Emma Watson, Keanu Reeves and the Pressure to Be Partnered

Even being self-partnered is problematic

Two celeb romantic relationship events occurred recently that caused people to freak: Emma Watson declared that she is “self-partnered” and Keauu Reeves made a public appearance with his gray-haired girlfriend, Alexandra Grant, who happens to be “age-appropriate” — she’s 46, he’s 55.

While they are on opposite ends of the romantic spectrum, they both illustrate our obsession with being partnered and how age matters when it comes to being partnered.

First, Emma, who said:

No partner = stress and anxiety

While everyone is debating her new term for being single, what’s being lost in the conversation is what drove her to describe herself that way. She didn’t believe she — or anyone else — could be happy as a single woman. This year has been hard, she said, because the ideas she had of what her life would be like as she slides into 30 have not come true:

And that’s the problem. We should be dismantling the narrow, amatonormative messages and pressure women experience to be coupled by a certain age rather than debating or celebrating the coining of a new term for being single, especially a single woman (presumably because of the biological clock thing).

As singles advocate and author Belle De Paulo notes, “I don’t love the term ‘self-partnered,’ because it makes being partnered the standard against which we measure ourselves” just like calling singles “unmarried.” We’re not “un” anything!

Even the term coined by the Washington Post for its 4-year-old column, Solo-ish, feels problematic. “We viewed it as a way of saying: My life is my own, but I share it with others, too — family, friends, co-workers. Sometimes there’s a special someone, but not always,” writes Solo-ish editor Lisa Bonos.

Sounds great, but a “special someone” indicates a romantic partner is more special than anyone else, which, granted, is how most of us feel. Except for relationship anarchists who don’t privilege lovers and thus, according to journalist Sophie Hemery, can create “a tapestry of profound connections — whether platonic, romantic or sexual.”

Keanu’s ‘finally’ partnered

Which gets me to Keanu. Many are lauding him for dating a woman his age (although she’s nine years younger so there’s that) and who “looks her age,” whatever that means — do all 46-year-old women look the same?

We are used to older men, especially rich, powerful men, dating and marrying younger, often much, much younger. It upsets some middle-aged women, but why? I don’t begrudge any person their romantic preferences; I want a man who appreciates what women my age have to offer.

But many were relieved to see him “finally” partnered up — he’s never been linked to anyone romantically since the tragic death of his girlfriend, Jennifer Syme, in 2001, and their daughter, who was stillborn. “Grief and loss, those are things that don’t ever go away. They stay with you,” he says.

Maybe his relationship with Alexandra will put an end to the “sad Keanu” and “lonely Keanu” memes, but think about it — isn’t that giving a romantic partner a lot of power over someone’s life and emotions? I believe him when he says that his grief and loss stay with him — why should we expect a romantic partner to relieve him of that? Couldn’t he feel joy and love for a new partner while also acknowledging his grief and loss?

Of course he could.

But also, what if Keanu’s life has been a rich tapestry of profound connections up until — and including — his time with Alexandra? Wouldn’t that be worth celebrating?

Same for Emma. If we think of relationships that way, the pressure to be partnered is off — even, you know, being self-partnered.

Want to figure out if marriage is for you? (Of course you do!) Read The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels (Seal Press). You can support your local indie bookstore or order it on Amazon. And we’re now on Audible.

Award-winning journalist, coauthor of “The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels,” mom, changing the narrative about older women

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