Nina's Reading Blog

Comments on books I am reading/listening to

Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage

Posted by nliakos on May 2, 2012

by Elizabeth Gilbert (Viking, 2010)

I mentioned that as I was reading Eat, Pray, Love, I had already decided that I would read it again when I finished, but in fact, I returned it to the library having read it only once. Nevertheless, as I was cruising the biography shelves looking for something new, I came upon Committed and decided that my destiny was to read something by the same author. Good choice!

At the end of the “Love” section of Eat, Pray, Love, Gilbert and her Brazilian lover “Felipe” (which is the name she assigns to him in both books, although I should think it would be fairly easy to uncover his real name; in any case, the man’s privacy has been seriously violated here, as the author herself admits in the acknowledgments: “…unfortunately his privacy ended the day he met me…. Back when we were first courting, there came an awkward moment when I had to confess that I was a writer, and what that meant for him…. Despite all my warnings, though, he stayed.”[(p. 285]) decide to share their lives traveling among four countries: the United States, where she lives; Bali, where he lives; Brazil, where he is from; and Australia, where his children are. Everything is going fine when the Department of Homeland Security refuses to let him re-enter the United States unless she marries him.

Both the products of painful divorces, neither Gilbert nor Felipe want to get married, but it iis the only way they can stay together without her permanently leaving the United States, so they spend the next ten months living in cheap Southeast Asian hotels while her application to bring him in to the U.S. as her fiancé wends its way through the bureaucracy and she delves into the question of marriage: its history, its role in various cultures, its advantages and disadvantages, its impact on women, its relationship to love and infatuation, and so on.

I found the book  fascinating, especially the chapter on “Marriage and History.” Like many others, I had bought the bill of goods about the “sanctity of marriage” and the important role marriage plays in religion; Gilbert informed me that for almost 1,000 years after Jesus Christ, the Church despised marriage, at first attempting to dissuade its converts from marrying (or lure them away from their families) and subsequently (when that proved ineffective) considering married people as somehow dirtied by their regular participation in sexual intercourse. When the Church finally gave up its opposition to the institution, it tried (pretty successfully!) to control marriage by taking it over and forbidding divorce (which had, up until then, been pretty simple to do) unless sanctioned by the Church (pretty much as it is today, although as we know, a lot of Catholics simply nod their heads and do what they want anyway–which is essentially what everybody’s been doing since time immemorial, according to Chapter Seven, “Marriage and Subversion”).  These and many other ideas in the book were new to me and quite thought-provoking. Other ideas, such as the vastly different expectations of marriage we find in cultures different from our own (Gilbert’s example is Hmong), were not really new to me, but interesting and entertaining to read about in Gilbert’s relaxed, conversational style.

Oh, yes: there is a happy ending.

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