Emma Watson's rebranding of her relationship status shows we still don't believe a woman can be happy alone.
Emma Watson is not single. Nor is she in a relationship: the 29-year-old actress has this week declared that she is "self-partnered". And lo, just as Gwyneth Paltrow rebranded "divorce" as "conscious uncoupling", the Hollywood-ification of humdrum relationship terms continues.
In an interview with British Vogue, the UN Goodwill Ambassador said that she never used to believe in what she called the " 'I'm happy single' spiel", whereby people profess not to be looking for a relationship and maintain they are happy alone. But now, approaching her 30th birthday, she has finally embraced it: "It took me a long time, but I'm very happy [being single]," she said. "I call it being self-partnered."
Her phrase of choice has, naturally, raised eyebrows on social media: "If she's self-partnered, what happens when she enters a relationship?" asked one Twitter user. "Is she going to cheat on herself or practice bigamy?" While another revised much-loved romcoms for the self-partnered age, including When Sally Met Sally and Breakfast For One At Tiffany's.
As someone who is the exact same age as Watson, and equally as single – or, sorry, should I say "self-partnered" – I fully agree with the sentiment she's expressing; if you haven't made a home, or got a husband, or had a baby, and the big three-oh looming on the horizon, "there's just this incredible amount of anxiety", she said. So to finally get to a place where you're actually enjoying being single – especially in the run up to an age where you're supposed to have things all figured out – is definitely something to celebrate.
The only problem is that most people won't believe you. The idea of a single woman being a tragic, desperate Bridget Jones is so deeply entrenched that it's near-impossible to reveal you're unattached without people giving you a sympathetic look, a shoulder pat, or consoling you that "it'll happen soon". Even if you choose to be single and explain that you are happily so, they assume it's a front for the Fifties housewife ambitions you harbour within. It's an issue men don't have. For them, being single is associated with a glamorous, fun bachelor lifestyle; a single man is envied, not pitied.
So while we mock "self-partnered", it's no wonder Watson wanted to rebrand her relationship status. For her, the term conveys that she's quite happy being a single successful actress, model and activist – even if she doesn't have a plus-one.
Hers isn't a phrase I'll be using myself, at least not with a straight face. But I must admit to concocting a few of my own equivalents. A couple of years ago, when I was taking a break from dating and very much didn't want to be in a relationship, I decided upon "actively single". I always said it in a slightly jokey way – I was aware that it was a bit ridiculous – but it did stop people asking me how dating was going. Instead of fixating on what they perceived to be a man-shaped hole in my life, they wanted to know what on earth I was talking about.
"I call it 'falling in love with yourself'," says Elizabeth Sullivan, a dating and relationship coach. "Language is complex and one word isn't always enough. Single, in particular, can mean happy for one person, and unhappy for someone else. 'Positively single' is another option. I'm not 100 percent on the term self-partnered, but that might change."
Sullivan recalls that "when Gwyneth first 'consciously uncoupled' it was very controversial, but it's become more acceptable. Society changes and develops, so the same may happen here. The important thing is to use a phrase that you're personally happy with, even if it's 'single and loving life'."
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Online, self-partnered has unsurprisingly already become a hashtag, with one person summing it up by saying, "Thank you woke generation. #Selfpartnered is the new 'I am single'." For our "woke" generation, it's de rigueur to rebrand and reclaim words. Singer Lizzo has cultivated a global army of fans thanks to her focus on "being your own soulmate".
Billie Gianfrancesco, a PR consultant also turning 30, has been self-partnering for the last two years. "I made a pledge to stay single, put myself first and learn to love myself. I'm two years in and positively loving it. I still date and have sexual partners, but the only committed relationship I'm in is with myself."
But not everyone is feeling so linguistically right-on. Writer Candida Crewe, 55, spent a decade being single after divorcing in her 40s, and always used the term "single" to describe her status. "I would use the phrase 'self-partnered' over my dead body… it's just so ghastly. I'd rather just say it as it is." Sarah Johnson, 34, agrees. "I don't like self-partnered, because a partner can give you an incredible amount of support you can't get from yourself."
As Sullivan says, the most important thing is for everyone to find a phrase that works for them. Whether that's plain old "single", or "self-partnering", the one thing that everyone agrees on, is that it's time for the negative stereotype around single women to end once and for all. Because when someone as talented, successful and attractive as Watson can't bring herself to use the word, what hope is there for the rest of us?
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Twice married and with two children, the former Countdown star, 58, declared recently she now loves being single: "I laugh more than I have ever laughed. I have my kids, my family and my brilliant friends. I'm just very happy."
Charlize Theron: The South African actress, 44, revealed in May that she had been single for years. Having taken a break from relationships after adopting her two children, she was now "shockingly available" for dates, she said, and hopes to find love.
Diane Keaton: The 73-year-old actor has a theory about why she's been single her whole life: "I think that I'm strange," she told an interviewer. There was, she explained, "something missing in me," like the sort of "nurturing" quality that might appeal to a man looking for marriage. It hasn't stopped her dating a number of men over the years.
Halle Berry: Married three times, the 53-year-old actress and mother-of-two reportedly split from her boyfriend Alex Da Kid, a British music producer, in 2017. She later shared an image on Instagram of a heart made of yarn.
Grace Jones: "I have made a big effort in my life to enjoy being alone, so that I don't enter a relationship only because I am afraid of being on my own," the 71-year-old singer, who previously married once, has said.