Book: Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage by Elizabeth Gilbert
Publication date: 2010
Summary: Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage by Elizabeth Gilbert is both a memoir and an examination of marriage; its history, societal impact, and psychological significance. At the end of Eat, Pray, Love, our heroine, after recovering from a nasty divorce, fell in love. Her new love, also a veteran of a disastrously failed marriage, was as anxious as she was to establish a committed relationship while avoiding the wedding and the many problems that can come after that.
The two were living happily ever after in unwedded bliss (or as close of an approximation as one expects in real life) until they encountered the dreaded green card problem. Elizabeth Gilbert had strong ties to her American roots and family. The man in her life had a Brazilian upbringing, an Australian passport, and a business that imported to the United States. All of that seemed to be working well with a lot of travel between ninety-day visas until one memorable border crossing when it quit working and the man was no longer allowed into the U.S.
The best, most permanent remedy was marriage. But even that would end up taking months. It was during those months that Elizabeth Gilbert researched marriage with this idea in mind (page 20):
Perhaps it would be wise to put a little effort into unraveling the mystery of what in the name of God and human history this befuddling, vexing, contradictory, and yet stubbornly enduring institution of marriage actually is.
Thoughts: I was hesitant to read Eat, Pray, Love, a book that seemed too popular, somehow, and certain to disappoint. But after seeing Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED Talk on creativity, I found myself willing to follow her anywhere. I enjoyed Eat, Pray, Love and looked forward to Committed. Wit and wisdom and good will are what I want in a memoir. All of that is present in the TED Talk and in her writing.
A reflection on marriage is appropriate this year — Rick and I will celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary this December. In spite of the fact that I like being married and wanted to be married, I share much of Elizabeth Gilbert’s distrust of the whole institution. Historically, marriage has not been always been good for women and some of the protections that it previously gave are no longer appropriate in an era when women have finally made gains in independence and the determination of our own destinies.
This book has a satisfying ending, but I don’t want to give it away, so I’m going to reflect on something she wrote a bit earlier in the book on page 75 about same sex marriage.
If I were a social conservative, then–that is to say, if I were somebody who cared deeply about social stability, economic prosperity, and sexual monogamy–I would want as many gay couples as possible to get married. I would want as many of every kind of couple as possible to get married. I recognize that conservatives are worried that homosexuals will destroy and corrupt the institution of marriage, but perhaps they should consider the distinct possibility that gay couples are actually poised at this moment to save marriage. Think of it! Marriage is on the decline everywhere, all across the Western world. People are getting married later in life, if they’re getting married at all, or they are producing children willy-nilly out of wedlock, or (like me) they are approaching the whole institution with ambivalence or even hostility. We don’t trust marriage anymore, many of us straight folk. We don’t get it. We’re not at all convinced that we need it. We feel as though we can take it or leave it behind forever. All of which leaves poor old matrimony twisting in the winds of cold modernity.
But just when it seems like maybe all is lost for marriage, just when matrimony is about to become as evolutionarily expendable as pinkie toes and appendixes, just when it appears that the institution will wither slowly into obscurity due to a general lack of social interest, in come the gay couple, asking to be included! Indeed, pleading to be included! Indeed, fighting with all their might to be included in a custom which may be terrifically beneficial for society as a whole but which many–like me–find only suffocating and old-fashioned and irrelevant.
The institution of marriage is under threat, but not by homosexual couples. The problem of marriage is a problem of relevancy. Elizabeth Gilbert, and others like her who experience a crushing divorce and can’t face the notion of ever putting oneself in that position again, threatens the institution of marriage. I threaten the institution of marriage, even though Rick and I model what works well in marriage, because I can’t offer a coherent rational argument to the next generation as to why they should be married. I would like to see them settled and married, but beyond the emotional tug of promised stability (a promise that we all know can be broken), there isn’t a logical argument that can’t be refuted by several very good reasons to avoid the institution.
Fortunately, in the end, Elizabeth Gilbert finds an answer that works for her. It works for me as well and it’s an answer that I will happily share with my niece and nephews should they one day find themselves approaching marriage with ambivalence.
Appeal: This is a memoir that covers travel, love, marriage (of course), history, family history, and the role of women now and in the past. Anyone with interests in one or two of those topics is likely to find Committed an enjoyable book. This book probably will not appeal to readers who have no ambivalence over the institution of marriage, except as a reasonably entertaining way to understand people who are ambivalent.
Challenges: This is the 5th of the 6 memoirs I hoped to read this year. Apparently, I’m going to have no problem meeting this challenge. Maybe I should put some energy into books about the Civil War or books recommended by other bloggers, two challenges that I’m way behind in completing.
Reviews: Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert has been reviewed many times in the book blog world. My favorite is from nomadreader (thoughts on Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert), which includes her wedding photo in front of the card catalog in the Country Music Hall of Fame Library in Nashville, one of the coolest libraries I’ve been to. Yes, when traveling, librarians visit libraries!
Have you read this book? What did you think?