Bad news, fellas: Emma Watson is “self-partnered.” That’s how the feminist starlet describes being single as her thirtieth birthday draws near. “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,” she lamented to Vogue, “there’s just this incredible amount of anxiety.” But Watson has come to terms with her romantic situation. “I never believed the whole ‘I’m happy single’ spiel,” she admits. “It took me a long time, but I’m very happy [being single]. I call it being self-partnered.” I call it delusion.
Marriage is not for everyone. Some of the happiest people on earth are unmarried, but they aren’t “self-partnered.” A 2007 survey of job satisfaction from the University of Chicago concluded that the happiest and most job-fulfilled people in the United States are celibate Catholic priests, who partner not with themselves but with God. Another survey from Harvard has found that relationships with family, friends, and the local community promote long-term happiness, even and perhaps especially for the romantically unattached. People need not partner with a spouse or a lover for happiness, but they need to partner with someone.
This past year Paul Dolan, professor of behavioral science at the London School of Economics, tried to subvert conventional wisdom in his book Happy Ever After, which holds that single women without kids are the happiest people of all. The mainstream media ran with the story, at which point the American University economist Gray Kimbrough debunked virtually every major claim made in the book.
One need not rely on the dubious science of happiness to see the delusion. Recent decades have witnessed a surge in self-reported loneliness in the United States and elsewhere; coincidentally, over the same time period, the share of single-person households has more than doubled. A 2016 Viceland survey ranked loneliness as the top fear among young people, above losing a home or job. Over 40% of Millennial women fear loneliness more than cancer.
Emma Watson need not despair. She was dealt the rotten spiritual hand of celebrity, child stardom, and a Millennial birthdate; all things considered, she’s turned out wonderfully. But likewise, Watson might resist reveling in herself. A man wrapped up in himself makes a small package indeed, and the cult of self-love has deluded an entire generation into confusing the virtue of endurance — specifically, the ability to endure solitude, which everyone must experience from time to time — with the sin of pride and the mistaken belief that human beings are self-sufficient, each man an island unto himself.
In 2017, a woman named Adriana Lima “married” herself. Other women have followed the trend of “sologamy.” Adriana Gill wed herself 13 years ago. “You’re the one constant. Your parents will die, your children will grow up and your friends will move, but you’re always there,” she insists. “I’m not looking for ‘the one.’ I am ‘the one.’”
For the non-committal self-obsessed, sex robots can fill the romantic gap. As Afiya Qureshi reported last week in Mashable, artificial intelligence-equipped sex-bots can now mimic most basic human actions, from the titillating to the mundane. One robot in development even has a chest cavity with the ability to simulate breathing. “Today, we have robots that are as good as an average human,” writes Qureshi.
But they aren’t human. And at least one study, published recently in the British Medical Journal, found no evidence that sex robots in any way reduce loneliness or satisfy longings for intimacy. The increasing popularity of virtual companionship, from Internet pornography to sex robots to self-partnership, attests to the widespread and worsening epidemic of loneliness. The cult of self-love exacerbates the problem. The solution is not to think less of oneself. Rather, to borrow a line from C.S. Lewis, it is to think of oneself less.