My Valentine’s date this year is myself

By Lisa Twang, Feb 14, 2020

Part one of our Valentine’s Day series featured Christina and Martin, a couple celebrating Valentine’s today with 37 flowers; one for every year they’ve been together. Here’s the link to the story:

In part two of our Valentine’s Day series, we invited Sharda Harrison to share her thoughts on being single. Sharda calls herself “that girl who was always having boyfriends, one after the other.” Since she started dating at 15, she’s been engaged twice, changed religions for love, and stayed in toxic relationships too often for comfort.

Now 32 and an actress and host, Sharda has been single for the last eight months, and is finally at peace with it. This Valentine’s Day, she shares her thoughts on what it means to be single, how her mum taught her to be happy on her own, and why being in a ‘self-partnered’ relationship with herself first is the best thing she’s ever done.

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Last year, I found myself slumped on the kitchen floor, crying my eyes out over and over for four hours straight. On the surface, I was acting the part of a girl going through a bad breakup in Dayre’s Manifesto video, shot by Kirsten Tan. But on the inside, my pain was raw and real. 

I had just split up with my boyfriend, whom I'd dated for almost a year. He was going through a rough patch and I was trying to support him when he broke up with me. It was two days before my birthday: the timing was completely wrong, and I was hurting and in shock. 

Shooting that scene was surreal, but it felt cathartic. I was carrying so much under my skin… the feeling of someone I really loved just walking out the door and leaving me. And the shoot just took that out of me. 

After we wrapped, I thought, “I’m alone now… again.” I was beginning to learn how to be single again. But this time, I wasn’t freaking out. 

I wasn’t going to be sad anymore, staying home alone and thinking, “I just cried over my relationship for four hours, and now I have no one.” I said: “Fuck this, I’m going out to a bar!” And I went to Wala Wala to watch my friend’s band play, sitting by myself but having the best time.

All my friends saw me as ‘the girl in a relationship’, who was always looking for the next guy to date. But I was finally starting to date myself. 

I’m open to dating and still go on dates occasionally, but I’m not in a rush to have a serious relationship. I see myself as ‘self-partnered’, as Emma Watson calls it. I think it’s interesting to have a pseudo-relationship and say, “This is myself, but I am also personifying myself, and I am dating myself.” 

I think self-partnership means being in a relationship with the core existence of everything that is ‘me’, like my emotional well-being, career and health.

I’m looking to balance these parts of me that make up my personal ecosystem. And only when my own ecosystem is in order, can I check out someone else’s ecosystem, and have a relationship with someone else. 

I definitely prefer being called ‘self-partnered’ than ‘single’. Even when I told a friend I was being interviewed about being single, I felt the stigma of the word.

What the hell does ‘single’ or ‘attached’ even mean? It’s usually meant in the context of: “I’m single and available”, or “I’m single and depressed.” 

But it could just mean: “I’m single and enjoying this journey.”

Being single doesn’t mean something is missing in me. In the universe of myself, I am complete. 

I think the idea of a day to celebrate love is really sweet, but I’ve never been big on Valentine’s Day because it’s quite commercialised.

Celebrating someone’s birthday, or an anniversary with your partner, has a special individuality that’s more important to me than Valentine’s Day. 

I like to visit the beach in the evening, watching people go by and thinking about life. So maybe I’ll do that this Valentine’s Day. I don’t think seeing happy couples all around me will make me go, “I’m so upset, everyone around me today has a partner except me.” I’ll be okay enjoying my own company.

Right now, I’m focusing on thinking about what ‘myself’ wants. On days off, instead of calling a boy, I say: “Where do you want to go tonight, Sharda?” “I want to go to Muay Thai.” “Okay, then go for Muay Thai!”

This is a big step for me, because I used to rely so much on my partners for company. When I was 21, my father gave me a round-the-world ticket to travel anywhere… and I never used it because I was always waiting for my boyfriend to go with me. It was so stupid! If I had it now, I’d say to myself, “Let’s go right now!” To Sri Lanka, Bali, Mexico… anywhere.

I don’t think I’ve ever truly been in love, although I’ve had so many guys in my life. There was always something missing or wrong with my relationships, and some of them were toxic. 

I was always pulling my partners down, unconsciously telling them, “Validate me. Support me. Be emotional for me.” I was also demanding other things from them, like being a strong alpha male. 

In my previous relationships, I also shape-shifted and changed myself too much for my partners. 

For one of my boyfriends, I even changed religions for him — and that was the worst thing I ever did in a relationship. After converting to my ex’s religion, he started imposing restrictions on me like asking me to dress more conservatively, or stop going to bars, and I lost myself in that relationship. After that, I vowed I would never lose myself like that again. 

Then I met my ex-fiance, and had the opposite problem: he would do anything for me, and started shape-shifting for me. For example, he didn’t grow a beard because he thought I wouldn’t like it, although he never asked me. 

When we broke up, I told him, “You need your own life, and I need my own life. We must find out who we are.”

At first, I was always the one walking away in every stable relationship. Later, it was the men who started leaving me. I knew instinctively inside that there was something wrong, and this mindset was unhealthy.

In the past, I always needed to have a partner, because at the core of it, I think I was always afraid to be alone.

Part of my difficulty with loving someone completely stems from my childhood. My parents split up when I was nine, because my mum was tired of my dad not being there for her, and felt she was just living the stereotype of being a wife. She left the family to find herself, but by the time she came back over a year later, my dad had already moved on with someone else.

Subconsciously, because of my childhood, I was scared of being abandoned, because my mum left, and then my dad left.

With my dad as a toddler.

With my dad as a toddler.

My dad remarried and I have a step-mum and two step-brothers now, but my mum has remained single. She’s dated here and there, but ultimately she’s happiest being by herself. She is my role model for staying single and content. 

My mother is a powerful and authentic woman: I’ve witnessed her detach herself from the longing of a partner, and grow into the comfort of her solitude by fully engaging with herself: she cooks, gardens, runs workshops on plant medicine therapy, and does yoga. I think she’s incredibly strong, and I really admire her for that.

I had a powerful healing moment with my mum two years ago when we appeared in a play together, Hayat, about her divorce with my father. We’d had a huge fight minutes before going on stage: she called me a bitch, I called her a child. 

But when we went on stage and acted out our scenes, we became mother and daughter again. At one moment, she stopped and whispered: “I love you.” And I just took a moment and looked at her. 

I realised, “You’re not just my mother. You’re an incredible woman and you deserve all the humanity that a daughter can give you. And I can’t imagine not living without you.” It always makes me cry when I think about it.  

This honesty with my mother triggered me to have the same honesty in all other relationships in my life. I learned not to be so polite and accommodating all the time. I learned to speak up; I was done trying to please everyone, and I was done with being afraid. 

I’d been struggling so much in all my relationships with men, but I suddenly realised: “Enough is enough! I need to break this vicious cycle!” 

Something finally clicked when I broke up with my last boyfriend: the one I’d cried for four hours on camera for. Thinking back, I don’t know what I was doing in that relationship because I couldn’t see a future for us. When he left, after I’d tried so hard to be with him and support him, I thought: 

“I get it now. I don’t need you to give me babies or money or sex or a house… I just need you to be you, because I’m so happy being me.”

It was a moment of Zen, where it finally dawned on me that I had to stand up for myself and not lose myself in my partnerships. 

Here in Asia, society still has some archaic ideas on gender roles. A woman needs to be ‘protected’ by a man, and be a wife and mother. Therefore, there’s a subconscious societal pressure to be married . 

There’s also a fear of aging among Asian women, which causes us to worry that as we grow older, we will no longer be flawless and slim, and we may find ourselves without a partner. 

But I think it’s time for women to be liberated and live our best lives. I no longer feel like I need a partner to be happy just because that’s the social norm.  There’s a movement now towards enjoying singlehood, and even marriage is fading out a little bit. We don’t need to be tied to the idea of signing a marriage document to stay together.

I do hope that within the next three years, I find a partner. I want kids, and to settle down. I feel like because I’ve learned so much about myself and what I need in a relationship, that the next guy I choose will probably be the right one for me. 

Of course, the idea that I may never find someone does scare me. But the thought of having to live with someone whom I don’t love also scares me. So I plan to go with the flow, and see where life takes me.

I’m on a journey of solitude now, and I’m fully enjoying it. Maybe someday, someone will join me: but for now, I’m glad to be on my own on Valentine’s Day, and other days to come. 

Pictures provided by Sharda Harrison and Lisa Twang.

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