Let’s first make clear: Good for you, Emma!
Watson, who will turn 30 next April, is, of course, best known for playing Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter films. She is also a UN ambassador, Brown graduate, BAFTA winner, and according to all the men I’ve dated, an entire generation of boys’ first crush.
Minus that last part, it’s a long and impressive resumé. And yet, Watson still feels the need to aggrandize her singledom as a profound, personal journey.
Of course, it can be. Though I am currently other-person-partnered, I’ve spent much of my mid-20s unattached, during which I learned important things about myself, like the fact that I’m capable of opening jars of pickles without anyone’s help, and that going to the movies alone doesn’t make you a loser. (It’s actually just a really fun way to spend a weeknight!)
I’ve had many haircuts that were supposed to change my life, only to discover that I remain the same person whether my hair is long, short, chestnut brown, or lime green. The same goes for whatever dude I deign to be acceptable enough to force into a few months of Plus One-dom. Even if I’m self-partnered, I’m still myself.
But, the course of true self-love, especially for ladies, never did run smooth. Jane Austen’s female characters were allowed 300 pages to romp through balls unmarried, so long as they found a husband at the end of the story. When New Women appeared in pieces (usually written by men) like Ibsen’s A Doll's House or Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, a character who stayed single was doomed, suicidal, selfish, or maybe all of the above.
The history of film is littered with wanton women settling down (Breakfast at Tiffany's, Butterfield 8). That's not an indictment of romantic movies—this How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days fan would never—but there is no doubt such portrayals conditioned generations of women, Watson included, that a partner is the ultimate prize for sticking out the hard stuff.
Sex and the City, a show too deliciously complicated to dissect in just one paragraph, was a frank portrayal of female singledom, though the end goal for Carrie was always pinning down a man. As she said in one of her more famous voiceovers, “In New York, they say, you’re always looking for a job, a boyfriend, or an apartment.”
Elsewhere on TV, from Insecure to The Mary Tyler Moore Show, from Girls and Ally McBeal to The L Word, The Golden Girls, and Broad City, how women live with (and without) partners has been inventively analyzed and dramatized. Independence is a stirring ideal, but too often in literature and pop culture it comes with a cost. Social attitudes to the single and unattached often seem stuck in very old grooves.
Even in Dating Around, a Netflix sleeper hit from last year, the fact that one contestant named Gurki chose to stay single was lauded as one giant leap for womankind. The move, Bustle writer Taylor Maple opined, “defied the fairytale ending we’ve been conditioned to want—both for ourselves and on TV.”
I understand why Emma Watson would want to rebrand being single, especially as popular feminism currently skews less manifesto and more press release.
It is not enough just to drink 2 liters of water in a day; one must drink the water out of a rose quartz bottle that promises to open our heart to the promise of giving and receiving love.
It is not enough to wind down at the end of the day through watching an episode of Law and Order: SVU; one must listen to a true crime podcast made by an all-female crew that covers monstrous crimes committed against women, but, you know, in an empowering way.
So: it is not enough to be single, unencumbered and agenda-less, the only commitment keeping you from moving to Paris being crippling student debt. One must be self-partnered, because heaven forbid you just be happy alone for a little while.
Essence Cohen Fields, a licensed professional counselor and founder of First Love Yourself, is more patient with Watson’s wild verbiage than I am. She believes that term’s like Watson’s and the infamous “conscious uncoupling” (Gwyneth Paltrow-speak for getting a divorce), helps to destigmatize those experiences.
“When someone identifies as being single, there can be a lot of subjectivity as to whether or not it is by choice or if the are happy with their status,” Fields said. “Identifying as being self-partnered is unabashed confirmation that at that moment, a person is confident and fulfilled.” So there you go!
Being single isn’t a personality trait. It doesn’t have to be the first thing you talk about upon meeting someone, or the second, third, or fourth for that matter. And if it ever gets you down, I truly believe it’s nothing a glass of wine and Joni Mitchell’s Blue can’t fix.
Women said it in 1929, 1969, 1999, and I’ll say it in 2019, once more with feeling: it’s OK to be single! But you can also just call it “single.”