Single all the way
Single men are often seen as the desirable that can't be 'caught', or accorded the gravitas of seers, thinkers and warriors
The actor Emma Watson, a well-loved role model for gender equality recently announced that she calls herself self-partnered, not single.
I definitely understand the impulse. It sometimes feel like "single" is a female state. Single men are often seen as the desirable that can't be 'caught', or accorded the gravitas of seers, thinkers and warriors. A woman untethered continues to make people uneasy, with implications that she may be high-maintenance, not good enough to choose or too uncompromising. Especially when embarking on a different road as young people, we find our choices diminished by constantly being defined vis-à-vis the existing convention, not as choices in themselves whose meanings will unfold over time. Often, we reach for new terms because we want to assert that our natures and choices are not only with respect to convention—they are something valid in themselves. But, we also end up sometimes presenting this still in terms of the existing frame or classification—in this case partnership becomes the default—rather than on its own terms.
I found myself wishing though that Emma Watson could read recent interviews with the actor Rakhi, now 74, where she spoke about her need for solitude, her farm with cows and dogs and birds and snakes, her love of cooking, acting mainly to be able to travel, playing both paramour and mother to the same actors in the same year with nonchalance. "Films films films—there should be another dimension too," she says. Which is another way of saying a person is always more than just one thing. She ends with, "Of course I'm going (to a film festival) alone. I was born free."
I found her use of the word alone potent. Most people fear using it, for we do fear alone-ness. Very little around us allows us to explore our solitary nature. Singleness encompasses a vast set of choices beyond partnering. Are these choices easy ones? Not always. In fact, often they are emotionally and materially arduous in a world that isn't built to accommodate them.
But they also yield a relationship with the mystery of ourselves and our relationship with the world. There is a journey of great vulnerability, with no pre-definitions to guide us, and so, also a journey of great discovery about what we and others are capable of. We arrive through this path at tensile strength, fine-wine learnings, some throbbing scars, many gains and regrets, much feeling of being truly seen and also misunderstood. This is true of any life, but a little truer for uncommon lives. While single people do form committed relationships with others, their fundamental commitment is to being themselves. And that is why most of all, I think singleness is often making a big stand for love, an act of imagination and belief in what relationships might be possible, what new things the world can accept. Does love come in bite-sized pre-determined relationships alone, or can it be a multi-course meal—hiding the odd delusional mushroom and dangerously bony fish—of romantic and passionate love, comradely love, friend love, different commitments to family, different families? Singleness requires a distinct variety of emotional stamina, but it contains a great capacity for eventual tenderness towards the world and ourselves helped by a sense of humour and irony. This makes the word very beautiful to me. So, I guess I'm going to keep it.
Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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