“I call it being self-partnered.”
Gossip columnists immediately bemoaned the actress’ self-coined phrase, while supporters on Twitter leapt to her defense.
To some, Watson’s new addition to the cultural dictionary reflected nothing more than self-indulgence from a celebrity out of touch with the real world. To others, it was a rare example of a public figure breaking free from the shackles of gawkish expectations and verbalizing the realities of life and love.
But perhaps Watson was expressing something quite mundane — by celebrating singlehood, experts say, she was reflecting the changing way in which millennials are moving through life.
“I was delighted by the news,” Kate Bolick, the author of bestseller “Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own,”said. “When I was Watson’s age, there wasn’t a public conversation about the very real benefits of living and being alone. It heartens me to think that young people today are getting this message, and that perhaps society is on the road toward not being obsessed with coupledom.”
“When I was in my 20s, the only cultural examples of single women were fictional — (like) Carrie Bradshaw and Bridget Jones — and though they lived independently, they were obsessed with finding love,” Bolick said.
While Watson settled on some creative vocabulary, for Aniston the opportunity came via Instagram. “People are already in my panty drawers all the time,” the “Friends” star told The Guardian this week of her record-breaking debut on the platform. “I want them out of my panty drawers … but now I can decide which pair to show them.”
“A major function of celebrity is how it gives ordinary, non-famous people access to an idealized fantasy life,” Bolick said. “When marriage and kids is the ideal, celebrities are expected to have those things. The fact that Emma Watson is representing a different type of life means that society’s ideals are changing.”
A lingering stigma
Social psychologist Bella DePaulo has studied the attitudes of people towards single and coupled-up peers for years. “We found that single people were judged more harshly than married people when both were said to be 40 years old, and even when both were said to be just 25,” she said.
Watson would certainly recognize that stigma. “I was like, ‘Why does everyone make such a big fuss about turning 30? This is not a big deal,” she said elsewhere in her Vogue interview. “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.
“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.”