I appreciate this piece is a little late to the party and I’ve therefore missed riding the zeitgeist wave, but Emma Watson’s words on being “self-partnered” have been all over the place recently and sparked countless discussions, debates and articles on both sides of opinion.
In case you missed it, the UN Ambassador recently mentioned in an interview with British Vogue that she wasn’t spending all day looking for a relationship and was simply very happy living her life and making the most of all the fun opportunities which came her way.
“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.”
Of course, this reignited arguments that never really went away about the pressure people feel under to be in romantic relationships or else be regarded as failures. Society places greater pressure on women who are single than it does on men – single men are described as eligible bachelors, keeping their options open and enjoying life whilst single women are instead called spinsters, made out to be sat at home waiting for either a man or five hundred cats to come into their lives in order to give them meaning.
This writer cannot speak from firsthand experience of the pressures single women fight against, but can speak from the male perspective, and in this increasingly modern world it’s not all roses either. As much as I’ve made it clear to those around me that I’m dating and looking for love, not a family event goes by where questions on my dating life aren’t followed by looks of pity and comments of “she’ll come along when you least expect it”.
Stories can be told by me of trips to the Royal Albert Hall, weekends to Dublin, adventures in cocktail bars in Birmingham and blind dates with models, yet all that is heard is “I did some stuff but ultimately am only doing it to fill a void that a loved one would naturally fill”. After 18 years in a relationship it feels very much like this period of life is being seen as a gap and an anomaly rather than what may well be the new normal for the foreseeable future.
Our love lives aren’t a resume, where periods of time between relationships are looked upon with suspicion and need to be explained away like gaps between jobs. We don’t have to expressly state that we went on a romantic gap year, or took a sabbatical before getting back to taking life seriously again and diving back into a new opportunity.
Finding love may well be described as a journey, but it’s not one with a clear beginning and end point, where certain things get done and then the destination is reached. It isn’t exclusive of living life and enjoying every experience that comes along as a consciously – not self-consciously – single person; love may be something I’m hoping happens, but it’s also not the one thing that dictates every decision of every waking second.
We seem to see being single as something that needs changing, that it is somehow lesser and more shameful, that it is zero, nothing, empty and just waiting for someone else to come along and change in order to make life whole. As much as I would love to meet the love of my life, I’m not going to spend life moping around waiting for it to happen. Days will be filled, opportunities accepted and plans made in the knowledge that the odds are high that I’ll enjoy them alone or in the company of friends rather than with someone romantically.
Making a complete single life is a commitment, a statement and a challenge. In many ways, it’s harder than being in a couple as you are reliant on yourself for everything, which makes it all the more impressive when you do it and realise you are happy, that if someone came along in a romantic sense that they’d have to be pretty extraordinary to jump you off your single tracks and into a relationship with them.
Being single isn’t the ideal state for many people forevermore, but it is the ideal state for many people for the time being. That time can last as little or as long as they want, and can be returned to with no hard feelings or sense of remorse or guilt. Being single is an opportunity to live, to experience and to enjoy, it is not to be seen as the absence of something else.
When the time comes for me to move from this binary state to the other then I’ll do so happily, but in no way will I look at this time as a waste, a gap or worse in some way. I’ll regret the time I’ve not spent with my new partner, of course, but not regret the time I spent with myself, and nor should you.