Women BD Desk:
November 11 is Singles Day in China, a shopping holiday on which the uncoupled celebrate themselves. But even before today, a certain “single and loving it” spirit has been on the rise among a few young female celebrities.
“I can’t believe I’ve spent more time alone this year than I have in my life,” Ariana Grande tweeted on the recent one-year anniversary of “Thank U, Next,” the breakup song that reinvented the art form with its gratitude for famous exes including Pete Davidson and the late Mac Miller. “It’s been one hell of a productive, emotional, wild and yet…happy! year.”
A similar joy in solitude was present in Emma Watson last week, when she told British Vogue that she was “very happy” being single, thanks very much—so happy, the actress and activist coined a new phrase for confident women doing it for themselves: “self-partnered.” Selena Gomez similarly touted her single status last month as she released the aptly titled new song “Lose You to Love Me.”
I’ve been super, super single for two years,” she told radio host Zach Sang. “I’ve been having way too much fun being on my own. It sucked for the first year. I was like, ‘I just want to cuddle. I just want to watch something and be adored.’ But now it feels good, it feels awesome.”
Farewell to the myth of the Cathy-like singleton crying into her coffee, because young female celebrities are asserting a new, wholly positive view of single life. For Grande, 26, it’s meant taking care of her own mental health, particularly after shattering events like Miller’s death in 2018 and the Manchester Arena bombing at a 2017 concert that killed 22 people. “I can’t believe how many sessions w my therapist I’ve had, how many times i’ve sung this song, how much i’ve learned and healed, how much i still have to learn and heal,” Grande said on the “Thank U, Next” anniversary. After a long—like, decade-long—on-and-off relationship with Justin Bieber, Gomez is singing about the power of self-love (“I needed to lose you to love me”). And Watson, 29, told British Vogue she is melding minds with fellow actor-activists like her Little Women costars Laura Dern and Meryl Streep: “We met in activist spaces, so we had this allyship and solidarity,” she said.
At the age when, across the country, women start being pestered about romantic prospects, engagement rings, babies, and biological clocks, Grande, Gomez, and Watson are asserting that there is more to life; that they are more than their boyfriends. That’s a near-radical statement in Hollywood, where romantic relationships are commodities, the stuff of tabloid fodder and internet fascination.
Stars often cross over to mainstream fame through the people they are dating, no matter their personal talent and achievements. Margaret Qualley and Lily-Rose Depp are up-and-coming stars in their own right, but they are often recognized through the lens of their PDA with suitors like Davidson and Timothée Chalamet. Grande has a tremendous four-octave vocal range, but her quickie engagement to Davidson last year arguably received just as much attention. As of October 2018, Gomez holds a streak of 16 consecutive top 40 hits on the Billboard Hot 100, the longest active run of any artist, but she is too often defined by her romance with Bieber.
It’s nothing new in the industry. “Mia Farrow is one of the great actors of her generation and a wonderful mom who sacrifices greatly for her kids,” Ronan Farrow writes of his mother, legendary actress Mia Farrow, in his new book, Catch and Kill, “and yet so much of her talent and reputation was consumed by the men in her life.” Jennifer Aniston is one of the most enduring and highly paid women in Hollywood, but also continues to be defined by her marriages to Brad Pitt and Justin Theroux, her singlehood somehow lamented.
The pressure to meet traditional life milestones isn’t lost on Watson, as she nears her 30th birthday. “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.”
Gomez, Grande, and Watson clearly have a vision for a brave new world in which they are not only as interesting as their latest canoodle. We look to celebrities as trendsetters, so wouldn’t it be great if this attitude spread far and wide: that being single (or self-partnered) is something to celebrate, and the love you have for yourself is just as valuable as the love you give to a romantic partner.