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As a fellow single woman, Emma Watson proudly labelling herself ‘self-partnered’ should be viewed as a watershed moment.
Former Harry Potter star Emma Watson, who has had to endure questions about her relationship status since she was a teenager, recently made a statement that provided days of fodder for the Daily Mail:
“I never believed the whole ‘I’m happy single’ spiel… It took me a long time, but I’m very happy . I call it being self-partnered.”
How very dare she! The shock of a woman who has been in the media spotlight almost her entire life trying to take control of her own narrative sent ripples across the tabloid media. Even The Guardian called her comments “controversial” and “clumsy”, calling out Watson for “failing to be normal.”
Watson’s remarks— and the use of a term that she did not actually make up, just as Gwyneth Paltrow did not invent “conscious uncoupling” — were in the context of talking about the anxiety that women in particular are made to feel about their single status as they approach the age of 30. Or what she calls “the bloody influx of subliminal messaging” that has left her with anxiety about entering a new decade without a husband or child.
It is a feeling that many of us can relate to.
Yes, Emma Watson could have said that she is “happily single” — but the need for the qualifier happily before single is actually quite insulting, and demonstrates just how laden the word itself has become. In modern English, ‘single’ is not a neutral term for women (and neither is ‘divorced’ so perhaps Gwyneth didn’t deserve the intense mockery she received… at least not for that particular quirk).
A single or divorced woman is constantly presented to us through pop culture and media as a pitiful figure. Think of Bridget Jones and her chain-smoking, vodka-guzzling ways while sitting alone in her lounge room belting out All By Myself.
Oh, how the audience laughs.
But now that I am a few years older than Bridget Jones, I start to wonder if the messaging of the film is as hilarious as I found it when I was in my 20s and had years ahead of me to feel confident that I wouldn’t become Bridget in my 30s.
But like Emma Watson, I turned 30 as a single woman — a fact I was acutely aware of at family gatherings, surrounded by my seven siblings who were all partnered by someone else. I would have loved to have called myself “self-partnered.” In fact, I would have used the term all the time.
The negative associations with being single are no doubt greater for women — but I don’t think men get off scot-free either. My friends and I who were in the dating scene used to discuss men in their 30s as falling into one of two categories:
a) Had been through a divorce or breakup of a serious relationship, in which case they had emotional baggage
b) Had never had a serious relationship, in which case they were commitment-phobes or deeply flawed individuals
It never occurred to us that maybe (at least some of) those men were just self-partnered as well.
I’m sure that the same assumptions were made about us by the men we dated. “How are you still single?” is a question you get asked a lot, as though there must be some mysterious explanation.
I always found this question bizarre. I had been in relationships so I wasn’t still single, if anything I was single again. So what this question really meant is “Why aren’t you married? Why aren’t you permanently and irreversibly partnered to another person?”
But here’s the thing. After years of being single, I now have a partner that I live with and I’m still self-partnered. Because I don’t believe that people in relationships should rely on their partner for all their emotional needs either.
So maybe we need to ditch the labels altogether. And just stop asking Emma Watson (or anyone) about their relationship status. It doesn’t define her — and it doesn’t define me either.