I am self-partnered (and these are the reasons why)

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Though it’s no doubt old news by now — given the speed at which information travels on the internet — a few days ago actor, activist and all-round awesome person Emma Watson declared in an interview with British Vogue that she considers herself to be “self-partnered” rather than “single”. I first heard about this in a video that Russell Brand put online today, discussing the merits of Watson’s decision to use this label. Apparently this statement has led to the usual barrage of mockery and cynicism by those less-inclined to seek new and alternative ways of being, thinking and relating. If you’re interested these responses, I’m sure a quick Google search will yield links to examples of this, but I’m not invested in delving into that side of things any further. By writing this essay, I do not claim to espouse balanced reportage. I am excited by and fully in favour of the term “self-partnered” and this article will explain the reasons why it resonates with me, as well as discuss the potential it holds to be a new and empowering way to identify, particularly from my own viewpoint as a feminist woman and as a survivor of psychological and sexual abuse.

Below is the relevant extract from Vogue UK:

She turns 30 in April, and describes 2019 as having been “tough”, because she “had all these ideas” about what her life was supposed to look like at this age. “I was like, ‘Why does everyone make such a big fuss about turning 30? This is not a big deal…’” she shares. “Cut to 29, and I’m like, ‘Oh my God, I feel so stressed and anxious. And I realise it’s because there is suddenly this bloody influx of subliminal messaging around. 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.”

If it’s staggering to think that Watson worries about this stuff, it’s comforting, too. “I never believed the whole ‘I’m happy single’ spiel,” she continues. “I was like, ‘This is totally spiel.’ It took me a long time, but I’m very happy [being single]. I call it being self-partnered.”

In a longer version of the interview, Watson also said:

“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.”

At this stage in my life, recently out of a relationship and delving into an intensive reinvestigation of self and purpose, I found this idea of self-partnership incredibly appealing. I immediately took to Facebook and proclaimed the following (to all 44 of my friends):

Thank you Emma Watson. This is the perfect way to describe where I’m at in my life right now. Self-partnered. I like it very much. We always need to be a partner to ourselves and get our self-worth from within. I suggest that we should all be healthily self-partnered always, and first and foremost. Having relationships with others should always come second to this primary relationship with self. If we don’t understand, respect and find our selves worthy, we cannot have healthy relationships with others. I also resent the idea that I have to be married to be worthy as a woman. It’s a notion that has weighed me down for decades and I’m finally throwing off the shackles. Self-partnership as a woman is a feminist notion as it subverts the dominant belief that women only exist (or are their best selves) in relation to others: as wives, mothers, lovers and carers.

In the comments section of Russell Brand’s video on Facebook about Watson’s declaration (he asked followers what they think), I wrote the following:

I think it’s brilliant. I’m recently out of a relationship and in a position where I’m really exploring myself and who I am. The relationship was abusive so I have to do a lot of self work to ensure I’m healed and also to forge a new future. Self-partnered perfectly describes where I’m at right now. I think we should all be self-partnered first and foremost, and partnered with another second. We should always have a healthy relationship with our own self and need to find self esteem and worth within.

Those were my initial thoughts, and since this morning they have developed. I believe that all humans, in order to be emotionally healthy, both within themselves and in relationship with others (friends, family, lovers, other-partners), must first and foremost be focused on cultivating a solid and healthy relationship with themselves. This means that one should feel ok to be alone, should derive a sense of worth from within, and be able to self-soothe, self-parent, and, by extension, I will argue, appropriately self-partner. We are already familiar as a culture with the concepts of self-worth, self-soothing and, to a lesser extent self-parenting. Self-parenting, for those who might not know much about it, is a concept explored in certain fields of psychotherapy (such as Internal Family Systems). It is particularly relevant to situations where people have had abusive or toxic childhoods. With self-parenting, in order to regain a sense of balance and healing to one’s wounded inner child, one takes on the role of a loving and kind parent (in an imaginary sense) and soothes the child self when it is triggered emotionally, rather than expecting others to do the soothing for you. It acknowledges and accepts the inability of one’s parents to have adequately provided the emotional nurturing one needed as a child, while also acknowledging that we carry within us the resources to be emotionally self-sufficient and to heal ourselves. It is potentially a very powerful process. Once familiar with this concept, the person can then consciously bring that inner-parent (who is inherently loving, caring and wise) to mind at times of need and crisis, in order to be able to provide solace, comfort and healing to the inner child self. Seen in the light of these other concepts then, self-partnering seems to me a natural extension of these more-widely accepted notions. It is one more way to rely upon and provide support to the self in a healthy, conscious and independent way. The next time you want to, say, go to the movies or eat out somewhere nice, but deny yourself the chance because you don’t have a partner (or even a friend) to go with, try going alone. The freedom and decadence of treating yourself to an activity you enjoy by yourself is a wonderful and self-affirming thing indeed. Read More

When you are a woman with a man

When you are a woman
With a man
You cannot say to him:
Oh, your belly is actually quite round
Or
I don’t like that hairy pimple
And
You can’t point out
That his breath smells
Or
That you wish he chose nicer clothes
And
Cared more about how he looks
If only just for you Read More

Silence was my muse

Silence was my muse
She kept me bound
Stuffed a ball in my mouth
And covered it with tape
And when she removed them
After quite some time
I was still dead quiet
As I’d always been

Silence was my muse
She didn’t say a peep
She didn’t move a muscle
And being like her
I didn’t either
I stayed frozen and mute
I couldn’t even hear
The sound of my breath
My still-beating heart
Blood ringing in my ears
Good lord, was I dead?

Silence was my muse
But the real problem was
She didn’t say much
She didn’t say anything
I had to lip read
And pray for subtitles
A translator maybe
Some braille or a note
A key to decode
Her silent cypher Read More

Mother’s Day Slam

And so on this most feel-good of tributary days, on the day of the deification of The Mother and all that is maternal, loving, warm, caring, nurturing, selfless, giving and kind, I wish you a Happy Mother’s Day.

To those who were unmothered, who were ignored, abandoned, abused, subsumed, repressed, oppressed, used, treated as a friend, or a play-thing or a no-thing.

To those who grew up without role models, so that a mother means mean and selfish and distracted and childish and foolish and unpredictable and explosive.

To those who mothered and continue to mother themselves, though without the guidance of role models do an imperfect job, alternately indulging the self ‘s every whim and punishing it with endless barrages of internal criticism.

To those who mother others, but not necessarily themselves. To those who had the mother-child role reversed, and learned to play carer, nurturer, listener, genie-in-a-bottle-granter-of-wishes, not just to their own mothers, who couldn’t mother them, but to everyone, stranger or friend, who needed a mother, at any time of day, or night, in any place, or any space, appropriate or not.

To those women who cannot or will not have children, you are not less of a woman for it.

To those of you who find today hard because of any or all of these things. To those who feel left out.

I wish you all a Happy Mother’s Day.

Married At First Sight’s Dean and Tracey: When Traditional Gender Expectations Mean “I Love You”.

As women we are sold so many lies about our gender, about what constitutes a good life for us, about what we should aim for and want for ourselves. About what we can and can’t do, and what we’re capable and incapable of. How we should look, act and feel. One of the grandest lies we are sold pertains to marriage, and that it should assume a crowning centrality in our lives. Marriage is the glittering pinnacle towards which all women should climb, and along with motherhood, should be the Holy Grail of our existence. Being marriageable is a measure of a woman’s worth. I know that I personally have, and continue to fall into the pitfall of feeling unworthy and unloveable because I am unmarried. There is a deep yearning (seemingly in my psyche) to have my loveability validated by a man declaring his undying, unconditional love for me, that, even as a card-carrying feminist, I cannot shake. Being marriageable is a measure of a woman’s worth. I repeat that statement because until quite recently in the West, what a woman could bring to a marriage financially (her dowry) was of the utmost importance. Also, her youth, her health, her ability to be impregnated were assets traded, sold even, from one family to another. Thankfully these days, in the West most people adopt a model of marriage as a love match, but residues and remnants of a woman’s literal worth and its trading are still apparent in the majority of wedding ceremonies, even those claiming to be non-traditional. The giving of an engagement ring is a deposit on your bride to be; the bigger the deposit, the more she is worth to you. The giving away of the bride, from one man (the bride’s father, usually) to another (the groom), as if she is a possession, merely chattels. The highly decorative way the woman is dressed, as if she is a wrapped present, often complete with bows, sparkles, vast swathes of cloth for the man to untie and unwrap at the end of the day. It surprises and saddens me how many of these ceremonial traditions are upheld (along with many others), as if a marriage ceremony couldn’t be reconfigured to truly respect women, to reflect the progress that has been made in recent decades; as if, somehow, a wedding is not a wedding without these elements. As a feminist, unmarried woman, I’ve thought about this a lot, as a way to assuage my own somewhat embarrassing yearning to be married, and maybe more to justify to myself why, in fact I wouldn’t want it. But a marriage is not the same thing as a wedding, and with a partner of 13 years, I’ve surely experienced – by now – something quite similar to what a marriage is; and yet there’s a niggling part of me that still desires that our relationship have public recognition, complete with declarations of love, a ceremony, a wedding, even if most of the traditions and trappings would be abandoned in what would be a truly feminist celebration. Weird isn’t it? Yes, but no. Read More