means that she'd often spend days or weeks in bed, only to awaken suddenly to the sound of birdsong and a feeling of euphoria. Like her TV adaption, Cheney tells us that she tried dozens of treatments, including dangerous electroshock therapy, while keeping her illness secret from friends and family and making up for her down periods by exceeding expectations when she was up. She was able to pull together a life, but all this didn't make dating easy. "When dating me, you might go to bed with Madame Bovary and wake up with Hester Prynne," she wrote in her Times column.

Refreshingly, neither Cheney's essay nor the TV adaption equates the right treatment or the perfect person with a cure and a happy ending. Instead, after following their protagonist through a failed relationship that began during a manic episode and quickly tanked when her mood turned, the essay and show end with a bit of realistic hope. "I've finally accepted that there is no cure for the chemical imbalance in my brain, any more than there is a cure for love," Cheney writes, lines that Hathaway repeats in the episode's conclusion. "But there's a little yellow pill I'm very fond of, and a pale blue one, and some pretty pink capsules, and a handful of other colors that have turned my life around."

MODERN LOVE Extended Trailer (NEW 2019) Anne Hathaway, Love Comedy Series www.youtube.com

Battling the Stigma Onscreen: Violence, Love, and Bipolar Representation

While illnesses like depression and anxiety have become more socially acceptable and widely understood (although too often they're still not viewed as valid illnesses, instead treated like something that can be willfully overcome with a little yoga), bipolar and other personality disorders are still heavily stigmatized and misunderstood.

For example, people who suffer from personality disorders are far too frequently blamed for things like mass shootings, when actually only 3-5% of violent crimes are perpetrated by people with mental illnesses (and 97% of mass shooters are white males with histories of misogyny and domestic violence).

In reality, bipolar disorder has absolutely nothing to do with violence. It's also completely untrue that people with bipolar are unable to have relationships. Everyone is different, and people with bipolar disorder are just as capable (or incapable) of loving and being loved as anybody else.

While Hathaway/Cheney's illness appears to be unusually unpredictable, many people with mental illnesses can and do thrive in relationships. While unstable relationships can have particularly negative and triggering effects on people who suffer from mental illnesses, stable relationships of any kind can be incredibly beneficial. And while no one should use their mental illness as an excuse to use others as therapists or sole support systems, supportive friends, partners, and family members can be vital in terms of providing the kind of acceptance and structure that people with mental illness may have trouble giving themselves.

Still, it's a blessing that "Take Me As I Am, Whoever I Am" doesn't over-glamorize the effects or importance of relationships. Anne Hathaway's Lexi finds relief in confessing to a coworker about her illness, but there is no implication that the coworker will be able to heal her or support her in any way. Confession and interpersonal love are perhaps over-emphasized in some forms of modern mental health discourse, but premature or forced confessions can have negative consequences, and confession by no means make up for actual treatment, large systemic changes, or genuine external and acceptance. Sometimes, acceptance means accepting the reality of illness and treatment in all their ugly and unpalatable forms, a reality that is too often forgotten in exchange for the more palatable narrative that tells us that love can heal all wounds.

The Future of Bipolar on TV: Hopefully More Diverse, and Created by People Who Really Suffer from Mental Illness

For her part, Terri Cheney, a prolific writer who has written several memoirs about her experience with mental illness, is apparently very satisfied with Hathaway's nuanced portrayal. "When you think of the illness in terms of a familiar face, it's less frightening and easier to understand," she told Glamour. "That's why having someone as famous as Anne portray a woman with bipolar disorder is so terrific: It's an antidote to shame."

As in her essay, Cheney is quick to emphasize the fact that sometimes there is no cure to mental illness; it's not like you can just confess that you have it and expunge it from your brain chemistry. "After a lifetime of living with a mental illness, I've discovered that the most helpful thing someone can say to me when I'm suffering is, 'Tell me where it hurts,'" she added. "I don't want advice. I don't want to be cheered up. I just want to be listened to and truly heard."

Terri Cheney

Hathaway also seems to understand the importance of her role. "I have people in my life who I love so deeply who have received various mental health diagnoses, and that's not the whole story of who they are," she said. "But in many cases, because of an intolerant society, that's the space of fear they're kept in."

As there's more mental illness representation on TV, hopefully we'll see more nuanced portrayals of people with mental illness. Many Hollywood shows and movies have heavily exaggerated the symptoms of bipolar disorder, giving characters who suffer from the disorder violent narratives or dramatic breakdowns (Empire, Silver Linings Playbook), painting them as anti-medication (Law and Order: SVU) and using episodes as plot devices (Homeland), despite gaining praise for featuring characters who suffer from it.

Perhaps in the future, shows will also begin discussing the disorder in more precise terms and becoming as open and explicit about treatments, medication, therapy, and the messy vicissitudes of daily life as they are with dramatizing mental breakdowns and choreographing manic episodes.

Maybe they could also try to focus on people of different race and class backgrounds, as mental illness is frequently whitewashed, though it cannot be separated from things like race and class, and certainly not everyone with bipolar has a swanky entertainment law job or lives in an apartment like Anne Hathaway's utterly absurd one. Perhaps Modern Love itself shouldn't be expected to get real about mental illness, for even this episode does feel lost in the show's saccharine, wealth-buoyed rom-com vibe, caught up in the "permanent delusion that New York makes people fall into a special kind of love, unattainable anyplace else (unless on a brief trip abroad)," as The Washington Post writes, a delusion that anyone who actually lives in New York knows is utterly untrue (but that always makes for a hit TV show).

Still, when all is said and done, there will never be a singular or perfect depiction of bipolar disorder, and a depiction of mental illness on a show like this one will certainly expose lots of people to a sympathetic narrative they otherwise might not have encountered.

Like all illnesses, bipolar disorder is an ongoing process that affects everyone in a completely unique way, and there is no quick fix for it. But with medication and support, it's something that's possible to live and thrive with—and yes, to love with.

Though Lexi never finds true love, she finds something else. She finds self-acceptance, openness, a growth mindset, and the belief that she isn't in need of fixing. And in this life, perhaps that's the best kind of fairy-tale ending we can ask for.