“Self-Partnered” Really Isn’t The Term Single Women Need

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Jane Austen is now so dead that she's on a banknote. And yet, two centuries since she died, society's attempts to write the endings of single women's stories on our behalf are as overbearing as they ever were.
The word "single" is so loaded. Six letters that speak to society's problem with women and how we move through the world. The term's direct opposite – "doubled" – implies that we are all greater in a couple than we are alone and, therefore, that anyone who is not in a relationship is somehow lesser.
Nobody likes the term, let alone what it means. And so, periodically, articles about "reclaiming singledom" go viral.
That’s why Emma Watson – a 29-year-old millionaire who has succeeded in her chosen field – has been everywhere since she told Paris Lees for British Vogue that she feared turning 30 as a single woman. 
She was fine, she said, until she hit 29. And then she suddenly felt "stressed and anxious" because of the "bloody influx of subliminal messaging" that says "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."

Surely, the people in a relationship are more than the sum of their parts? Two wholes coming together, adding value to already-full lives and not missing parts of one entity? 

Watson then described herself as "self-partnered" – a term which belongs with Gwyneth Paltrow's "consciously uncoupling", filed under attempts to articulate things we already know but can’t seem to say – and tweets were fired off, for and against. Comment pieces were written in praise and ridicule of her, some even somehow got the idea she was talking about masturbation, which is a weird flex but okay.
The fact that even Emma Watson, with all her success, feels the need to find a language for the fact that she doesn’t have a boyfriend or a husband is shocking but not surprising. 
We know there are worse things than losing a partner – like losing yourself – and yet, still, we know that our self-worth is implicitly measured by our ability to keep one interested, let alone in close proximity to us. 
This reinforces the inequality that underpins relationships between men and women and undermines women’s position in love, life and work. It stops us asking for what we want, what we need for fear of being seen as "needy" or "desperate" when, in fact, we just seek basic human connections. At the same time, it stops us saying that we are in unhappy relationships and would rather be alone for a while in case we are seen as somehow failing. 
Surely, we know by now that the people in a relationship are more than the sum of their parts? Two wholes coming together, adding value to already-full lives and not missing parts of one entity? 
You would think so but sadly – barely concealed by all the #GirlBoss T-shirts and femvertising dressed up as progress to sell us things we don’t need – society still subliminally says otherwise.
That’s why we need Lizzo to shout where once Beyoncé softly sung "Me, Myself and I". That’s why we play "Water Me" on repeat but savour every single line of "Soulmate". 
"I'm my own soulmate
I know how to love me
I know that I'm always gonna hold me down."
We dance alone, in our bathrooms and let her tell us what we need to hear at full volume even though, rationally, we already know it to be true. 
"I'm never lonely
No I'm never lonely, no
I know I'm a queen but I don't need no crown
Look up in the mirror like damn she the one."
Can love, can being in a relationship, ever double what you have on your own? 
In 31 years, my experience is rather the opposite. You are whole on your own and then love cracks you wide open, sometimes taking parts of you with it that you’ll never get back.
Love isn’t a plaster for your problems or a fixer of flaws. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t embrace it when we find it but we have to stop defining single women by the absence of a partner, of what they don’t have or don’t want. 
If we are anxious all the time, as Watson says she was, then perhaps it is because we are exhausted by the performance required of us, which Deborah Levy calls "Neo-Patriarchy" in her autobiography The Cost of Living
"Neo-Patriarchy required us to be passive but ambitious, maternal but erotically energetic, self-sacrificing but fulfilled – we were to be Strong Modern Women while being subjected to all kinds of humiliations both economic and domestic. If we felt guilty about everything most of the time, we were not sure what it was we had actually done wrong."
You can imagine Watson – or any other millennial woman of means for that matter – sitting on her therapist's couch and confessing that for all her millions, for all her feminist activism, she actually feels a bit crap about being single.
And you can hear the therapist's response: "What if you reframed it as an active choice – as self-partnering?"
It's easy to see the appeal of this rebrand. Single women are so often described as passive characters whose lives are dictated by the whims of single men. But like other dating terms like "ghosting", "submarining" or "breadcrumbing", what "self-partnering" really does is distract us from what we're really feeling and why.
You might actively choose to be single and still feel lonely sometimes. Equally, you might be in a relationship and feel lonely because it's not right. You might genuinely be happy that you're not in a relationship. But for everyone who is, there is someone who wishes there was someone at home to talk to at the end of the day instead of binge-watching Succession.
What we're really talking about here is not black and white. Human relationships – with others and with ourselves – don't work like that. There is no one way to be single, just as there is no one way to be in a relationship.
Women are being sold self-love today by late capitalism. It sells us gym leggings with slogans like "a better world starts with a better you" but the implication is still that we are lacking, less than and yet to be completed. Self-partnering is just more of the same – it's shiny semantics designed to make us feel better about something we shouldn't feel bad about in the first place.
We don't need a new word for not being in a relationship but a reassessment of heteronormative relationships and what constitutes a healthy one. 

Women are being sold self-love today by late capitalism. It sells us gym leggings with slogans like 'a better world starts with a better you' but the implication is still that we are lacking, less than and yet to be completed. 

Because let me tell you this: I know some straight men who don’t love being single either. I have met them. In real life. They have also been hurt and are scared that it might happen again. They are also anxious about their futures. They say they're happy on their own but worry about being judged for sleeping around. They are also looking on as their friends get married and questioning whether that’s what they really want. They just don’t talk about it so openly. They aren’t having labels thrown at them to validate their experience and their feelings don’t become grist for the media’s content mill. 
Where are the male dating columnists? Where are the books about the love stories that are male friendships? Where are the interviews with famous men in which they talk about their anxieties about not having a wife or girlfriend?
Men’s experiences are systematically elevated and implicitly empowered while women still have to fight to be heard and believed when we say: "Honestly, I’m okay. I’d rather be single than unhappy and maybe, one day, to find love with someone who I can be at once separate from but together with, who won't complete me but add value to my life. But if I don’t, I’ll still be okay because I was already whole." 
Worse still, we have to find new terms – like "self-partnered" – to convince ourselves of what we already know. We know how to love ourselves; we know we'd rather be on our own than with the wrong person. We know that we are enough. We just can’t tune out the noise that tells us that we aren’t, because when we try, it gets louder. 

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