The plain silver band I wore on the ring finger of my left hand used to garner side-eye glances from men presuming that I was attached to someone else. Little did they know that my modest band represented my marriage to myself. And since it wasn’t any of their business, I never bothered to disclose the fact. This was over a decade ago.
Fast-forward to 2019 where the idea of being single is being rebranded as “self-partnered.” This feels like the next wave of female empowerment, of women claiming not only their autonomy but their own sense of self-worth in the most brazen expression of self-love to date. And forget my little silver ring—women are having whole marriage ceremonies for themselves.
It was British actress Emma Watson who dropped this jewel of a term during an interview with Vogue in November. She expressed the angst she had succumbed to as a result of the external pressure of entering her thirties without a husband and child, saying, “Cut to 29, and I’m like, ‘Oh my God, I feel so stressed and anxious. And I realize it’s because there is suddenly this bloody influx of subliminal messaging around… There’s just this incredible amount of anxiety.” She then reflected on how it took a while to shake off that social pressure and discover that she was actually very happy being single.
Of course, Watson is not alone in feeling anxious about arbitrary numbers and their perceived significance. Many women put a huge burden of stress on themselves because of the timelines they have established for their lives. I created my timeline at age 14. Let’s just say that none of it came off as planned.
Similarly, women from many backgrounds and places have shared stories about the pressure they feel to marry and start a family: “I definitely have a self-imposed pressure to get married. When I was younger I thought I would be married before 30, and maybe close to having my first kid. I can tell you now that I’m not even close to any of that. The pressure I put on myself stems heavily from past societal norms. I get scared that if I don’t get married soon I will lose the chance to have a family,” says Selena from, Texas.
Echoing the sentiment is Delaney, from California, “I definitely feel a continuous pressure to find my person and worry about when that time will come. It also doesn’t help going out to friend and family functions where everyone reminds me how great I am and continue to ask me ‘how are you still single?’ or ‘when are you going to meet somebody?’”
These narratives could go on forever. We are all so conditioned to think that life must look a certain way and if we have not reached these key milestones by a certain age, then we’ve failed. It’s sheer nonsense.
All the Single Ladies
Over time, the advancement of independent women has cropped up in our culture, from music to movies to entire movements. Recall Destiny’s Child’s hit, “Bills, Bills, Bills” in which now-feminist icon Beyonce sang that if a man can’t pay your bills, he isn’t worth the time of day. Thankfully, we’re singing a different tune now, as in British singer/songwriter Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia, where she sings “No matter what you do, I’m gonna get it without ya; I know you ain’t used to a female alpha.”
Although Rom-com tropes die-hard (and in some cases, not at all), there are more movies and series now which offer a wider range of ideas for what a woman can be —and it’s not Peggy Lee’s version (even though I will always love it) of being able to “make a dress out of feed bag” and “make a man out of you.”
In the Netflix film Marriage Story, Scarlett Johansson gives a compelling performance as a woman who leaves her husband not because she didn’t love him anymore, but because during their marriage she found herself getting “smaller.”
It is this sort of casting off from anything that makes you feel smaller than your truest self that is the optimistic undertone of being self-partnered. You get to be big, live fully, and experience contentment in and of yourself.
During my yoga teacher training, I came across a teaching from Yogi Bhajan (the teacher who brought Kundalini Yoga to the west) that I find intriguing. He writes of the changes we would see in the world as we progressed into the 21st century and predicted that one of those changes would be fewer marriages. He saw all of humanity advancing from a place of division, polarities, and dualities to a place of wholeness, saying, “They don’t want to practice duality anymore; that’s why you will find few marriages.”
I thought that prediction was worth heeding and have watched as it proves itself to be true. Since the 1980s, when marriages in the U.S. hit their peak, marriage rates have been declining. In the year 2000, the percentage of new marriages per 1,000 inhabitants was 8.2. By 2017 it had dropped to 6.9 percent. There are ideas as to why this is, but I can’t help but wonder if the yogi was right.
It does feel like something bigger is happening than millennials throwing out trendy catchphrases. Since the introduction of the expression “family of choice” as a counter-balance to family-of-origin, in which we are able to create our family from people who love and uplift us rather than those with whom we share blood but aren’t able to give to us what we need or the embracing of friends as family with the popular rise of “Friendsgiving,”, there is a movement toward creating life as we see fit, as we choose to live it, and as it feels right to us. Gone are the days of being paralyzed by and made miserable because of conformity to social norms.
Self-Partnered, aka Embracing Wholeness
Wholeness is trending. Not just in terms of whole foods or holistic health care but in embracing our own selves as whole and complete without “the one.” Women are seeing not only that they can financially support themselves but that they can surround themselves with loving and encouraging people who offer them abundant emotional and psychological support. No longer must a woman be married to feel complete. I think that’s what Yogi Bhajan meant when he said people won’t want duality anymore.
Self-partnering is a huge leap forward in women celebrating themselves as whole beings in their own right. What a tremendous relief for those who have been overly anxious about the whole timeline thing, or the why-aren’t-you-married thing. By identifying as being self-partnered a woman is saying, “I’m good. I’ve got this.” It’s about a woman choosing to love herself as she is.
What self-partnering is not is a backhanded way of saying women hate men (a man can identify as self-partnered, too), or don’t believe in relationships. It’s nothing to do with rejecting love or relationships. It’s about cultivating the most important relationship you have, which is with yourself. A woman who has found joy in her own company and who has given time to develop her own pursuits, interests, and passions will feel more confident and purposeful in her life. And she will open the door to a relationship on her own terms when she is ready—and when she has found one who is worthy.