Penang Monthly’s new column Under 40, or U-40 for short, features Malaysia’s youths. What piques their curiosity, the ideas and rumination for contemporary discussion and to be inspired to put pen to paper. Readers are welcome to contribute. Write in to firstname.lastname@example.org.
AT 18 I entered into my first serious relationship. It was a curious mix of revelation and sudden understanding; I became privy to the flight of fancies entertained by other love-struck women. There would most certainly be a wedding and children soon after, a girl and a boy I think – all by the age of 30.
But that relationship fizzled within a year.
A couple more heartbreaks would follow, and a few toxic relationships which charitably became an impetus for self-discovery and growth. But I wasn’t yet immune to loneliness which on bad days, felt like a dead weight blanket. During these times, online dating apps would serve as a passing distraction.
A trip to the Perhentian Islands just before lockdown in 2020.
Then, the sweet quiet of “self-partnering” beckoned at 25, which made me realise that relishing one’s own company isn’t as societally stigmatising after all. Of course, the old long-ingrained belief system took a while – and a great deal of work – to dismantle.
Malay women are expected to settle down as early as possible before our reproductive systems shrivel and expire – this is the logic of tradition, and if you don’t follow it, you run the risk of being labelled anak dara tua, or old virgin.
But why marry in haste only to repent at leisure? I thought.
“Self-partnering” isn’t the woeful tale of being unhappily single. Rather, it has the opposite effect, that is to say using language to positively reframe one’s relationship status. It “focuses on the ideal of being happy and complete as a solo individual… and one does not feel compelled to seek fulfilment through having another person as a partner.”
The coinage sparked a “single positivity movement” in 2019 when Harry Potter star Emma Watson proclaimed herself to be self-partnered, but this does not infer that one should not go out on dates or never hope to get married.1
There is a growing trend across the globe of individuals – both women and men – choosing to “marry” themselves. Fingers are ringed and heartfelt vows are made; but this isn’t only reserved for singles. Many married individuals have been known to partake in such ceremonies as well.
What this essentially promises is a renewed sense of commitment in meeting one's needs, healing one's wounds, and working towards self-growth.
My weekends are usually spent with my niece and nephew.
There was a lot of unpacking to do when I started on my journey towards self-love; this began with defenestrating the knight in shining armour concept. Simply put, it dupes women and men into believing that their partners are safe harbours from loneliness, sadness and loss. To hold loved ones in such high regard is unrealistic, when they too have faults and flaws.
Interestingly, we humans have come to place more import on our cerebral understanding, to the detriment of our visceral and emotional well-being. Saying “NO” can be very liberating, I realised. Fears of winding up alone and disappointed took many false starts to tackle, but they are now tamed somewhat and constructively channelled. I started running and exercising again after being sedentary for many years, which also did wonders for my mental health.
When I do fall back (only natural!), there is my support system comprising largely of family, friends and mentors. Being on one’s own does not mean I have to do Life alone. Having nieces and nephews help ease the pressure to have my own brood. I learn to care and become responsible for them, which is not an easy feat. It really does take a village to raise a child.
Finding a Community in Re-discovering Self-worth
Redirecting one’s trajectory towards re-discovering one’s self-worth is universal. A girlfriend, after having used dating apps for several years, tells me of her experience, “It is easy to meet people online, but the difficulty lies in making a real connection.” She has since decided to focus on reconnecting with herself instead.
A guy friend recounted a similar story. He used to travel a lot for work and enjoyed his independence. But when his relationship status became the butt of his family’s jokes, he ended up going on a dating spree, but this merely made him very unhappy.
A random stop to Kellie’s Castle during Raya in 2019.
So how then do I define my own brand of happiness? What are my expectations, values and goals? For one, I’m a published writer; I’m currently learning about social media strategies and digital marketing and saving up for a master class to better understand the industry.
Knowing your self-worth releases you of expectations society heaps onto you. And once you are comfortable in your own skin, the search for “the one” is no longer about finding a soulmate to ground your life in purpose and in meaning. It is more of having someone who will join you on this lifelong journey to collective self-growth.