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Single or 'Self-Partnered'? Why It Matters

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Seth J. Gillihan, PhD - Blogs
By Seth J. Gillihan, PhDClinical psychologistNovember 07, 2019

Being single doesn’t have to mean being partner-less—it can mean being “self-partnered.” That’s how Emma Watson described herself in a recent interview with Vogue. Language is important in shaping our experience of the world and ourselves, and this word choice focuses on the positive aspects of not having a romantic partner (similar to how many who choose not to have children identify as “child-free”).

“Self-partnered” suggests that we’re treating ourselves as someone we care about. And why not? We spend more time with ourselves than with anyone else—whether or not we’re single—which gives us nearly endless opportunities for self-kindness. This designation reminds us that we can be a good partner—encouraging, forgiving, considerate—rather than neglecting or abusing ourselves, as many of us do.

This label is also more accurate—and optimistic—than “alone,” which suggests isolation and loneliness. We’re never truly alone when we pay attention to this person whose body we inhabit. Rather than being a lonely experience, time with ourselves can be deeply rewarding.

So what does it mean to self-partner? Partners make an effort to get to know each other, so it starts with seeing ourselves as someone worth spending time with. Most of us, whether or not we’re in a romantic relationship, don’t really get to know ourselves, and even take pains to avoid our own company. When truly self-partnered, an evening alone can turn into an enjoyable time of self-discovery, rather than a sad reflection of your relationship status.

Self-partnering also means being your own ally. You look out for yourself, and you go easy on yourself when you make mistakes. Being a good self-partner might be as simple as packing yourself a lunch with love and care; when you open it later in the day, you can thank your past self for thinking of you (Aw, you didn’t have to do that…). You can also plan your day to include life-giving activities, rather than crowding out enjoyment with endless commitments.

But what if you’re single and you’re not content to partner with yourself? What if you really want to be in a relationship with another person— someone you can hold and kiss and who can lovingly surprise you in ways you can’t surprise yourself? With so many people these days saying you “have to be okay with being single,” it’s easy to feel like there’s something wrong with you because you crave connection to someone else.

So keep in mind that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with preferring to spend your life with another person. We are built for connection, and there’s no shame in finding fulfillment outside of yourself. Just keep in mind the distinction between feeling like your life would be more complete with a partner versus you would be more complete. You’re complete just as you are, self- or other-partnered. Whatever your status, you can love yourself completely.

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About the Author
Seth J. Gillihan, PhD

Seth J. Gillihan, PhD, is a licensed psychologist with a private practice in Haverford, PA. He is author of The CBT DeckRetrain Your Brain, and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Made Simple, and co-author with Dr. Aria Campbell-Danesh of A Mindful Year: 365 Ways to Find Connection and the Sacred in Everyday Life. Dr. Gillihan hosts the weekly Think Act Be podcast, which features a wide range of conversation on living more fully.

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