Best-selling author of “Eat, Pray, Love” Elizabeth Gilbert’s new book “Committed” is starting its publicity rounds, with features — so far — in the January issues of Elle and “O”, which I get by subscription. In Elle, Cathi Hanauaer — editor of the essay anthology Bitch In The House – writes; we lament “with Gilbert, the stark conflicts faced by virtually every ambitious working woman: for one, how to take care of business and maintain a sense of self while also doing the myriad tasks required of mothers and wives.”
“O” offers a long excerpt from the book, in which Gilbert tackles her ambivalence about signing up for marriage again, an issue forced by her sweetie’s Brazilian passport and his desire to live in the U.S. So, ready or not, marriage it was.
The excerpt didn’t do a lot for me. Pretty standard women’s magazine stuff. I’m much more interested in reading, if she talks about this, about the challenges of marrying someone 17 years older (she’s 40, he’s 57), of becoming a step-mother when she never wanted kids and, most intriguing to me, the challenge of marrying someone born and raised in another culture, language and way of thinking. She shares some of his linguistic quirks — like “smoothfully” — and she writes of his “natural Brazilianness” that makes him overprotective of her.
She protests, a little too much for my taste, that Felipe won’t go with her to yoga or on spiritual retreats; she’s preaching to her choir here, her readers who think this must be essential (?) to a successful union. One of the things I find most interesting about any thriving marriage is how much independence it tolerates, like a piece of metal with a stress load. There are couples, I’ve read, who have never sent a night apart from one another. That’s my definition of hell.
My sweetie is packing today for a weekend work trip to the Caribbean and in January will be gone for two weeks. Silence! A whole bed to myself! I’ll miss him, but he’ll be back. I don’t need to be attached at the hip to know that; we also don’t have kids, so it’s not as though his absence doubles the childcare load.
It’s the differences between partners, and the ambivalence about heading back to the altar, that fascinate me about marriage. I was married briefly and unhappily. I got engaged to my fiance, who is also culturally doubly different from me, being Hispanic and American — we were trying to remember when it’s been so long — six years ago. We think it’s six years ago. Everyone assumes it’s he who is foot-dragging, when it’s me.
If you’re a woman with a ferociously independent spirit who also craves intimacy and a deep, lasting connection to your partner, marriage is as alluring in its promise of security as terrifying in its certainty of closure. Women don’t talk much, certainly not in the media where Married-With-Babies is the default option, about our ambivalence. I’m glad she did.
I also like the double entendre of her title, Committed. Many of us commit to marriage, one institution. You are, sometimes against your will, committed to another, a psychiatric ward. Sometimes it’s hard to tell them apart.