Sure, let's call Emma Watson 'self-partnered', but why are women so terrified of being single?

By trying to replace ‘single’ with 'self-partnered', is Emma Watson implying that there’s something so objectionable about being by yourself?

Sonali Kokra November 10, 2019 11:19:42 IST
Sure, let's call Emma Watson 'self-partnered', but why are women so terrified of being single?

As a rule of thumb, I’m in favour of calling people by their desired name and descriptors. I mean, I personally think it would be far more efficient (and entertaining) to call all babies Potato 1, 2, 3, and so on until such a time they can choose their genders and names that least embarrass them; but I have come to accept that the creators of said babies have all found this suggestion highly unimpressive, offensive, and even insensitive on occasion.

So, despite my many objections, I dutifully memorise the names of their spawn and call them with whatever variation of the Arya, Aryaman, Aryavardhan, etc. label they’ve slapped on to their sons and whichever combination of letters ending in ‘a’ (Mia, Pia, Dia, Jia, Kaira, Maira… the list is long and fairly unimaginative) they’ve chosen for their daughters.

When you’re in your 30s, your social circle reproduces at a rate of at least two kids per month, which means I commit roughly 24 names and then 24 wholly unrelated corresponding pet names to my memory each year. The point of this exercise is that I wholeheartedly believe it is a decent person’s duty to respect people’s wishes even if it is inconvenient, perhaps especially  it is inconvenient. 

Sure lets call Emma Watson selfpartnered but why are women so terrified of being single

File image of Emma Watson.

And so, while Emma Watson’s recent mission to rebrand single as “self-partnered” sounds mostly ludicrous and thoroughly eyeroll-worthy, sure, I’ll call her self-partnered, if she insists. I’ve got your back, Hermione.

Am I still holding out hope that you were being ironic, but your subtle dig at a culture that worships at the altar of spin was entirely lost on the fashionable folk at British Vogue? Yes, yes, of course I am. I mean if the single tag can break the spirit of even a multiple award-winning actress who also happens to be a UN Women Goodwill Ambassador, and who has done it all in her 20s, what hope do the rest of us plebs have? So yes, as slim as the chances are, I’m kinda, sorta hoping that any minute now Emma will apparate on Twitter and LeviOsa-not-LevioSA this mess with alacrity.

But I get the sentiment that powers this desire. The pressure on adult female humans to couple up and squabble their way into the sunset with innocent, impressionable men who have had the misfortune of being ensnared whilst still in their prime (which can start as early as 18 and stretch well into their 80s) is all-encompassing and crushing.

Geopolitics and nuclear capabilities may divide the world, but contempt for un-partnered women unites us as occupants of this pale blue (okay, fine, dirty dishwater grey) dot. It doesn’t matter if you’ve won the Nobel or the Pulitzer, what matters is if you have someone who will make passive-aggressive wife/girlfriend jokes about you on WhatsApp with his friends circa year two of togetherness.

The frosting on this cake is the biological clock ticking away on the time bombs that are our ovaries, and the cherry is that golden age when we cross the threshold from being over the hill (mid 30s) to certifiable spinster (early 40s). As the only grown woman in a large, bustling family who hasn’t yet partnered up and procreated, I routinely watch mothers of young women shrink in fright when they see me approaching the chaat stall at weddings (everyone knows it’s where they congregate to gossip), terrified that I might spread the highly contagious single virus to their daughters ruining their IIT-IIM prospects for life.

Mujhe single ki bimari hai, yeh choone se nahi failti. 

So I can empathise with Emma for being fed up and exhausted. I, and so many women I know, are too. And while we all wish the solution to this problem was as simple as replacing single with self-partnered, or cat-partnered, or bag-partnered, or shoe-partnered, or I-do-what-I-want-when-I-want-without-needing-anyone’s-permission-or-buy-in-partnered, it’s not. The problem is not with the branding, it’s our myopic understanding of what the product on sale really is. 

Single is simply a reality — neither good, nor bad, and most certainly not ugly. It’s neither a burden, nor a curse that needs to be deflected urgently.

For all the pearl-clutching and thank-god-it’s-her-and-not-me commiseration it tends to elicit, it’s not even a permanent or unalterable state of affairs. It’s not a “state of mind” or all the other hundreds of meaningless descriptors we plaster onto our life situations to resist the urge to make them seem more bearable. By trying to replace ‘single’ with a phrase that contradicts itself — partner literally means someone that is not you — are we being told that there’s something so objectionable, so grotesque about being by yourself that we must resort to desperate euphemisms to stomach the reality? How disappointing. 

Which is not to say that words don’t hold within them incredible opinion-shaping power. To borrow a popular Harry Potter homily — I’ll stop with the references after this one, I promise — like Dumbledore says, “Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic. Capable of both inflicting injury, and remedying it.” But there’s a difference between using the magic of words to heal, and opening up a thesaurus to coddle because that’s just so much easier that putting in the work to undo the damage caused by generations of sexist conditioning. 

As a single person who neither feels the need to bemoan that fact, nor pretend that it’s some superior state of being, I’m almost as fed up of my generation’s ability to come up with new ways to delude itself, as I am of the previous one’s need to demonise singledom. I don’t want to say silly, meaningless nonsense like “taking myself out on a date” — (seriously, how is it any different from going out and having fun other than to make it sound like you’re in some kind of narcissistic romantic relationship with yourself) — any more than I want to explain to my father’s cousin, twice removed, why I’m happier alone than married to the “very nice boy from Singapore” whose mother wanted to know how well I cook because maids are expensive there and her ladla beta likes ghar ka khaana.

I don’t want to be self-partnered, I just want to be tea-partnered. Can we all at least agree that if we must tether ourselves to ridiculous concepts of partnership, it might as well be tea?   

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