The news is out: Emma Watson no longer identifies as “single” but “self-partnered” instead.
In a recent interview with British Vogue, the 29-year-old actress, famous for her role as Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter movie series, talked about turning 30 next year and the stress she has been feeling from not being married by this age.
From the mouth of the UN Women Goodwill Ambassador, BAFTA winner, and former Brown and Oxford student: “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.”
Referring to the “influx of subliminal messaging around” for “all these ideas” that she carried for what life should look like at 30, Watson also shared that she did not previously relate to the other widely heralded concept of “happy single” – calling it “spiel”, or catchphrase of the modern world – but now that had changed for her.
“It took me a long time, but I’m very happy. I call it being self-partnered.”
If you knew little else about Watson, like me, this statement, which has headlined across global press over the past few days, might match up quite easily to the last thing you probably heard of her: Watson was largely involved in the 2014 launch of the UN gender equality campaign, HeForShe, where she advocated strongly for women’s rights, even interviewing Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai.
But with Singles’ Day (11/11) happening in close wake of Watson’s new expression for her counter-intuitive comfort, I have to admit that the term doesn’t fit quite as snugly as empowerment should feel.
Don’t get me wrong. I respect the woman. Rewatching her much-talked-about HeForShe presentation to the UN in 2014 roused in me a certain pride for the then 24-year-old, as she argued for feminism simply as the equality for both genders, not man-hating or women being better than men. You go, girl.
As her peer, I agree with her recognition of the social pressures that exist, particularly for women turning 30 without hitting the traditional markers of adulthood and stability: marriage, babies and a good career. I fall far enough from those things myself. But yes, I too am happy as I am.
But would I henceforth describe myself as self-partnered?
NOT QUITE THE MAGIC WORD
It popped up as an auto-filler once I entered her name into Google: “Emma Watson boyfriend”, upon which a generous selection of articles with a variety of names appeared. And thanks to the British paparazzi, I now know that Watson has had not one, two or five boyfriends in the past decade – she has had at least 10 public romantic relationships, one as recent as last month.
So before we jump onto the self-partnered wagon, perhaps we should consider this: is self-partnering more self-preserving than it sounds?
It’s not about Watson having a string of suitors – all power to her. I think every Beauty deserves to find her Beast.
But I’m also seeing here, as a significant number of us might have experienced, a repertoire of relationships that just didn’t work out. Beasts who didn’t turn into princes. Endings that weren’t fairytales. We may not all be Emma Watson, but Emma Watson is really all of us.
Single at 30, and feeling like we’ve somehow not arrived.
And as the people around us get increasingly married as our years tick by, the sense of sticking out is undeniable, whether you’re content with the status or not.
The singles of Singapore’s most-connected generation will probably agree to this – the term “single” does not have the most pleasant connotations on our little Asian island. One might attribute it to the sociopolitical challenges faced by those without a partner, or the generational and definitely non-subliminal messaging that happens at family gatherings.
Watson was right, the tensions are real. And when tensions are real, we cannot deny that shame lurks like a shadow, fears of being forever alone swell within and hurtful narratives circle in our minds like vultures. Women your age are having careers and children. Am I not as “adult” as those who are married?
You just weren’t enough for anyone.
So if being “single” came with the unspoken cousin labels of being unsuccessful, unstable or just unchosen, of course we would want to distance ourselves from it by diligently seeking a partner to change that status or, if you have the power and influence of Emma Watson, change its title altogether while remaining technically single.
Just don’t call me single.
We must recognise that both behaviours can be attempts at self-preservation. Heart-preservation, even, because the labels hurt. I would know: I have seen them both in myself.
Maybe what we need to pay attention to is why the word “happy” needs to qualify “single”, and how the word “partner” still made its ironic way into Watson’s latest catchphrase. After all, God did say Himself that it was not good for man to be alone.
It is not weak to acknowledge that there is unhappiness that surfaces once in a while for those of us who are not one half of a couple. It is not disempowering to recognise that humans were made to partner, though not all of us have found one or will ever find one.
Unpopular confession: It can get really lonely when you’re the last few of your age group left in a life stage.
Sure, we shouldn’t bow to societal pressures to couple up, go forth and multiply; we should also spend good time learning how to love ourselves well, as good partners do. But rather than dam the disappointment of what we have lost – and still lack – with new spiel to comfort our tired, broken hearts (I’m sorry, Emma), I believe we need to pursue a peace that transcends yet does not deny.
IS THERE A HE FOR SHE?
Here’s what I love about a hope that rests in God: there is promised goodness in every possible permutation of the future. And His promised goodness to us brings a peace that transcends all understanding. We simply need to let go of the need to control that understanding of goodness – in exchange for His.
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)
Hope means we can own up to the strong desire to be partnered one day and still declare praise even when we spend yet another year without a husband or a baby on the horizon. Hope means trusting God can provide a godly spouse and an incredibly joyful future without one.
Hope is knowing He can turn all things for good (Genesis 50:20). Do we believe it?
We don’t have to hold our own hands and comfort ourselves when shame and fear storm outside our window. We have a life partner who has promised again and again never to leave us nor forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6).
In the safety of this God-given hope, we can grieve our dearest dreams and anticipate our greatest joys. We don’t have to self-preserve. We don’t have to self-partner. There will always be a He for she.