When Emma Watson described herself as “self-partnered” in an interview with British Vogue this week, the term was met with a mixture of ridicule and praise. Predictable masturbation jokes were made.
Like Gwyneth Paltrow’s use of the phrase “conscious uncoupling” to describe her separation from her husband Chris Martin, or Mark Ronson’s recent (albeit accidental) announcement that he was “sapiosexual” (attracted to intelligence before appearance), any deviations from the limited language we have around relationships is met with mockery.
This is a shame. We need more words, people! Being able to accurately frame our current experiences is part of being human – and we need more nuanced language to better tell our story.
We’re getting better at not labelling sexuality; at accepting that it’s fluid, on a continuum and sometimes hard to categorise. But as the world, its politics and the fear of impending apocalypse change how we relate to ourselves, other people and our futures, we’re still stuck with outdated and limiting language around romantic relationships – and around the lack of them.
On government forms – and in life – there are only a handful of categories available: single, married, separated, divorced or widowed. What small boxes we place ourselves into when describing something so varied, so vivid, so integral to who we are.
The words themselves come preloaded with expectations about the nature of the experience. Take “divorce”, for instance: a harsh word with a lot of negative baggage. What if your experience is tender, careful, amicable and ultimately liberating? Isn’t “conscious uncoupling” more apt a description?
And what if describing yourself as single is technically right, but you don’t really feel single? There are so many ways of experiencing singleness – and all of them are valid.
There’s being single and actively looking for a partner: asking your friends to set you up, joining a load of dating apps. Shall we call it “actively pre-partnered”?
There’s being single and always wanting to be single because you love it. Let’s say “committed non-committal”.
Then there’s being single and open to meeting someone, but not really pushing it. “Passive serendipity-seeker”?
Or what if you have a range of intense emotional and/or sexual connections with people; connections that don’t bring you into the “couple” zone, but are nonetheless real and powerful. The language we have is wholly inadequate to describe something like this. How about “omni-emo-sexual”?
And then there is what Emma Watson described. “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,” said the Ivy League-educated UN ambassador and Bafta winner, in what some have pointed out is a telling sign of the times. “It took me a long time, but I’m very happy [being single]. I call it being self-partnered.”
I see “self-partnership” as just taking some time out from the merry-go-round of relationships and “looking for the one”, and instead getting to know yourself a bit better.
It’s a good thing, actively seeking to be more self-aware; it can even prepare you for the next relationship (unless you’re a committed non-committal, of course). But self-partnering is also just great in and of itself. We’re stuck with ourselves 24/7; all of us are self-partnered for life. We may as well get to know and like the person we’ll be with forever.