Why Everyone Should Be Self-Partnered

Self-partnership is beneficial for all individuals—those in relationships, too.

Posted Nov 26, 2019

Photo by Omar Lopez on Unsplash.
Source: Photo by Omar Lopez on Unsplash.

Earlier this month, the term “self-partnered” went viral. Actress Emma Watson noted that she’s “very happy” not being in a relationship: “I call it self-partnered.” After the interview came out, people had all sorts of reactions, from support to scorn. 

Singles experts also voiced their opinions. Psychologist Bella DePaulo noted that she likes her phrase “single at heart” better, given that it takes the unspoken goal of partnership out of the equation. Solo-ish columnist Lisa Bonos discussed the difficulties in finding a positive term for singles. She recalled when a dating coach told her to use the term “available,” which she found creepy. 

Initially, I wanted to write a piece on the healing power of self-partnering, assuming that those who are self-partnered are also single. But I’ve realized that this is hugely limiting—and can even have detrimental effects. Self-partnering denotes a commitment to honoring one’s needs, healing one’s wounds, and working towards self-growth and self-actualization. This daily dedication holds tremendous benefits for all people, regardless of whether or not they have other partners.

When those in relationships aren’t self-partnered, it can have devastating effects. I frequently work with couples who have transferred the responsibility for their own well-being to their partners, which can cause blame and conflict. Of course, being in relationships can provide deep opportunities for growth and mutual healing. But if partners haven’t attempted to process and heal their own unresolved trauma, they will often become stuck in a loop of frustration and pain. 

Despite its importance, self-partnership is often treated as a consolation prize for those who are single. Sometimes it’s couched in practical terms: Take that three-month ancestral trip now, because once you have a partner/s, it will be difficult to be away that long. But given that single people are actively discriminated against, there’s more to the story. Often our society treats being single as a life stage to be slogged through before meeting a partner/s—which is when the supposedly more mature and fulfilling stage begins. This can cause single people to feel shame and anxiety, especially if they are actively searching for partners and haven’t found them yet. 

There are reasons that our society wants single people—especially those who identify as female—to feel pressure to find a traditional partner. Emily and Amelia Nagosky discuss “human giver syndrome” in their book Burnout, which posits that our society can be divided into “human givers” and “human beings.” Human givers are expected to use all of their time and energy to support human beings. You can probably guess which gender is associated with which category.  

Our society also makes self-partnering more difficult in the context of a relationship. Beyond the simple time and effort of caring for another (which increases exponentially with children), people often think of the idea of self-care and self-growth to be selfish or self-involved. Additionally, women in heterosexual relationships still take on more household responsibilities than their male partners, even when both partners are working, which can take time and energy away from this pursuit. Joanna Scutts furthers explains this concept in a post on Medium. 

In the following weeks, I will share ways that everyone can work on self-partnering, regardless of whether they or not they have partners. These will include a self-focus on deprogramming societal expectations, experimenting with pleasure, and facing your worst fears. My hope is that the conversation will continue to shift from how to be happy and empowered while single to how to be happy and empowered full stop. 

I’d love to hear from you. What do you think about the idea of being self-partnered? Do you believe people in relationships can be self-partnered?