Eat pray equivocate

Author Elizabeth Gilbert becomes the latest female literary figure to write about her ambivalence toward marriage

Published August 21, 2009 12:21PM (EDT)

Fairy-tale weddings, searching for Prince Charming, or even for Mr. Big: It all seems so 1990s. These days, it's women, not men, who are reluctant to commit to marriage -- with those who have committed regretting having done so -- and they're writing about it all over the place. Earlier this summer, Sandra Tsing-Loh, in an essay about her divorce, came out against the "companionate marriage" in the Atlantic Monthly. Cristina Nehring blamed such bloodless arrangements for the bankrupt state of romance in "A Vindication of Love." Only the profoundly unhip Caitlin Flanagan defended the institution in Time. (The upshot of her un-sexy argument? It's for the kids.)

Now "Eat Pray Love" author Elizabeth Gilbert, who has an uncanny ability to produce books that speak (however irritatingly) to deep cultural undercurrents, has written about her own marital uncertainty. A story in Thursday's New York Times offers details about her new memoir, "Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage," which will be published by Viking in January. With the book's proposed print-run of 1 million copies (!), the cultural referendum on marriage we have been participating in for what feels like forever now promises not to end anytime soon. Ambivalence about marriage, you might say, is the new black. (Gilbert was not only ambivalent about marriage, she was also ambivalent about her book about marriage -- she threw away a 500-page draft before, um, committing to "Committed.") 

Gilbert, who fell in love with a man in Indonesia on the "Love" leg of her now-famous tripartite journey (she calls him "Felipe" in the book), must be -- having eaten, prayed, loved and written a memoir about it all -- the most self-fulfilled, gratified, individuated, yoga-ed person in America. This either makes her a great candidate for marriage (and chronicler of it) or a terrible one. It will be interesting to see what she has to say about the institution, which she will apparently explore, not only by way of her own experience, as in her first memoir, but also through a discussion of historical and sociological studies, as well as interviews she conducted with family and friends. 

As for her firsthand knowledge, it was the disastrous demise of her first marriage that was the impetus for "Eat Pray Love," and the author vowed she would never marry again. Her independence and pluck -- one might even say bravery -- evinced by the journey she undertook, both spiritually and geographically, was admired by women all over America. Many of them went on mini-quests of their own. (In my circle of friends, most of the women who loved the book are divorcees. What can I say? I'm not a divorcee.) So it will also be interesting to see how readers respond to Elizabeth Gilbert in the role of a wife. Because reader, she married him. (Felipe, that is.) 

Let's hope the book about marriage is better than the book about love.

By Amanda Fortini

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