Matrimony, Gilbert Style

I'm almost finished with Committed.

How to describe Elizabeth Gilbert's views on marriage? In a word, young. She reminds me of a college girl who never quite got over the whole rumination stage. She harbors a lot of resentment toward American society and social constraints in general -- like most modern liberals.

Before I go any further, I should point out that Gilbert is still a great writer (that won't change, I'm sure); she's wonderfully (albeit overly so) introspective; and she makes some great points about marriage -- like the ridiculousness of American weddings and the overly high expectations people -- women, specifically -- have of marriage.

As someone who has walked in similar shoes -- I too divorced my first husband, with whom I had no children -- I understand Gilbert's deep analysis of marriage. I have done it as well. But after reading Ms. Gilbert's book, which is ironically subtitled "A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage" (I did not get the impression this is the case -- besides which she didn't "come to terms with marriage and decide to get married; she was "forced" to marry or her lover would be deported), it seems to me that the work is an attempt to justify her decision to end her first marriage by suggesting the problem isn't Elizabeth Gilbert -- it's marriage. That's why the book is so political. Here are some statements of Ms. Gilbert's:

I saw marriage as oppressive and outdated. And stupid and useless. And possibly very, very destructive.

[Marriage] is a "repressive tool" of civilization. It is "suffocating, old-fashioned, and irrelevant."

Now, supposedly these are observations Ms. Gilbert made before she "made peace with marriage." But her new book hardly suggests peace. Gilbert essentially writes that America's version of marriage is twisted and believes we should emulate Europe, where the concept of marriage "makes perfect sense." During a recent interview, when she's asked how she accounts for the falling rates of marriage in Europe, she says, "That's a very good question. I was hoping you didn't know about that."

How typical is that? Here's the liberal approach to social issues: (1) Complain/Whine (2) Point to something that sounds better on the surface (3) Don't think it through (4) Provide no answers

Gilbert also equates traditional marriage to being in "handcuffs" and considers her recent prenuptial agreement with her new husband, Felipe, "an act of love." It is smart, she says, "to chart an exit strategy before you enter the union." Finally, she admits that she and her new husband (whom she only married to keep from being deported) are "rebellious and stubborn" enough to have remained happily unhitched -- but admits the benefits of getting married have given them both "undeniable power."

None of this sounds like a person who has made peace with marriage. And I know from experience that if you feel compelled to "chart an exit strategy" before you get married, you probably know deep down the marriage won't last. At the very least it sets up a self-fulfilling prophecy, where the end result will occur b/c you planned for it.

Interestingly enough, in the WSJ today there's a letter to the editor from a 24-year old woman -- 24! -- who responded to a WSJ book review of Committed. Specifically, she highlighted Ms. Gilbert's advice that women not marry young and that they "check a few of their idealistic youthful dreams at the door." Here is part of her letter:

My husband and I were married when I was 22 and he was 25 with a committment to work out problems and stay happily married. We married the old-fashioned way: young and for life. I think the grandest "idealistic dream" that 21st century Americans need to check at the door is the idea that 30 or 40 years of living with few responsibilities and little accountability will prepare them for a stable, happy marriage. Upon graduating from high school, I did something few people my age do anymore: I moved out of my parents' house, got a job, worked my way through college and lived in cheap, crowded apartments with several roommates and without a car, cell phone, or any money from my parents. More so than 30 years of partying and "finding myself," these experiences helped shape me into a woman who was ready for marriage. If we want to make peace with marriage, we need to grow up enough to accept the responsibilities it entails."

I can't explain how telling it is to have almost read 300 pages of Elizabeth Gilbert's supposedly prophetic words (have you seen the adulation women give her?) and then read this letter in the paper. This 24-year old woman clearly has the wisdom that Elizabeth Gilbert, at 40, has been traipsing all over the country looking for.

0 Responses to “Matrimony, Gilbert Style”: