How I Learnt to Be Truly Happy on My Own

Emma Watson’s statement about being not single but "self-partnered" changed the way I look at dating…and I’ve never felt so free.

I’ve taken breaks from dating here and there. Not in that sad, bitter “It’s not working so why should I try?” kind of way. Sure, there were times I felt heartbroken or defeated in the strident swipe-right culture, but the fact that every dozen frogs led to a could-be fiancé kept my spirits high. I liked being social, meeting new friends and trying new restaurants, but periods of dating were followed my stints of self-discovery and recovery. Some heartbreaks hit me hard, but with the help of my friends, emotional bruises never lingered too long. (Psst: Here’s what you have to do to get over a breakup.) I’d simply shake the sting off and start swiping again. That had been my pattern for 15 years…but then something shifted.

When Emma Watson told British Vogue she’s “very happy being single” and she calls it “being self-partnered,” a wave of relief washed over me. I teared up, but I didn’t understand why. How were her words so powerful when I don’t consider myself self-partnered? After considerable self-reflection, I realized that for my entire life, I’ve seen marriage as a goal. With no thanks to fairy tales, song lyrics, romance movies and the marriage plots of generations before, I saw my life as a love story culminating in a wedding and family. It wasn’t parental pressure (thanks mom and dad for never, ever, telling me how badly you want grandchildren), but societal. It was a mentality that permeated magazines, movies, books and friends. It’s like my life always had this unspoken expectation that I would partner up, and not having someone reflected poorly on me. (“Why are you single? You’re so great!” Thanks. I didn’t ask.)

My ongoing failure to meet that expectation not only negatively affected my mentality, but also impacted the lifestyle I wanted to prioritize. In trying to find a partner, I can’t count how many times I skipped the gym, turned down last-minute friend hangs, shelved munch-needed me-time or traded healthy days in for “cheat” days, all for a first date—and often one I didn’t even care to see again. I resented the pattern. I resented that I had to sacrifice my present priorities to achieve a goal I didn’t understand. Emma Watson’s statement was, for me, a release from those expectations. That this brilliant, talented and beautiful powerhouse was celebrated for self-partnering confirmed it was okay to create my own love timeline; to put dating on the back burner…or to take it off the stove entirely.

So, I’m not currently taking a break from dating, I’m just…not dating. I don’t want to spend my free time swiping, discussing the swipes, wondering if they’ll call. The next time a friend tells me “You should get back online” because “Time is running out”—things I hear often—I won’t get defensive. I’ll smile and shrug, smile and say, “This is what’s working for me.” I’m not opposed to meeting someone, but it’s no longer a goal I want to spend my precious time and energy on, and I’m happier for it.

And, if I do happen to find a partner, I see myself reframing how romance looks in my life.

I have spent my lifetime cultivating a lifestyle I love. Between my career, social circle, hobbies, on-again-off-again workout regimen and love of just being alone, where does the considerable time commitment that is a partner fit in? How does a late-thirties city girl with a jam-packed social calendar slow that down to make room for a whole other human? It’s a lot to unpack (literally and figuratively). (Psst: Did you know having a life of your own is actually the secret to a successful relationship?)

Maybe this: If I do meet a partner, we won’t live together (my closets are full, anyway). I won’t go home to him every night (I hate sharing my bed). It’s not assumed we’ll hang out most days (unless he loves concerts, musicals, ballets, art exhibits, my friends and new restaurants as much as I do). I can simply be me, and he can simultaneously be himself and neither of us will ever define our relationship by compromise.

Maybe my future relationship is simply a side dish on my feast of life. Finding one would be a total bonus…but without it? The main course is more than enough.

Now that you’ve learned about the benefits of self-partnering, check out ways to beat loneliness and enrich your life.