Eat, Pray, Love: Why A Woman Seeking Solo Joy Pisses Everyone Off

Eat Pray Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert
Image by elycefeliz via Flickr

I haven’t yet seen the film, but I did read and enjoy the book, a true story of a middle-class white woman who leaves her marriage and wanders the world to find happiness. You’d think she’d killed and eaten a few babies along the way, so vicious are some of the reviews and commentaries.

Now the film is out, starring Julia Roberts as author Elizabeth Gilbert, so are the haters. Selfish! Self-indulgent! Whiny!

All this faux outrage is sooooo predictable. Writes A.O. Scott in today’s New York Times:

The double standard in Hollywood may be stronger than ever. Men are free to pursue all kinds of adventures, while women are expected to pursue men. In a typical big-studio romantic comedy the heroine’s professional ambition may not always be an insurmountable obstacle to matrimony, but her true fulfillment — not just her presumed happiness but also the completion of her identity — will come only at the altar.

This paradigm is, of course, much older than the movies, but it can be refreshing, now and then, to see something different in the multiplex: a movie that takes seriously (or for that matter has fun with) a woman’s autonomy, her creativity, her desire for something other than a mate.

The scarcity of such stories helps explain the appeal of movies like the two “Sex and the City” features, “Julie & Julia,” “The Blind Side” and now “Eat Pray Love,” a sumptuous and leisurely adaptation of Elizabeth Gilbert’s best-selling memoir of post-divorce globe-trotting. Directed by Ryan Murphy, who wrote the screenplay with Jennifer Salt, the film offers an easygoing and generous blend of wish fulfillment, vicarious luxury, wry humor and spiritual uplift, with a star, Julia Roberts, who elicits both envy and empathy.

Women who flee the usual yoke — work, children, parental responsibilities, cooking, shopping, cleaning — are an easy target. Other women, especially, huff with indignation. How dare she!

Gilbert did. And in so doing, her choice challenges safer, more conventional choices. Instead of demonizing her free spirit, why not celebrate it? We can’t. What if everyone behaved that way?

What indeed?

I loved The Motorcycle Diaries and Easy Rider, two terrific films about two men exploring the world on their motorbikes.

Guys are allowed this freedom. We expect it of them.

Look at Thelma and Louise, a raucous road movie  — until the women have to drive off a cliff to atone for all that independent fun.

Women need a break from one another’s finger-waggling. So Elizabeth Glibert left her husband and traveled the world and came home with a sexy Brazilian man.

The problem is….?

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274 thoughts on “Eat, Pray, Love: Why A Woman Seeking Solo Joy Pisses Everyone Off

  1. Amy W

    I haven’t read the book, but I really want to see the movie. I love your questions into why the freedom seeking adventures are okay for men, but not okay for women. Good post.

    A sexy Brazilian man, eh? good to know 😉

    1. medlina

      The book is amazing,, its going to astonish you how much honest she about her feelings, some things that some people might not be able to do “like me”. The best thing about the book is how she made us all realize that we could get out of our “shells” in one way or another, no matter how much time it took:)

      1. Katie Pickard Fawcett

        I don’t see anything at all wrong with a woman traveling solo for whatever reason. However, I don’t think people dislike the book because a woman chose this kind of freedom over a traditional life. MANY women have done this in the past. There are wonderful travelers’ tales by women over the past 100 years — none as popular as Eat, Pray, Love (primarily because of the upcoming movie) — but many great tales of womens’solo adventures. The difference in Ms. Gilbert’s book is that many in the masses are right — there’s a LOT of selfishness in the book, a self-centeredness, actually. Lots of female travelers in the past have concentrated on “others” — other cultures, customs, the places they’ve been and life they’ve seen — rather than indulging entirely in themselves, their problems, and self-pity. If you scan the classic travelers’ tales you’ll find strong women like Rita Golden Gelmen’s Tales of a Female Nomad, for example, which in many ways is better than Eat, Pray… It’s less self-centered and more centered on the larger world. I think that’s why people have complained…NOT because a woman shouldn’t buy a ticket and take off on her own. Strong women just can’t empathize with whiney ones!

      2. Unlike most of your readers (or the world, apparently) I loathed the book. Tried four times to read it and just thought it was the epitome of self-absorption and narcissism. Frankly, I could stand Gilbert — which is kind of odd because I’ve been divorced, traveled the world, been accused of selfishness, etc. etc… maybe she reminded me too much of me?? Anyhow, I often think the most shallow and predictable books make the best movies (Bridges of Madison County, anyone??) — so I’ll bet the movie is grand. One point — in what way is this not a predictable, chick-lit, chick-flick ending? Maybe it’s super feminist because she wasn’t “trying” to find love?? BUT…she definitely ends up with a hunky Brazilian guy whom she .. marries. Tidy matrimonial bow.

  2. Thanks for posting. I feel the same way and did the same thing – left a marriage for lack of better words – greater self fullfillment. Call me selfish, but I felt it was best for me and my ex-husband.

    If you’d really like an answer why this “pisses” women off, my suggested answer is this – courage and society pressure. I think more women would love to do this, but going off on their own, into the unknown is scary. Few have the courage and wanderlust.

  3. Thanks! I have done a lot of solo travel and know it’s one of the best things any woman can ever do for herself. Clears the head. Forces you to really sit still with yourself, not in perpetual reaction to others’ needs, and then decide what works best.

    I traveled alone for four months when I was 20 and have done a lot of it since then. I wish more women did it. The world might be a different place.

    1. Me too! It started out long ago, as a college senior touring Europe with two college roommates. After graduation, wanderlust hit and I joined the Peace Corps at 23. Then an internship for DoD led to a stint as a photo-journalist for the Army as a civilian, and they sent me to northern Europe to cover war games. That was back in the good ol’ days known as PEACETIME.

      But even as a retiree now, travel is still a passion, and it still teaches me something, no matter where I go or who I meet. So “Broad”, I know where you are coming from! GREAT blog!

  4. Jennifer, courage — seriously — is where you find it. Life is unknown!

    Traveling by yourself removes all the easy comfort of the familiar, but that’s when you find out what you’re made of. As for social pressure, feh! Surely, as adults, that’s what we seek…freedom, no?

    Wanderlust, in our family, is genetic; I’ve been to 37 countries so far and every day count the minutes to my next trip. (Boston and Vegas in the next month, for business.)

  5. jadedragon7696

    I wish this kind of thinking would go away. When you’re a woman who doesn’t want to or need to hold to societal traditions, you’re crucified. I don’t think it’s jealousy, I think it’s so drilled into our heads as women that we need to be in love, be married, find that one true love – that most women respond with ridicule as a reflex not out of true hate or jealousy. Someone is calling their entire belief system about who and what they are into question and instead of considering the possibility, the revolt against any type of deviation from their view of the world.

    1. valentinedee

      I agree with you! And I would like to add, if I may. Seeking what we need isn’t selfish. It’s what we’re supposed to do. We are supposed to search for our answers. Having the stones to take off for a year should be applauded and supported by others, not chastized. Again, the few who dare to step out are always frowned upon. If more people took the leap of faith to find their answers from within, without dragging an entourage with them, then this world would be in a better state of mind.

  6. The problem is she wrote a book about “finding” herself and in the end, you wind up feeling like all she “found” was a hot Brazilian man. It’s not empowering women, it’s a modern day re-telling of every Disney princess movie.

    1. the problem is she’s white middle-class off on a privileged romp around the world and he’s her hot sexy totally objectified brazilian sex toy? yeah. i’m with you. it’s not empowering women for this to be the picture of female adventurousness. it’s not empowering much of anyone, i think.

      1. I think that’s a good point – that she’s white, middle-classed, and privileged. This may be why some people resent her story. I know while I was reading the book there were a few times I thought “wow, must be nice to have your mid life crisis and life changing adventure paid for by your publisher.”

        I disagree about this not being a genuine story about Elizabeth finding herself (I prefer “creating yourself” but whatever). I definitely felt by the end of the book that she had found the balance and peace she was seeking. However, sleeping with and falling in love with a Brazilian man did kind of weaken everything she had professed throughout her journey. Nevertheless, her story, whether you agree or not, WILL empower many, many women.

      2. valentinedee

        Why did she have to empower anyone? We aren’t supposed to be empowered by another human. We’re supposed to do what she did to find our own empowerment. What did everyone expect her to do? Walk on water? She did what we all secretly think about but don’t have the nerve to do. I say we should applaude her for doing whatever it was that made her feel good. The rest of the world, those who think what she did was out of selfishness or pity, says these negative comments because they’re jealous, and to deny that would be foolish.

      1. Meaning perpetuallypeeved. There’s already plenty of narcissistic, empty, pseudo-inspirational stuff out there, and apparently our society hasn’t gotten sick of it yet. I’m not jealous of Elizabeth’s Gilbert ability to run off and do what she wants for a year, I’m annoyed by the claim that she did it to find herself. She took an extended vacation. She had a good time. She met somebody. Great. Wonderful. Write a memoir, by all means. But the idea that she’s shirking societal pressure and that other women hate her for it is ludicrous. It could be a failing of the movie, but the character of Gilbert as portrayed by Julia Roberts come across as a selfish, self-centered, unrealistic, and, much of the time, ungrateful.

    2. Alyssa

      That isn’t at all what I got out of the book! I think that is a really shallow reading of it. What I got out of it is that we find lots of things out about ourselves when we give ourselves the room to be a learner, a participant in our own life. Sometimes the journey is focused on health, sometimes on work, sometimes on play, sometimes on love, sometimes on service… the memoir focused on three different areas she explored in herself.

    3. so li

      Agreed about the retelling of a Disney story. Well put. Additional general comments: It is easy to clear one’s head when one has the money to give up everything and travel the world! I also believe that, while it is more socially acceptable for men to travel and be “free,” it is just as irresponsible and unappealing to me for anyone other than recent high school or college grads.

      1. “Unappealing” is your call.

        Why, since you simply disagree with that choice — and are not envious since so you clearly disapprove and would never do likewise — must you dishonor her choice by labeling it “irresponsible”? What power does that convey to you and your life and your choices? Why must anyone be “better” than her?

        I see women lying to their husbands and children every single day by pretending to like or love their lives as mothers or parents when, in fact, some are desperate to flee. I consider that irresponsible as well. But, it all looks so “responsible” from the outside.

        Labels are easy. Accepting others’ choices as right *for them*, as long as they are legal and not hurting others, is clearly very, very difficult for many people.

      2. Traci

        Why is it “irresponsible and unappealing” for “anyone other than recent high school or college grads” to travel the world??? I don’t quite get the logic behind that. I’m by no means a recent high school or college grad, but am making plans to potentially travel for a long period of time in the future. While I probably won’t be writing a book about it, and am not running away, I see it as exploring things outside my own little bubble and that, in my opinion, can only be a good thing. I think most of the hate in the world comes from never seeing or experiencing any viewpoint other than one’s own.

  7. Suzanna

    I think it boils down to jealousy in a lot of ways. People are miserable in their own lives, and they just can’t stand to see someone break free and get happy, when they themselves don’t have the balls to do it.

    I lost friends when I got divorced because suddenly, I wasn’t wallowing in misery anymore. I was happy, and I was moving on with my life instead of having a pity party. Some people just can’t be happy for others.

  8. jadedragon, I think this is essential to the viciousness. Women have fought for centuries for self-determination. That includes making choices that are not “normal” — and being respected for it. Hah!

    pp, so she found a guy at the end. Good for her! If you read the book, it’s not all about finding a guy, but that’s how it ended. As someone currently writing a memoir about my own life, I also know that every book is tightly edited — there is much Gilbert would have ommitted to serve the narrative. That there is a “tidy” ending is part of the process of producing a saleable book.

    Suzanna, so true. As one friend says” You can visit pity city, but you can’t live there.” Some people want to be mayor!

    1. I have read the book. I’ve read a lot of memoirs. Rarely do they end with a nice, tidy bow. At least, not the good ones. And, by good, I mean not edited to the point where they may as well be fiction.

      I am not jealous. I, like Gilbert, have been divorced and then found love again. I, like Gilbert, have had the opportunity to “shirk” my responsibilities (husband, work, home, kids) and travel (not as extensively, but enough). It’s not about jealousy.

      I understood the selfishness of the character and how that changed throughout the book. To me, that was supposed to be the point of it. I was sorely disappointed when I reached the end and found that all of that pursuit of self-discovery ended with a charitable act and a hot guy.

      I’m not saying it should not be enjoyed for what it is, I just don’t agree that it is an empowering book/movie for women.

      To each his own.

      1. Alyssa

        The problem is that you are defining selfishness as taking the time to experience life. This is the problem with nearly ALL of the sanctimonious hand wringing reviews I’ve read. She’s so seeeeeelfish! White woman thinks she is doing good for the brown people. All she gets is a sex object latin man.

        this is her life. its things she’s done. it is a memoir of her experience. she doesn’t portray herself as mother teresa or oprah. she just is who she is. so why does she have to be a standard for all women? Why does she have to live her life in a way that you approve of? And if others are inspired by her journey, or identify with it, how is that NOT empowering?

      2. Ka-ching! Alyssa gets it. It’s a book. By one woman. About her life. But when a book becomes a HUGE best-seller, let alone a mass market film starring Julia Roberts, look out! Here come the knives. OMG…now she’s rich with the book after a year off doing dick-all in beautiful far-off lands? And in love? And has a new book?

        How DARE she?!

  9. Thank you so much for writing this. The blog posted yesterday was so snarky and I really liked the book. I appreciated that she was willing to find herself no matter the cost. I have been in that moment she describes when it is so bad you literally can’t breathe and then when someone or something reminds you that you can. Once you are put back into the light like that, it is literally impossible to return to life as you have known it.

    I think there is that anger that she can only do this because she is rich or if she loved her life more she would have found a way to make it work. That simply is not true. I moved across the U.S in money I saved from a summer job to find myself. I later I realized that I had given up on me for everyone else and it was breaking my spirit I again changed my life. Women are programed to think there is one type of life and fulfillment and that is so limiting. I am marred but at 30 have no children and don’t know that I ever will. It makes me happy and that is all that matters.

  10. O'Shea Shenanigans

    Why does one have to travel to discover one’s self? What about the people already at your destination? Do those people have to travel to where you came from to discover themselves? Is world peace and self discovery achieved by never being home?
    Sounds like a bunch of bullshit to me. I think spirituality comes from within. As the old saying goes: Wherever you go, there you are.

  11. You don’t have to leave your sofa to discover yourself. That’s not my argument.

    My point is this: women who do make unconventional choices like this are demonized (look at the rush of bile already here) when it’s a completely legitimate choice – no matter who you are or what race or ethnicity of partner you end up with — to leave behind middle-class trappings and expectations. Whether “it sounds like bullshit” is irrelevant to those for whom such travel is life-changing.

    To each his (or her) own.

    1. Exactly – to each his or her own! I don’t know why so many people (especially those who say that they haven’t even read the book OR seen the movie!) try and find anything at all to complain about – she’s selfish (for leaving her husband and not wanting children), she’s white (so therefore has to be privileged), she’s racist (for traveling to “brown” countries), the book is “chick lit” because of the happy ending/finding love, blah, blah, blah.

      It seems that people are trying to make it into much more than what it is – the story of ONE writer who happened to make it big after convincing a publisher to give her an advance for a book about her experiences traveling to 3 different countries. More power to her and any other women who can do the same or similar things! It’s just a book (and now movie) – you can love it or hate it just as any other.

  12. I really liked Eat Pray Love. Yes, Gilbert did find a love interest and it makes a nice happy ending for her book, but I don’t think she went looking for that. She had the book deal beforehand so if she hadn’t met anyone, she would have found something else to write about in Bali.

    I also don’t think traveling is self-indulgent if you have the means to do it. You learn so much about yourself and the world from travel. How can that be bad?

    I’m reading The Lost Girls now, about three friends in their late 20’s who spend a year traveling around the world. I recommend it for anyone who has wanderlust!

  13. Insigntful post. I’ve resisted both book and movie for unexamined reasons, but you’re causing me to question that a bit. Do you think part of the hostility might be an extension of the negativity toward women who write memoirs? I find that, if women (especially white middle class women) write about their own inner longings and restlessness, they are generally dismissed as whiny, self-absorbed “navel gazers.” I son’t think male writers hear that so much!

    1. Alyssa

      That is a really interesting observation Anne! that is the most common “complaint” i’ve heard. She didn’t have “real” problems, etc. She can’t help who she was born as. Does that mean she has no valid voice? Is her experience not worth anything?

      1. Renee

        Anne & Alyssa – I think what each of you said about Gilbert being dismissed for being a “middle class white woman” and not having “real” problems, yet daring to write about her experiences is exactly why many people have an issue with the book. I fail to see how “white woman” automatically equals “privileged” and “no problems.” What is seen on the surface isn’t always the true picture. I’m sure most people when first looking at me would see much the same – a “white, privileged, relatively well-off woman.” However, what people aren’t aware of (unless I tell them) is that I grew up in a small, extremely rural area, well below the poverty line with an alcoholic father. Only by setting out on my own, working my way through college, did I manage to get to where I am now – a reasonably comfortable lifestyle in which I’ve traveled widely. Does the fact that I’m a “white middle-class woman” automatically negate all the years of pulling myself out of poverty??? That’s what it seems from reading many posts.

      2. Exactly. Then it degrades — as it has here and I am sure in many other blog posts and threads right now — into a big old pity party. I’m a bigger victim! No, I am! Please.

        Everyone’s got some monkey on their back. Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

  14. I loved this book and recommend it all the time to girl friends that are having a rough time. It truly inspired me and showed me I was on the right track (already reading it while on a temple stay).
    The book was great for motivating people to take life into their own hands. However, I do understand why some would be offended by the contents. To read this book that talks about having the perfect life full of money and opportunities during a time when very few have money and opportunities can be a bit of a slap in the face. I get it, that’s the whole point…she leaves all that behind…well sort of…not really…she leaves the Western ideal of extravagance to go after a different interpretation of extravagance. Sure some of us can afford or figure out how to travel but that number is not large. Some are stuck at home reading this book full of jealousy because they don’t have the time or means to go have a huge self finding adventure in 3 different countries.
    Hey…sure you can figure yourself out at home but damn its never going to be like the first class self discovery Ms. Gilbert describes in her book. Jealousy is the green monster, what can I say? Perhaps try to put this feeling aside and remember that in the end this book is a memoir, the way she has lived her life and if you can’t understand then don’t read it, don’t watch it, whatever!

    hmmm…hope that wasn’t too two sided hahaha…

    1. valentinedee

      I agree. And I also would like to add to that. Having luxuries doesn’t make for a happy person. It’s the purpose in life that gives us our fulfillment, and to find the purpose, many, and I mean thousands, have done the same thing as Ms. Gilbert. If you think about it, getting away from the daily grind gives you a new perspective and approach. Why do you think people take vacations? Just because she had material things doesn’t mean that she felt fulfilled. It’s an old cliche, but it still is true: Money can’t buy you happiness.

  15. Marvi Marti

    I will never understand women, and I’m one! When my now ex wanted out of our marriage, and I started to embrace being single again, and free/independent, a lot of women friends walked away. Seems they were not able to associate with a female that is willing to be her own person, live for herself and not desire to be committed to a man again. Makes them very uncomfy and they accuse me of being arrogant, go figure. I think many of them are just envious of the women not afraid to be free thinkers without a man in their lives. If it works for them to be a couple, more power to them I applaud them. I just happen to want to enjoy being single again.

  16. Susan

    What! Her choice isn’t “unconventional,” it’s what we all would do if we had an advance on a book deal, the annoyance factor is because we don’t! “Ladies, you too can find yourself and upgrade your life (ifyouhavemymoney).” Julie and Julia is about a regular person who tried to do something tremendous, and for me, that resonates a lot more.

    To me, it’s sexist as hell to assume that the “outrage,” as people call it (I think it’s more like “tired of pointless writing”) is because she’s a woman writing about self-discovery in a privileged, optimal atmosphere. It’s because she is a HUMAN writing about self-discovery in a privileged, optimal atmosphere. It’s like when somebody complains that their yacht trip is postponed, and I don’t see how that has to threaten my feminism.

  17. I have read several reviews of this film (one on yesterday’s freshly pressed that was abhorrent and full of hatred, jealous and anger — and I do think the woman who wrote it hates herself) that lambasted the lead character and I have been shocked by all the anger. Like you said, everyone is saying the lead character is so selfish, etc. I think you are right, everyone is jealous that this woman was able to do the things they can’t do and in an attempt to assuage their jealousy and personal pain they are attacking her choices — just because she made some choices and they haven’t. Of course the deeper problem is that society still wants us to get married have babies and the end. Let the men take the adventures while we are home tending the hearth. This book inspired so much in me — among which a bravery to explore my own spiritual freedom — and I am actually travelling alone in a little over a month and it planning the trip is evoking all of the emotions that I had while reading this book. Elizabeth Gilbert is one of my heroes, and I am jealous of her.

    1. I’ve had to come in and out of this post all day during breaks and lunch and such, so I apologize for the comment bombing. This is my last one, though.

      I’d just like to point out that CrystalSpins completely confuses me. She commented on my post (because I’m the author of the abhorrent, hateful, jealous, angry review of EPL to which she refers), and I replied to both of her comments as politely as I could. I even told her I hoped she had fun when she went to see the film with her friends. Now she’s accusing me of hating myself because I thought the film was stupid and Roberts’ portrayal of Gilbert vapid and self-centered. Wow. Stay classy, CS. Seriously.

      As for this post, I’m happy people are talking seriously about these things. These are issues that should be raised, even if I don’t agree with everything that’s been said. Congrats on being Freshly Pressed. You deserve it. *smile*

    2. Alyssa

      i agree, yesterday’s featured blog was painful to read. I actually couldn’t stop thinking about it.

      I hear two veins of thought – one is she was selfish to run out on her marriage (not as common) and she is a privileged white woman with no real problems (a la yesterdays post.) lame on both fronts. 🙂

      I’m with you – it totally inspired me to explore my spiritual freedom and though i haven’t had the opportunity to travel as she did, i would snatch that opportunity up in a heartbeat!

  18. I don’t have a problem with the independence, or the solo-adventure. I admire it! My issue is with the hype. Now that Roberts is starring in the movie, it’s going to get even more press. Perhaps I’m being a stickler, but it just gets repetitive to see her in the same rolls, a little cliche. But that’s just me. Maybe the movie will be really good, but I’ve chosen not to see it.

    Great post!

  19. Even as a male, i couldn’t help but see the validity of this post. You’re so right! Women just can’t catch a break in the movie industry it seems, but here’s hoping that Kathryn Bigelow’s Oscar win means things are changing! I mean, sure it’s painfully unlikely, but I’d like to see some changes too. Extremely well-written and interesting post

  20. I read the book and enjoyed it, but not sure I want to see the movie. I don’t usually like movies based on books. However, I wonder how much the trip really involved self-discovery and how much was simply thinking “this will make a great book.” Either way, it’s nice for her that it worked out the way it did. I totally agree with your point about different societal standards for women vs. men.

  21. I haven’t read the book or seen the movie, so I should be careful here haha. I think it’s great for women to have adventures. I myself moved to Cancun 5 years ago, and I plan on having many more adventures.

    My problem is with the idea that you can’t have adventures unless you’re single. People need to learn that marriage isn’t supposed to tie you down… you should just move on to new adventures with your spouse by your side.

    Bad message to women AND men, making them think marriage has to be boring.

    1. I was going to metion this very thing so I thought I would put my comment here! I am happily married woman and have no desire to ‘leave’ my husband. I am currently, however, in a state of depression and a sense of needing to find ME and where I went. I am going to spend a week alone next week so I have time to think and clear my head and read and write.
      Hubby and I both feel that wanderlust building inside of us and are looking forward to some travel, at least around the country, even if we have to ‘work’ our way around. It has more to do with being married and working hard for 29 years and raising 4 kids and being responsible for SO MUCH. We are just ready for a change, but not from each other.
      So I too don’t like the idea that we have to ‘leave’ our husbands to find ourselves. I do believe women, in general, are given a hard time, but it does seem to come from other women who are not courageous enough to make the needed changes in their own life.
      My blog tells a bit of my current struggle, and my post today is also about this movie.

      1. valentinedee

        Hi, I think being alone is the key to solitude and to being able to hear your inner voice; hence, going away by yourself. I’ve never met a person who didn’t need time alone, to reflect, and to find themselves. The hubby and kids do not define you. Going away by yourself is a scary thing: it makes you vulnerable to your own self. Nevertheless, you’ll appreciate things more when you get back, OR, you may take a step back and reevaluate your life.

  22. Crystal, I hope your trip is fab! I have done a lot of solo travel and every single time it’s taught me a lot (not why I did it) about myself and others, whether the women in Barcelona who took me into her home when I was ill with flu or the great dinner I had last month in Vancouver with a 26-yr-old guy I’d never met, a fellow writer whose work I knew and liked. Travel alone as a woman is all about trying new things — and being alone is one of those. Women are expected to be all things to all people, themselves last.

    scarlet, the love interest — OMG! — is her own emotional and spiritual health. Talk about a radical choice. No kids? Hubby? Pets? How is this possible?!!

    Anne — you’ve called it, I think. If Gilbert were a minority, I doubt people would be as quick to swing their axes at her, if only out of PC fear of appearing offensive. But a white chick with some cash and freedom. Bring it on! Same reaction to her meeting and later marrying a man who is Brazilian…what if he were a nice white boy from New Jersey? How could they attack her then? Hmmmm.

    I am finishing my own memoir right now about working retail and fully anticipate some very sharp knives indeed aimed at my back or throat for my choices and feelings about those choices.

    One major point everyone is forgetting. This book appeared in 2006 — two years before the recession hit. Now, yes, it can read like a big fat thumb in the eye to anyone who’s now broke and struggling. But it wasn’t written in that spirit — nor in that moment in our economy. The movie’s timing (not unusual for book-to-move transitions) is a coincidence but one so conveniently overlooked in the fist-waving and table-thumping.

    Why is one woman’s choice (the book became a best-seller, so someone liked its message and bought it and told all their pals) SO deeply threatening?!

    1. Thanks for the reply! But let me just clarify — I don’t think it’s a PC thing, really. I think white middle class women make an easy target because of the privilege issue, already mentioned elsewhere in these comments. That may even be why I resisted the book (“Oh, poor you, with all that money and you’re not happy!”) But even if that criticism is valid, gender bias often gets bundled together with it (“Women shouldn’t write about themselves because their concerns are trivial.”)

    2. Lui

      My two cents on “Why is one woman’s choice SO deeply threatening?!”:
      Because, for centuries, women were and are still weighed down by [patriarchal] social conventions. It may not be as obvious as it used to be decades ago but it still exist. Just imagine if a good fraction of women all over the world (since the book and the movie were/are released globally) would do the same soul-searching adventure as Gilbert, then a paradigm shift ensue which I’m not sure if people are ready for it to happen.

      By the way, I like the book and definitely going to watch the movie. 🙂

  23. My problem with the story is that it isn’t adventurous enough. Motorcycle Diaries was about two men who transcended their problems by finding empathy for others, and gaining a kind of self fulfillment through hardship. I almost want Elizabeth Gilbert’s story to be a little more dirty, a little more dark and meaningful. It’s empty, and happy, and enjoyable, but also a little too wealthy, optimistic, and easy – esp. at a time when the masses are becoming more disillusioned

  24. Quite right about the whole PISSED OFF thing — the masses will surely revolt!

    I for one will watch this movie the first evening it shows in my hometown. We women need new heroines…..esepcially those of us who enjoy independence from partners of any kind (male or female).

  25. I have not read the book nor seen the movie yet – but I plan on both. I see bashing as stemming from 2 sources: jeolousy from miserable persons who have not figured out how to pursue their own fulfillment OR the typical double standard of what a women’s role is “suppose to be” that has been impressed upon our culture. We have come a long way, but there’s still a long way to go. If this movie or the book got a few people upset? – GOOD, that means it’s elevating awareness to everyone else.

    1. That is not what I am reading from the bashing.. people find it hard to feel that there was anything so wrong with her existence (after her divorce) that she absolutely could not find fulfillment in her own surroundings. Most people cannot afford to go on a journey of spiritual consumerism in three exotic locales. Most peoples problems are a heck of a lot deeper than her codependency issues, and are routed in REAL problems. And her obsession with her emptiness within is Self Indulgent. married or not to be so obsessed with yourself, IS self indulgent and oblivious to the world you live in. All she had to do was WAKE UP and see the beauty in her own life, surroundings, and relationships, not spend tens of thousands of dollars to just end up with a new better man. Further, self fulfillment is truly a quest of those who have enough money that their daily lives aren’t filled with worries about providing for their families…its not a story that can bee easily related to in these tough times.
      The vomit inducing nature of this movie has nothing to do with the fact that she left her husband, it is that despite being so privileged she was a whiny self obsessed woman who felt her journey was so special she should write a book about it. A book which is loved by other white privileged women who are incapable of seeing the beauty and value surrounding them, who always long for a different place, a different experience, when most of the world would probably see the one they have as pretty awesome.

  26. How Scott can put “The Blind Side” in the same category as “Eat, Pray, Love” is hilariously ironic. Has he seen “The Blind Side”? Choosing to leave a boring marriage is not safe; it’s the American way. I wonder how long she’ll keep her Brazilian boy toy before she’s ready for a new adventure? I suppose there’s always Ireland …

  27. Wow! Now, I’m really wanting to read this book and see the movie. I agree that jealousy is probably the main motivator for negative responses. Anything going against the grain will result in resistance. There are still a lot of traditional mindsets toward women’s role in the world. I’m a single mother and very comfortable remaining single. Yet, my family expects that I should always be seeking to find a husband. We all have the right to define our life as we see fit. Great post.

  28. I am twenty-six, never read the book or seen the movie, but I bought the book for my mother as a reccomendation from a friend. I think I’ll read it now. I definitely feel that same internal pull, where yes it would be nice to have someone there to be witness to my life’s adventures but I worry that trying to find that someone or finding just a someone may very well get in the way of actually having those adventures. As for other women, I don’t keep a huge circle of female friends but I do from time to time feel that disapproval if I talk about how it might be if I never have children…if I never get married…and how that would be okay to me.

    1. As a woman who has chosen not to have children, I’ve dealt with disapproval from all sides, particularly from family and society. Even in this age it’s somehow still not appropriate to state that you just DON’T WANT KIDS! I absolutely hate the fact that marriage is almost always equated with having children.

      Gilbert actually addressed this somewhat in another book called Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage (and also talks about what happened after Eat, Pray, Love). I didn’t find Committed nearly as interesting as Eat, Pray, Love, however I liked that Gilbert discussed her reasons for deciding not to have children, stating that the decision “reflects my own life, my own desires, my own destiny.”

  29. gringation, thanks….great point. I agree. I’ve been with my male partner for 10 years and am not bored yet. We met online and my headline read, honestly, “Catch Me If You Can”. I never wanted to “settle down” but having someone you love in your life, married or long-term commitment, doesn’t mean snooooozing your way into the grave. It just has to be the right person!

    walking to carmine, I agree. I loved MD (a true story) for this reason and this is one way to attack Gilbert’s. But, you know, she is who she is and her story still has its own value. I don’t think it needs the additional freight of her doing good. See my above point — she wrote it in 2006 (which means it was actually produced back in 2004 or 2005) a LONG time before this recession. Now, and I agree with your point, its message of self-discovery hits a lot of people the wrong way.

    I am finishing my second book, and that’s one problem of writing a book; what sells to a publisher in one year can hit a market whose mood, the reading public’s, has totally changed two years later…

    But…then who are all those viewers now who adore the nauseating shows like “The Housewives Of” that celebrate rich, vapid women spending money….?

    It’s tough enough to ditch a lousy marriage, even with no kids. Then you have to figure out what the rest of your life will look like. Gilbert was able to physically leave her old life behind. I think many, many people long for that freedom and do not have it. It’s very difficult to radically alter your point of view while in the middle of whatever your life is at the moment.

    I decided to end the sham of my own marriage — while sitting alone on a very small island in Thailand. That distance, as far away from home as I could literally have been — was essential to my clarity and decision. I knew things were awful, but six days alone far away from anyone I knew (the longest I had even been alone in years) helped me find that strength. I was indeed privileged and lucky enough to go somewhere so far away and to be alone. But the decision had felt unmanageable within the four walls of my home and daily life. That’s one reason the author’s distant travel for a long period of time is so resonant for many people.

  30. Anne, I hear you. I think people are much more sympathetic to the traditional narrative of fleeing poverty/abuse and then landing in the dough/happiness — a la Mary Karr or Jeanette Walls. But everyone has a story. It just may not resonate for you.

    Women’s stories are shredded (look at this thread, oh my) with utter abandon while the weirdest and wildest and wackiest (hello, Norman Mailer, Augusten Burroughs, et al) are lauded for their….manliness. Please. Women’s stories, like their lives, are STILL every bit as whaleboned as we were in our corsets 150 years ago.

  31. Stacy

    I did the whole experience backwards. Ate, Prayed & Loved throughout my 20’s, 30’s & 40’s while traveling the world, enjoying a successful career and cherished friendships to find my true self and low and behold….at age 48 fell in love with a man I had known my whole life and then settled down to a life of blissful domesticity. “We’ve come along way baby”.

    1. Happy for you, Stacy! I agree, “we’ve come along way baby”.

      As such, I’m not getting the posts that categorize or stereotype “all women”. The beauty of us is our variety, diversity, passion and power. I believe this is the reason for the varying perspectives on the book and movie … not jealousy or hatred, but variety… and our love of sharing in conversation with others.

      I wish for us all to disagree with out judging. Leaving room for all the dimension, emotions and opinions that women can offer.

      Peace and joy!

  32. amorvincitomnia831

    Great Post! I was rather saddened by so much venom coming from Women (no less) who hadn’t even bothered to read Eat Pray Love, or if they did, they hated it! (which is difficult to fathom) …They’re entitled to their own opinions of course, and I respect that…But feeling such strong conviction(s) against Ms Gilbert and her personal journey is impossible for me to understand personally, much less relate too…Actually, some of their views to the contrary were troubling…Dare I say some jealousy perhaps? But thank you for such an eloquent post otherwise…I concur wholeheartedly!
    Have a beautiful day and be well…

  33. Justin

    There are several legitimate reasons for disliking a book or movie, including poor quality writing or moviemaking, or finding the overarching philosophy to be shallow or trite. If one person finds the book/movie to be well done and meaningful: great! It’s my sense that many people are in this category when it comes to EPL, which has led to its success. If another person doesn’t, then, isn’t that a legitimate choice for them? Sure there are jealous, self-hating assholes in the world. But simply not liking a somewhat popular thing doesn’t prove that you are one.

    Now, I haven’t seen the movie or read the book. But I resent the implication that if I am not moved by either, that this necessarily stems from self-hatred (if I’m a woman) or patriarchal oppression (if I’m a man). Or jealousy, in either case. Can’t a person dislike a thing because they just don’t like it? Again: if you find an asshole that dislikes the book or movie for illegitimate reasons, and you will, then feel free to call them sexist. But I find it going a little far to call EVERYONE that dislikes the movie or book sexist.

    Here’s sexism for you: if I don’t like the Motorcycle Diaries, well, then most people in this comment thread would likely agree that maybe I just didn’t like the movie without batting an eyelash. If I don’t like Eat Pray Love, then I’ll be told that I hate women and want them to conform to traditional gender roles.

  34. Valerie Evans

    Hmm – what’s the problem? Well, she comes back with a ‘sexy’ Brazilian man – kind of defeats the purpose of the rest of the post, and presumably, the book, if the independently minded woman breaking the shackles of an unhappy marraige still has to come back with a man to have a happy ending.

    Not that I don’t like men. I love ’em. Think they’re brilliant. I hate chic flicks.

  35. Wow… hear, hear! I actually read this book as I was leaving my husband. Her story resonated with me in EVERY way. From the crying on the bathroom floor at night… to finding love and freedom. Her words were touching and exactly what I needed at the time. I find it humerous that the outracious critics of my choices, and Gilberts, are exactly as you said… the wives bound to a dutiful life. Ah well… great post!

  36. Diva Lounge

    Interesting perspective. It’s important for our society is to stop judging others-whether it be a man or woman, based on preconceived notions. It inhibits the capacity to really evolve as human beings. Thanks for sharing!

  37. annebabson

    I appreciate your analysis. I think that we would all see Gilbert’s story differently if there were small children being left by either parent on a quest to find self-actualization. Women are not expected to go on vision quests, but we always have, at least some of us have.

  38. girlonthecontrary

    I love the idea of this (probably because I did it myself, only in Africa). It was one of the best and most fulfilling adventures of my life- and so few people get that. Thanks for writing an awesome post!

  39. T and justalittlepiece, I’m all for women who have chosen not to have children getting the same respect (as if) women who have chosen to have or raise children. When a woman deliberately decides to place her own life (whether for reasons of work, health, a lousy family of origin, her partner) above that of a child or children, look out! I do not have kids and never will. I don’t hate kids, just did not want to become someone’s parent.

    jalp, I had dinner last night with a dear friend, a former student of mine, who is 33 and is surrounded by weddings and baby showers. The pressure is on! She does not want kids for several very powerful and private reasons, some of which I share. It’s tough at your age; as you move into your 40s and 50s, biology will take care of that.

    Women who do not marry can deeply threaten some who do. Women who choose not to have kids, ever, also. Just because the majority of women make one choice doesn’t mean it’s de facto better. It’s better — for them.

    The whole point of feminism is for every woman to make her OWN choices and for others — I can dream — to back off and let them do so without tongue-clucking or sniffs of disapproval. Or much worse (like honor killings.)

  40. I was surprised to find that people were so outraged by this book. What is wrong with a woman who prioritizes her own life above others’? I thought that Eat, Pray, Love was well-written and insightful–I would jump at the chance to go on a similar journey.

  41. girlonthecontrary, I went to Africa when I was 28. It forever changed how I saw myself within a larger national and environmental context. I still see everything in my mind’s eye as if it were yesterday! Have you read (?) two amazing narratives of growing up there: Don’t Lets Go To The Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller and When A Crocodile Eats The Sun by Peter Godwin? I loved both. and if you know Africa, you might, too.

    Vision quests are a part of discovering who we really are — beneath the trappings of work/family/expectations. Women are rarely encouraged to do whatever is necessary to really know what they most need and want, because what if it conflicts with everyone else’s needs? That’s where this sort of trip and happy tale about it is deeply unsettling. What if, indeed?

  42. The more threatened someone is, the more insecure they are about their own choices, bank on it.

    Wouldn’t it be lovely if women actually appreciated and supported each other in their choices?

  43. Pingback: Haters Gonna Hate. |

  44. wickedannabella

    The problem is that most women are gullible enough to believe that what they see in movies (Sex and the City, for example, and this one) is a reflection of how their own lives should or could play out.

    “Work, children, parental responsibilities, cooking, shopping, [and] cleaning” are not the “yoke.” That’s what the feminists have led people to believe, that’s what people have bought into, and it’s sad, and destructive.

    The list of “yokes” are actually just the things that come along with adulthood.

    Considering natural responsibilities and roles as burdens is immature.

    (It’s ironic, you know — feminists constantly accuse men of infantilizing them in the media, but really…some women infantilize themselves when they refuse to accept their roles as grown-ups.)

  45. I understand the double standard. But what I am upset about it how “accessible” it seems, but how it is really isn’t. Gilbert used the advance on her book to fund her trip. A single woman, who probably makes less than her male counterpart (damned lack of ERA and all), may not have the funds to go off for a year in her forties. Especially if she has children. The story is one for upper class women, and other women who want to live vicariously through Gilbert’s story.

    Sure there are feminist issues here about the criticism. But there are class issues in the story itself.

      1. Emma

        Sorry for my error. I read the book quite some time ago and was clearly thinking of Julia Roberts’ age not Gilbert’s. My point is my point still. A woman in her 30’s is just as likely to have children as a woman in her 40’s if not more so. Sure Gilbert did not have these commitments at home. Nor does a woman have to have children to fulfill her role as woman. But when you choose to have children, you put someone’s life above your own.

        A woman in her 30’s might have a job that might not be there when she returns (unlike Gilbert’s writing position, which clearly caters to dropping everything and living a fantasy for year) and might have children. There need to stories of these women having selves outside of their husbands, and children without over-indulgent trips to far off lands. The idea that a woman has to “find herself” instead of just be herself is disgusting. Travel is good, I love to travel and learn about the world. And it does change me, but I am a strong enough woman to have a self outside my indulgences.

  46. Stories about women seem to always center around self-conflict. Or the conflict of self-conflict. This seems to perpetuate the idea that women can’t ultimately be happy independent of husbands and children (even if they have a family).

    This book (and Oprah) does not want women to be happy. They want you to buy books and watch Oprah.

    Get on the road to being independent and don’t allow someone else to profit from your desire to be a happier person.

  47. I’d like to comment on the notion expressed by several people that Gilbert was only able to travel because she was “privileged”. She was a working writer, she legitimately got a book deal, why fault her for that? It’s not as if her parents or anyone else paid her way. Not only that, but two of the three countries she traveled in were very inexpensive by Western standards.

    To me, dismissing her because she had some money to travel is such a cop-out. I have made poverty-level income for many of my adult years, and have still managed to travel extensively in Europe and Asia. It’s all about priorities. I look at my friends who make more money than me but say they “can’t afford” to travel, and then I look at their unnecessarily high car payments, the frequency they go out to eat, their cable TV and flat-screen TVs, etc, and shrug my shoulders. I just read a great article yesterday about how studies have shown that we get much more happiness through spending money on experiences than on things. Food for thought.

    1. I’m not entirely sure, it’s been awhile since I read the book, but in the end I think she thanked her aunt and uncle for contributing to her travels… don’t quote me on that.. but regardless I wonder what the point of judging is whether someone helped pay or not, I have found that we are all on our own paths having our own separate human experiences and if people help us (whether it is financial or otherwise), then GREAT! Who am I too judge a person for having resources or friends that love them enough to help or their own wealth to pursue their dreams. I believe this world focuses a little too much on suffering and doing it on our own… but my personal experience has shown me that we are all here to help one another and receiving is an art that is too often forgotten about or judged…. I used to get so jealous of people who had others to help them do what they wanted, whether it be going to school, traveling etc.. but I have now come to see all of that as such a great blessing to those people and I am happy to hear such wonderful, empowering stories of sharing and oneness.

    2. Noëlle – so true that it’s all a matter of priorities! For example, due to the fact that I don’t have children (and don’t plan to), I’m often looked at as being able to do things others can’t financially. Well, it’s not that I am necessarily better off financially than they are, simply that I choose to spend my money differently!

      I also saw an article (possibly the same one) about people being happier through experiences rather than buying things – makes perfect sense to me 🙂

  48. Hello and thank you for your post. I do agree that society doesn’t give free-spirited women the same benefit of the doubt as men get for pursuing their dreams. I am a bold, free spirit who recently decided to make myself homeless (or as I have re-framed it, “A rolling stone who is on tour.”…. car camping and couch surfing) as I pursue my dream of writing a book and screenplay (not inspired by Liz Gilberts choice) as well as actually becoming a paid writer (and naturally there are several other complex reasons for my choice including simply living life by my own rules and standards…). Anyway, I am not following convention and as a result I have lost some friends and due to my petite small voiced femininity(which I love!), it has been assumed that a sweet girl such as myself “shouldn’t” be such a risk taker and should be pursuing something safer… but to me there is nothing more delicious and rewarding than following my own heart and walking bravely in the direction of my dreams. So, anyway thank you for your post.

    Really, very few women have done what Liz did and I am grateful for her because she has acted as sort of a trailblazer for women like myself in order to live our lives as fully and richly as we want to in search of greater depth, meaning and adventure.

    On a side note: I used to write for a small paper called the broadside… it was at my college and I recently submitted some of my work to New York Times Magazine… interesting coincidence.

    Anyway, thanks for the space to vent.

    Infinite Blessings,
    Currie Rose

  49. wickedannabella, why does it so upset you that a woman chooses NOT to stay married and have children? For every woman who labels those tradtional, conventional domestic choices — judgmentally and self-righteously — as “mature”, there are women for whom this is simply not a life that works for them. Nuns, for one! Are you really saying a woman devoted to God or spiritual life is immature? Avoiding “real” life?

    Then only marriage and children are our “natural roles and responsibilties”? Scary thought. So much for feminism.

    The world is filled with women whose lives are not wrapped around the 3 K’s of kinder, kirche, kuche — kids, church and kitchen — and they/we are as fully adult as those who have made different choices.

    William, I did attend U of T indeed! There is much to say on this topic, as evidenced by the passions here. Thanks for weighing in.

    Noelle, I completely agree. Many Americans — unlike citizens of other nations — abhor the idea of foreign travel and sneer at those who choose a $1,500 airfare over a flat-screen TV or designer handbag they can flaunt publicly. Those of us who choose (yay!) travel whenever and wherever we can afford it know what treasures we have caught in so doing. I flew as a courier to Sweden, England, Venezuela and Thailand for a fraction of a full-price airfare.

    You do not have to be wealthy to travel. You do not have to be single or childless to create and enjoy adventure.

    But you’d never know it if you follow popular “wisdom.”

  50. Currie Rose, have fun! Stay safe…and good for you! Some women need adventure as much as some men but as a gender we’re not encouraged to have them, which makes breaking away from the pack even harder.

    Right now, the popular culture is deeply toxic when it comes to images of adventurous or powerful women. Who’ve we got…hmmmm…Lindsay Lohan? Paris Hilton? Or Hillary Clinton….Superwomen or super-morons behaving badly. Nice. So let’s all trash Gilbert for another choice, one that hurt no one and has clearly hit a big fat nerve for millions.

    Try a little history. Read about Victorian adventurer Isabella Bird or try this website for a little inspiration

  51. mistresswriter

    I couldn’t have said it better myself. I haven’t yet seen the other movies you mentioned, nor have I seen this one yet, but I will definitely be checking them out. They sound great! I love the idea of having a freedom to do what you want, when you want, where you want. It truly is an awesome thing to go traveling alone. It does something grand for self-esteem and other things anyone might be lacking. And if men can have that freedom, women should be able to have it too. You’d think we’d only just been allowed to vote the way people still talk about women!

  52. complynn

    What critics of EPL seem to miss is that this same need for escape and reinvention happens in their own neighborhoods every single day. When relationships go bad, people question themselves, vent to those who’ll listen, and (ultimately) try to reopen their hearts. Gilbert’s version came out in print because she is a writer. Other people drink margaritas with friends then go visit a sister in Poughkeepsie.

    The story in EPL is not necessarily better or worse than those of other women, it’s just more famous.

  53. Dear Eat Pray Love “Lover” I must say, the book is inspiring and as a single woman traveler, at first. the book seemed like a good bible to me, but then came … I am NOT white, I am NOT middle-class nor have the great job that this woman had, so … my experiences traveling for six months in ROME where extremely different.

    The book certainly can compare to the lives of women that have a similar lifestyle to the writer, but not to women like me. At the end, I ended up hating this book for making things look so perfect, when for women like me were such a struggle.

    I think that is why, the movie is getting such crazy reviews.

    Just a perspective from a different woman …

  54. Ahna Rebekah Hendrix

    It is true that society continues to dictate that women are supposed to keep their legs together and be good little girls ~ but for those of us that prefer to wonder outside those lines it shouldn’t matter too much anyway, what people say.

    I am in my late 20’s and finishing my BA, while the girls I knew in high school are getting married and pregnant by the dozens ~ and good for them.

    I am perfectly content following my own path and doing my thing when, where and how I want to. My spirit just wasn’t made to conform.

    I am excited to read this book and see the movie (I do like Julia..) and I am glad that Hollywood is embracing a free woman.

    Another woman who did the same thing on is Rita Golden Gelman who wrote “Tales of a Female Nomad.” She left her upitty lifestyle to travel the world and own nothing but what she could carry with her, and leaving her husband as well. You should check her out:)

    Thank you for the post ~ I enjoyed it…and I love your theme (I have the same) 😉

  55. This is a great post-Thanks!
    I am reading the book and can’t wait to see the movie. I think everyone should be able to go on a spiritual journey and travel the world. If we were a little nicer to ourselves then maybe we would be a little nicer to each other…LOL..Great work, my Dear…: )!

  56. I definatly agree with your post!! Personally I’ve never read or watched Eat, Pray, Love but I can see where your coming from with this double standard. One film you should definatly see (if you haven’t already) is Shirley Valentine. It a great movie from the 80’s which basically deals with almost the same issues. I for one am single with no kids and would love to travel around independently to learn about world cultures, food, and etc (minus the love junk).

  57. j.m.

    I think the problem is not that a woman looks for self-fulfillment outside of traditional roles but that she left her husband to do so. That’s incredibly selfish. Maybe she should have thought through her life a bit more before getting married.

  58. I hated the book but I don’t buy into the argument that it is jealousy and the double standard of women not beint able to seek adventure. I felt the book was poorly written, the language was lazy, and the story was often unbelievable. My problem wasn’t so much what she did but how she chose to write about it. I also don’t feel that the story is very accessible as an inspirational story due to class issues.

  59. My problem with it? The author proposed the whole idea to a publisher, got an advance on the book, and went and ‘found’ herself (i.e. ‘got laid’) with the luxury of an expense account. I question whether she was ‘lost’ or just bored. Huge difference.

  60. Rebecca

    I read and enjoyed the book, not least of all because I could directly relate to a lot of her challenges and choices.

    However I am surprised at how often the fact that she wasn’t just taking a year off to rediscover herself/the world is glossed over (by herself and by everyone else)–she had a book contract in hand to write about the year before it began.

  61. Becky, which is worse, then…that she took a year off (gasp!) or that she actually got paid to do what so many of us dream to do, can’t afford — and could not write a book about? Guilty, guilty, guilty!!!!

    1. Rebecca

      >>Becky, which is worse, then…that she took a year off (gasp!) or that she actually got paid to do what so many of us dream to do, can’t afford — and could not write a book about? Guilty, guilty, guilty!!!!<<

      My point was that she *didn't take a year off from work, although it largely comes across that way. Knowing that she would have to write about the experiences surely informed what she did. I would have appreciated reading about those decisions, and the reporting/writing/storytelling that happened during the year itself.

      1. I haven’t read the book or seen the movie (and don’t plan to) because of this same point you’ve just made, Rebecca: wouldn’t knowing beforehand that you had to write a book about your experiences abroad affect or influence what you chose to do during your trip? Of course it would.

        Also, as progettored posted earlier, if you are not white, not of a certain class, etc, your travel experiences may be quite different, as in not so positive.

        I read yesterday’s blog on EPL by temmahkrik, so it was interesting to read this perspective on the EPL phenomenon. I must say though that I was swayed more by temmahrik’s blog.

        Reading the comments made in this blog however, it does make me question my priorities, as I never seem to have enough money to go travel. Is it that I don’t have enough money to do it, or that I haven’t made it enough of a priority?

        Food for thought.

      2. I need someone to explain to me why exactly a white woman traveling alone in India, Italy and Indonesia — where Gilbert went (I have been to Italy, of these three) — would have so much easier/different a time than a non-Caucasian. I have traveled alone in many places ANY woman needs to be cautious, from Mexico to rural Portugal to Turkey. It has very little to do with your skin color and a lot to do with gender and behavior; if you dress or behave stupidly, bad things will likely happen to you. If you follow cultural norms, less likely. But if you have not traveled widely or alone or in a non-Hilton, non-cocooned fashion, you won’t know that.

        Travel is insanely affordable IF you are willing to be flexible….as in: 1) stay at a hostel (I just blogged this here, $38 a night in downtown Vancouver in peak tourist season) 2) visit rural areas and stay in pensions, not hotels 3) travel by bus, not train or plane (not every nation has horrible buses as in the US) 3) visit nations like Thailand or India or many others where you can easily eat and sleep for $50-75 a day. You can blow $1,000 in a day or two easily in North America or Western Europe….live on it for weeks elsewhere.

        The question is where do you really want to go? If it’s somewhere more expensive, time to save harder. I lived without cable, TV, cellphone for many years (my partner pays for all of this now) and was still able to travel….that $300 month = $3,600 a year. That’s one serious vacation!

  62. I have a few thoughts. Sometimes you need to leave and I mean that sincerely. I knew when I graduated from college that I had to get away from the people and things that “had” defined me, in order to become who I am now. It is hard to be different when the people who knew you, want you to remain the same. As for the “she should have stuck it out” angle I don’t buy that. If you know that your marriage has ended, all you do is make each other more miserable by not acknowledging the truth of the situation. I don’t think you “have” to do anything to find peace, but I think everyone should be free to do what they need to, to find peace and happiness.

  63. Matt

    It’s not a double-standard issue for me, I just don’t look highly upon anyone (male or female) who ditches their spouse because they don’t want to be “tied down” to anyone, but then immediately has a fling with someone else (such as that David fellow who she met while taking Italian language classes.) If the true reason was because she wanted to be single, then why did she have three other love interests throughout the book (David from New York, the guy from Italy, and then the dude from Brazil?)

    I like most of the other stuff from the book, but these parts always irked me.

  64. Joan

    I think the “anger” might be exasperation; anger seems a bit strong for the dissing comments going around. I don’t think it’s accurate to describe the author or the book in terms akin to being crucified. I find most of the detracting comments more of the “oh please!” variety, and I’m inclined to agree with them, NOT because the author is going against Society’s Strict Guidelines for Female Fulfillment, but more because (unlike Easy Rider, etc.) she’s a well-off professional white woman who goes in search of spiritual awakening in a way only possible by virtue of her wealth and position.

    A woman taking an extended, luxurious tour of far-flung locations isn’t exactly a compelling premise for those looking for a tale of spiritual and personal growth and development. Without something personal at risk, and with money to cushion any bumps in the road, what is there to watch except a travelogue. It comes off as an article in Travel & Leisure: “Bali is known for its spiritually conducive settings, and such & such Spa has the ultimate in hot stone therapies to help you relax into its mystique”

    -this is not a woman most people outside of the Sex & The City denizens can relate to or sympathize with, so not much chance of wanting to travel along with her on her well-funded and booked with a travel agent trip to “find herself”.

  65. -What is it about this book and movie that really irks me? I think it is this idea that you have to run away from everything to find yourself. It seems very narcisistic and unrealistic. Many of us go through the same thing without the year-long exotic vacation. And didn’t we get this story in Under the Tuscan Sun with Diane Lane?
    -For me it is not the woman breaking the rules that is angering;I have met many women who do just that in my own backyard. Women of business, substance and creativity. Perhaps, more angering is seeing a woman cut herself off from everything to be ‘better.’ This is not being brave, this is running away. In the end, you have to deal with the jerks and demands of your life while trying to find what inspires you to be better. That is what makes a real transformation;dealing with the everyday while being transendant. That is the true meat. Getting the reward of the boy-toy afterwards is the gravy.

  66. kvgb

    Just found of there was a book yesterday, can’t wait to read it. Fantastic post. Thank you, way to make freshly pressed! cheers.

  67. I haven’t read the book. It doesn’t appeal to me so far.

    I don’t think the rage has anything to do with the fact she is a free spirit, but man or woman, anyone who takes off, leaving the spouse with the full yoke of the children to “find herself” or himself, and comes back with another man or woman totally mystifies me why people like that kind of behavior? Maybe it’s because I was once the child without a father? Or maybe it’s because I wonder why people think cheating is okay? She comes back with a sexy brazillian man and that’s okay?

    What does that say about our society’s moral values?

    It has nothing to do with man or woman. I would have the same annoyance if the story centered around the POV of the man. I wonder how you would explain your year “extended vacation” and the man you bring home other than your husband to those children? I wonder how well they would take it?

    When I hear someone say, “I need to go find myself,” I immediatley want to give them a business card of the nearest psychologist (and a hand held mirror). That’s what you do before you decide to get married have kids. It sounds like a mid-life to me. We’re all responsible adults. It seems to me the children and the husband are the victims here.

    Like I said, I haven’t read the book yet. I’m reading the comments and your blog and finding that it isn’t my type of book.

    When I read a book I have to actually like the character. If the character is unrepentant and irresponsible and throughout the book there doesn’t seem to show that change, then I can’t fall in love with the character. Does the actual book end with her coming home with another man? And was she all ready divorced from her husband? And how long will the marriage with a sexy brazillian man last (since we all know how we Americans fall for the accent…very cliche)?

  68. ancientfoods

    Well said! What indeed if more of us followed the paths of our dreams? I for one think the world would be a more satisfying place to be and not as many woman would suffer from depression and other alments “of the heart”!

  69. Um, Jennifer, speak for yourself. I wouldn’t want to do that. Neither do I know of any woman (and I know alot of women) who wish to do this. They would have sowed their wild oats before taking on a marriage and children.

    1. valentinedee

      get real. sowing wild oats is not what she meant. taking stock of your life by searching within, is what she meant. and she’s right about the depression thing. if you study depression and anxiety disorder, you’d know that unfulfillment will make you old and sick–IT’S A FACT!

  70. amanda, as someone who has lived in five countries and seven cities or towns since childhood, I think reinvention is a great opportunity. I know for certain I would never, for a variety of reasons, tried many of the things I have here in NY if I’d stayed at home in Toronto where everyone “knew” me. They knew that person. I’ve changed in some ways a great deal since moving to NY and to the U.S. and that’s why I did it. I came back from a year’s study in Paris equally changed by leaving every familiar comfort behind.

    louisiane, I spent two weeks alone in Australia and NZ in 1998. I think you’ll have a great time there on your own. I hope you’ll get to Melbourne. Not as glamouous as Sydney, perhaps, but I preferred it.

    More power to people who can totally change themselves without budging. Whatever works.

  71. Great post! I want to comment on so, so many of these other comments but mostly, what it comes down to for me, is that this book and it’s message really resonated with me. At a time when I felt very similar and was in the same situation as Gilbert, it changed me. I understand that not all women feel this way, or are going to find appreciation in her journey or her methods. However, for me, her story made a huge impact and reminded me that the things I love about travel, the freedom it gives you, are the things that make me feel connected to the world (and myself) like nothing else.

    I find that travel helps take me out of my element and experience life in a way you just can’t by staying in the same place all the time. You meet new people, try new foods, see different cultures and it’s hard to not let that affect your outlook on life and it’s something my soul needs. I don’t expect everyone to agree with it and that’s ok. I don’t need anyone too, men or women. I know what my heart and soul need and ultimately, that’s the freedom I’m looking for.

    1. My point, exactly. Glad travel as had this effect for you. I see it as — if you’re not cocooned the whole time — a snail shedding its shell. It leaves you vulnerable! That forces us, especially as women, to think quickly and carefully about every step: where to stay, whom to speak or reply to, how to dress for the culture, etc. I spent eight months living in Paris on a fellowship and traveled alone all over Europe for it to write articles, from Denmark to Istanbul. There were times I was very scared, ill or lonely. It taught me a lot I simply could not have learned by staying safely within the cosy confines of my previous life.

      I know how deeply transformative solo female travel can be for many of us. Thanks for sharing!

  72. Thank you, broadside. I’m still on the side of the husband, plus I still disagree if there are no further inaccuracies with her actions. Marriage is sacred. My husband and I have no children. We love each other very much and put each other on a pedestal. There is nothing I wouldn’t do for him and nothing he wouldn’t do for me. He believes in my dreams and I encourage him in his. We’re best friends.

    I love spending time with him and hate it when I have to go to a late meeting. This means less time spent with him. We only have so much time on this earth and we really need to think about why we are here and what kind of legacy we wish to leave behind?

    I’m lucky. I brought emotional baggage into my marriage and my patient husband helped me to deal with it and close that door finally.

    We’re so busy whining about the so-called plight of women here that we forget how blessed women are with so many opportunities. We are very quick and bitter about condemning men or women who choose to do the right thing that I have to ask why all the bitterness?

    If other women hate this book as you put it, why do you say it’s jealousy? Isn’t that narcissitic? I’d be considered very vain if I assumed someone didn’t like me because they were jealous of me. There might be other reasons.

    I apologise if I am judging on inaccuracies and thank broadside for correcting me. But the question still remains: Why are we celebrating irresponsibility?

  73. Broadside, I wish that I had not waisted my youth and listened to the voices that told me to stay home where it was supposedly “safe.” I got free and with my husband we do alot of great things together. The young twenties that I know are doing things that I wish I had done at that age. It’s not too late, but unfortunately the economy has put a strangle hold on those plans. My husband and I are just waiting for our opportunity to move and travel.

  74. But what if we dropped judgments and assumed there was no such thing as “right” and “wrong” and dealt with understanding her memoir as something from her own life and perspective rather than our projections based on our life experience?

    1. Because you can’t approach life without a moral compass. You can’t excuse the behavior. Think of it like a game of dominoes. You knock down a dominoe and you set off a chain reaction. Your decisions affect other people whether you acknowledge it or not. I feel for the husband. It must have broken his heart. I don’t know their circumstances, but he must have loved her to have married her, or at least one assumes. They must have shared memories together. Was he abusive? Or was he and she too different? I sometimes wonder why people marry if they can’t share similar dreams or wants.

      1. A lot of people get married because they think it’s time or it’s expected of them or in some religious traditions they get married because they want to have sex and there is pressure to procreate. There are a lot of bad reasons to get married…and a lot of bad reasons to stay married.

  75. Marriage is sacred for those for whom it is sacred. For others it’s a legal and emotional contract, and when it no longer serves both participants, it can or perhaps even should be nullified. I think nobody can legitimately can’t say, “Because marriage is sacred for ME, it automatically MUST be sacred for everyone else.” (With the implied “or else” behind that statement.)

    1. Then, why do it in the first place? What are your vows worth then? “I promise to love you until I get tired of you or your snoring gets too loud or until you stop pleasing me?” You might as well not get married and just live together. Then, you can leave whenever you wish to leave.

      BTW..A contract is binding. I didn’t know you can break contracts? Why make the contract in the first place if you always have an escape clause built into it? What are you so afraid of? Is marriage just for the woman or can it be for the man, too? Is the man supposed to serve our every need? Why is it one sided?

      I think that’s why families are so broken anymore nowadays. They forgot what it means to stick out and persevere.

  76. I don’t think that you have made very good comparisons in your movies. If I saw a movie about a man who left his wife to indulge in an adventure around the world I would be appalled by his selfishness, self-indulgence, and possibly his whiny-ness. The Motorcycle Diaries really cannot compare with this new movie, but While I enjoyed it overall, I was not particularly fond of watching the supporting character chase after a prostitute.

    I do not think there is a double standar here. I think there is a desire shared by many to see movies about strong women and movies in which “morality” is not centered around what the individual wants.

  77. Ha, love the post Caitlin- site looks great! I can’t say I totally admire the woman but hell, she’s being honest with herself. That’s what I respect about Elizabeth Gilbert’s writing. Agree, disagree, she strikes me as impressively frank about herself and life. And her fiction’s terrific.

  78. It’s funny that several have commented on Gilbert leaving (after divorcing) her husband, only to begin a relationship with a “sexy Brazilian” or “boy toy” – well, Felipe could hardly be described as a “boy toy” since he is 17 years older than her (she’s now 40). And he looks NOTHING like the actor who is playing him in the movie, who ironically is YOUNGER than Julia Roberts rather than older. That’s why I don’t like most movies based on books – the portrayal is almost always very different 🙂

    Not to give away anything substantial about the other book, Committed, but neither of them planned on getting married again (Felipe has been married and has adult children), however he was not going to be allowed into the U.S. again if they didn’t marry.

  79. Yes…yes…yes!!!! I completely agree. Why not just live and love and be free with all that you have. Why do women need a man or husband to define who they are? They absolutely do not….but it seems as though that’s what’s expected of us. I’m not sure I like that stereotype. I just got out of a relationship that was nice at first and than he became someone i didn’t expect. He hurt me tremondously, in a way I never really thought before. But this movie brings a different perspective for me. I don’t have to be that broken hearted woman….i can let myself go and be free. So what’s wrong with that? I’m 26yrs old and I’m not married, never have been….and for so long it’s been expected of me coming from my background. But why? Why can’t I just be me….this movie is a huge inspiration to me. And of course, if finances were in place for it I would probably get myself on a plane right away and do exactly what she did. Find myself. That’s all I need!!!

  80. Pingback: Do you think this is true? « The Adventures of Spoonby and Wattletop

    1. ragrobyn, it takes decades to figure some stuff out. I still am, every day. I think we’re all on a learning curve and we get there when we’re ready — if we ever do. At least you did!

  81. Thanks for this post, which I stumbled on it through a friend’s blog. I loved Eat Pray Love — I thought it was funny and inspirational and honest, and part of the reason *why* I loved it was because the author was so open about herself and her flaws. The EPL backlash confused me. I admit, I haven’t perused any of the backlash articles (I know how I feel about the book and that’s not going to change) but I can’t understand why people hate her so much. So she wrote a book about her life, and she acted, as another commenter said above, irresponsibly. That doesn’t take away from the fact that it was an extremely well-written tale, and she had the guts (and smarts! and timing!) to tell it.

  82. Rosemary deButts

    Hated it. The movie was flawed because there was no adequate explanation for her unhappiness. WHAT? Her husband wanted to go back to school so she left him? There had to be more to it than that and I’m sorry, all that introspection is boring. She sounds like so many unhappy women in middle years, I’m bored to death with all of them.

  83. Jamo

    Good post, and I agree…except for the reviewer’s mention of The Blind Side. That was, truly, a terrible movie. It did a good job of playing up the heroine’s role in the story, but really downplayed the role of the football player. I don’t think that the success of an African-American male and a white female have to mutually exclusive. That film was trite, predictable and did an injustice to the actual people portrayed.

  84. Isabelle Nichols

    I like how you shared your opinions on this topic. I don’t consider myself a feminist but I definitely agree that there is still a lot of unfair prejudice against women in Hollywood. While I did not LOVE the book, I enjoyed and my reasons for not liking it had nothing to do with the woman’s “selfishness” as some people put it. I think that it is important for all people, no matter what sex, to take time to get to know themselves in any way they choose and I think Eat Pray Love portrays this well. Thanks for your post, very insightful! 🙂

  85. shortieroc

    I have read the book too, and I can kinda see that bringing this story into film would be an open door for men to say “Hey! Whats the problem! You selfish b***!” lol, a little extreme, but I can see that. Ive read official movie critic reviews and they all say its self indulgent. They never say that about when stories are defaming woman after woman on the big screen… Its a mans world..

  86. Caitlin, I really liked this, read the same article this morning and wanted to shout – That’s my life! and I still seem to piss people off, even tho they (especially men) try to look as if it is all ‘just fine’….. but their behavior says otherwise.

  87. I cannot speak for this particular movie, but my impression of the overall issue is more or less the opposite of yours: If a woman leaves her marriage to find happiness, she is consider a “You go, girl!”; if a man leaves his marriage to seek happiness, he is considered a family-deserting a-hole. If a man is about to be married and meets an interesting new woman, he is supposed to see the light and return to the original bride (case in point: “Forces of Nature”); if a woman lands in the reverse situation, she is supposed to see the light, dump the groom, and take off with the new man. Etc.

    An interesting related example is “American Beauty”: The reviews I heard before I saw the movie went along the lines of “pathetic middle-aged loser cruises for a hot teenage girl”—but, as I soon noticed actually watching the movie, he is the main character who is the least messed up/“losery”, and his alleged midlife-crisis is, in fact, a constructive attempt to change his life in a positive manner. (With some reservations for his getting fired.) In the end, it was even the teenage girl who tried to get him into bed, while he resisted.

  88. Vesper de Vil

    What I liked about the book was the fact that she realized she hadn’t found out who she was yet, and did something about it. She refused to stay trapped by anything. That’s golden. For anyone…female or male.

    I’ve also left a marriage. I left for many reasons, but one major reason was the need to figure out who I was and to figure out what really made sense to me. I realized I’d gotten married for reasons that weren’t genuinely my own. That particular act had not really come from my heart, but from cultural and religious pressures. My self-discovery only moderately involved travel. Travel is not necessary, but for some it makes perfect sense.

    Once a person REALLY finds themselves, love often becomes part of the picture, in some way/shape/form, so I don’t have a problem with the happy, lovey-dovey ending. Love is pretty rad, let’s be real.

    That said, I don’t have much interest in seeing the movie, after the reviews I’ve read. A reviewer I respect had this to say about Eat Pray Love: “Eat Pray Love only superficially advocates independence and growth while serving up a steaming pile of pseudo-spiritual hyperbole.” (

    I think the book has inspired some women (and men) to take more risks and step outside of pre-defined gender roles. As we’ve seen from the comments, some women have been so inspired that they’re taking long trips or have been prompted to make important but difficult life decisions. That’s never a bad thing.

  89. I do not know if you read all your posted remarks, but in the event you do, I wrote a similar blog not too long ago on making ‘other choices’ and going against the typical social grain. I have been shunned for it more than supported, but that only tells me that I’m on to something. If you’d like to read it, you can find here on WordPress at A Travel Artist , and the name of the article is “I’m okay with pretty much everything I do”.

    If you do read it, enjoy!

    1. I do read them all. I also include people who disagree with me because that’s the point — to see how viscerally people react to certain ideas. Women who go against the grain take tremendous flak — and need tobe supported in so doing for that reason. The entire point of feminism is for women to have the freedom to make choices that work for them, not simply for others.

  90. filmman101

    I see no problem with that, and I for one hate it when critic’s trash every film for one small little problem, it wasn’t perfect enough for them. I wanna see the movie actually. Great post, keep up the good work.

    filmman101 (zach)

  91. Vesper de Vil

    P.S. Since reading this blog post and leaving a reply, I’ve done some more reading around the internet about the book and film. I particularly like this quote: “I have an instinctive reflex reaction to books about white people discovering themselves in brown places.”
    by Sandip Roy from an article entitled “The New Colonialism of ‘Eat, Pray, Love'” (

    So very, very true.

    1. What about brown people discovering themselves in white places? If what you seek is a different understanding of yourself or your place in the world, changing your worldview is a good way to do so. That may mean traveling far away — or sitting on your sofa at home. For Gilbert, it meant the former. Why must this be turned into some hater parade? Because Gilbert was female, white, affluent enough to go away? What if she were poor and won that book advance? Or non-Caucasian? She makes such a delicious target!

      Try shifting the pieces on that chessboard. But no one will. It is so much easier and so much fun to simply pull her to pieces than to focus on what she hoped to gain and why that hope — the core of the book – is key.

      The argument has also been made that books and films like Precious — all about a desperate young black girl in misery — are equally atrocious and prurient, for a whole new set of reasons.
      Maybe we should all stick to Disney cartoons and nature documentaries.

  92. I think that sometimes a movie is just a movie – not some recipe for how we should all live our lives. In that respect, the critics can indeed be a little too critical. It’s a great story and, having read the book, a movie I look forward to… although I would rather see someone else play Elizabeth. The instant I heard Julia Roberts it felt off, but maybe that’s just me.

    That said, I enjoyed the article about white people discovering themselves in brown places… but being half white and half brown I tend to shy away from the instant race issue. Rather, I like to think about the culture of being white and what it is associated with: namely, privledge. Privledged folk can travel the world in search of themselves and take a year off, blah blah blah. But why waste time being bitter? Because ultimately the answers are within – read the Alchemist for example. Or take a quote I love by Emerson: “though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not.”

    Indeed, it’s easy to critcize, but it’s better to be optimistic and take the movie/book for what they are — a woman attempting to find contentment with her life. Ain’t nothin’ wrong with that! 😉

  93. in case this has not been said already: (1) the main character’s fulfillment in the end of the film does come at the alter & (2) much of the criticism I have seen is about the colonial gaze of the film in which white female freedom is bought through exoticizing, eroticizing, and infantalizing people of color in the places she visits. In critiquing the racism of this film and of this particular genre, which harkens back to the Victorian travel narratives written by women that were part of actual colonial endeavors, I think people are asking women to consider how they define empowerment and white women in particular to address how their empowerment has been constructed by them and for them through the lens of race and/or colonial fantasy. That to me is not sexism but rather an opportunity to free one’s self from sexualized racism which is in many ways a function of sexism (as well as one of racism).

  94. bagnidilucca

    It is not about jealousy for this womann- it is simply a cliche ridden, lousy book. The India section, in particular, was nauseating. I couldn’t care less what happens to her. I don’t mind a bit of Bardem though.

  95. “The problem is…?”

    I think, people are hating, especially women who wish to do what she did but couldn’t. And men, who has to live with their women wishing to do what she did.

    But, what Gilbert did is a dream come true for a lot of women, who want to escape the painful reality of their own lives, to find happiness. But there’s one thing i learned about happiness – it is fleeting. It is momentary. And finding the “self” is a universal quest. Lucky are the ones who find “it” early. Still looking for mine.

    … And what Gilbert did is a “writer’s dream” come true. A lucrative book deal before she embarked on her travels. Her experiences during her travels served as raw materials for her book. What a brilliant idea! Damn. And her book became a bestseller… because she understood the need for women to escape.

    Tess Harris

    1. Tess, you are one of the rare people who gets the larger point — this is a book and Gilbert a professional writer who had written several other books before it. So, in addition to her own quest, she did have a good sense of how a book should read well.

      The loathing she gets is, I agree, so much a product of women who are deeply unhappy and long to flee. They have chosen to create and stay within lives/jobs/marriages that they dislike. So much simpler to trash the one who says “I’m gone!” and does it, than do the hard and painful work of deciding when and where and how and IF they, too, will make a major change. When I was alone in Thailand for six days, I found the courage to end my marriage. I knew it was hell every day I was in it at home in NY. But being very far away, even briefly, and deeply happy in a beautiful place, was healing and helped me. So did a revelatory conversation with a young man from Germany. Would that have happened here on a city bus or at the mall? Maybe. Maybe not.

      If women feel trapped, they need to make better choices, not attack others. But which is easier? Hmmmmm.

      1. Vesper de Vil

        What about those of us who have problems with it even though we’re free women who have left our marriages and jobs and do not seek average lives?

  96. I read the book quite awhile ago and had a mixed reaction. I applaud a woman being self-aware enough to recognize that her life demands another path, and I respect that the path takes her far from home. And I found the Eat section to be the perfect re-discovery of the joy of life. I just wish she had gone home after that and created a new life for herself there. Instead, we got Pray, the mandatory woo-woo out-of-body experience and Love, the mandatory finding of the perfect Guru, followed by the perfect hot hunky love. I have read many other books about self-discovery and self-fufillment, without any self-indulgence. Might I suggest “The Female Nomad” by Rita Golden Gelman. Her story is fascinaing, and she has since turned her own journey of self-discovery into a concrete way to change the lives of slum children in India.

  97. I think it’s a little simplistic to attribute the criticism the book has received to sexism or chauvinism. It’s fair enough to reach the conclusion that a book is narcissistic and whiny. That isn’t the same thing as condemning a person, male or female, for the things they have done.

      1. Vesper de Vil

        Isn’t that what you’re doing though? Aren’t you somehow demanding that we all love this film?

      2. Well I can agree with that – the world is more generously populated with those who like to dictate than it is with those who are willing to really listen, whatever the issue. For the record I haven’t read the book or seen the movie – one of the many boats I missed on the best seller list. I found my way to this discussion while trying to make my mind up whether to bother with it.

  98. Tasha

    Haven’t read the book or seen the movie, but here it goes:
    I don’t think it’s a sexist issue, it’s more of an I’m-white-and-I-found-myself-through-Eastern-culture sort of thing. If one wants to find themselves, it’s their business and if they want to go about it by traveling, whatever. I’m pissed at the idea that of finding yourself through other cultures with the help of the magical brown person as it gives off an orientalist stench that just bugs me.

    1. What if she had found herself in Iowa? Or Berlin? Would her story be (more) acceptable? Why?

      The whole point of interacting with people who see the world differently — and it may be someone who is not exactly like you in color/belief/upbringing/religion/nationality — is to learn from them. Better to sneer at Gilbert and dismiss her than to focus on her desire to learn when and where she can?

  99. alisonwells

    I read this book and enjoyed it, particularly the first two sections. As a stay at home mother of four young kids, one with Aspergers I can no longer see myself as a seperate person and yes I would love some space and time to find myself and follow my own creative pursuits. (I rise at 5am to write fiction each day.) At times I am jealous of those that can. What I find hard to take is that the ‘conventional’ route I’ve taken is sneered at and the ‘breaking free’ route is lauded. I’ve made my choice (without of course knowing fully how hard it would be from day to day)and others have made choices not to marry or have kids, all fine. But according to many comments here those who break away have ‘courage’ and those staying put raising kids as best they can to go into society later, caring for extended family etc are not considered courageous or commendable. The conventional life is seen as more easily chosen and followed. Gilbert had a good idea for a book and was in the right place at the right time, she did a good job, but praising her pursuit should not be an excuse for putting other choices down.

    1. The conventional choices have their pleasures and challenges. They are fairly well known and widely admired, if not considered “normal.” They receive enormous media approbation, while less traditional choices do not, and in fact — as this book has done — lay bare the tremendous hostility toward women who do NOT want hubby and kids. That hostility (?!) comes from men and women, but mostly other women.

      The sad thing about this — and it is really sad — is that women actually do, in some countries, get to make their choices. Then other women shred them for making one that is different/threatening because it challenges their own decisions.

      Live your life and love it. Let others do likewise.

  100. valentinedee

    I commented before and I’m baaacckkkk! 🙂

    I agree with you on everything you said, but there’s one thing I have to disagree on–Thelma and Louise didn’t ride off the cliff to atone for their wreckless indepedence. They realized that it was better to die a fast death then to die a slow death in prison. After experiencing the thrill of living on the edge, and feeling free for the first time in years, they knew they wouldn’t be able to survive in prison.

  101. “I need someone to explain to me why exactly a white woman traveling alone in India, Italy and Indonesia — where Gilbert went (I have been to Italy, of these three) — would have so much easier/different a time than a non-Caucasian. ”

    Broadsideblog, are you asking someone to explain racism? I don’t know why some people are racist or prejudice towards some other people, but they are. I’m black, who grew up in a predominately south asian community here in Canada, and experienced prejudice and racism. So to not expect that to happen elsewhere is a little naive.

    I luckily haven’t experienced a lot of blatant racism in my life, but I’ve experienced enough to know that it has nothing to do with how I act. I don’t get how you can see how gender can affect one’s travels, but not race/ethnicity.

  102. Okay, I honestly wasn’t going to bother commenting here and then, then I thought again and here I am. Why? Because while I haven’t this woman’s money means to do as she pleases I am basically doing the same thing–and guess what YES, other women HATE me for it. The honest ones have said that they are “Terrified” of doing such. Why–so many “unknowns” for them. Getting out of their comfort zones. The pressures of their peers who DO NOT want their choices questioned because that could lead to HUGE problems for THEM. Lack of self confidence, low self esteem as individuals in their own right, lots of negative feedback from others–women and men. I could go on and on, but I think you get the idea. Those who HATE such books, films and people do so out of what is fundamentally fear at the very core–and self loathing because they’ve given into their fears and the pressures of others.
    Guess what, it’s great NOT being around all those fearful people. It’s wonderful to explore at will and not answer to anyone else. It’s good to have a relatinship with someone on the same page who doesn’t expect catering to every whim. Wow, all the energy to create and have all sorts of adventures small and big without others yapping yapping yapping about O that’s not right! You shouldn’t do that! Etc. Blah blah blah. It’s the difference between LIVING and just exisiting like a rock–though that might be an insult to the rocks.

  103. Ian

    One thing I find interesting that has not come up in the context of this discussion is the fact that in our society, women – more so than men – are the ones who tend to WANT to get married, have children, etc., and to push for it, often when their partners are more ambivalent to the idea of life-long commitment. Yet, women are also responsible for initiating 2/3 of all divorces. I do agree with Broadsideblog that pressure on women to conform to the roles of wife and mother comes primarily from other women (and, perhaps, from the “happily ever after” princess culture that our society has created for its daughters.) The results have, in my view, been very unfortunate for those men who thought they were marrying women who were truly committed to marriage, but were instead simply enamored by the wedding fantasy that had been socially conditioned into them – and were simply not prepared for what comes after the honeymoon. (Ms. Gilbert herself discusses some of these issues in “Committed,” her book about marriage).

    As another commenter mentioned up-thread, in our popular culture, women like Ms. Gilbert who leave a marriage in order to pursue self-discovery and seek their own personal happiness are generally celebrated as strong and positive role models. However, when men choose to leave marriages in order to pursue self-discovery and seek their own personal happiness, society is much more likely to view them as irresponsible, selfish, and worthy of disdain rather than approval. I think for some men, at least, Ms. Gilbert’s story can be a little annoying because if a man had written it, he almost certainly would be viewed very differently and less sympathetically than Ms. Gilbert.

    While I am of the belief that people shouldn’t get married if they don’t have the will to remain committed even during particularly rough patches, I do understand that some marriages just won’t work out. Ms. Gilbert’s may well have been one of them. But the popular response I have been seeing to the upcoming film seems to place it firmly in the “woman leaves husband = awesome happiness + hot new lover!” genre, which seems to be directly in keeping with our societal views rather than challenging them in any way.

  104. I thought the book was whiny too.
    Can’t women have dynamic lives and be un-whiny?
    Despite that, I enjoyed the premise; surviving bad break up by traveling globe, seeking true happiness. Isn’t that what we all want? To survive this crazy world in some approximation of sanity?

  105. I wanted to come back and make another comment after I saw the movie last night. I was not looking at it from a critics standpoint, but by how it made me feel. I judge a movie by whether it does what it sets out to do, make me cry, laugh, make me feel intense emotions, etc. Well, let’s just say this movie moved me to tears and really made me think. In my mind, that makes it a great movie. What can I say, my daughters say I’m a big sap!

  106. Thanks, Caitlin — now I want to read the book. Since I haven’t read it (or seen the movie), all I can comment on are the comments here and give my perspective as a man who got divorced and became a single parent of a 1 1/2 year old daughter. By switching traditional sex-roles, I benefited enormously. I had already done the travel-around-free-sex-spiritual-seeking-risky-living thing. It was great fun and I learned a lot. But eventually I felt unfulfilled by the narcissism of it. A middle class man with all the benefits of white-privilege comes at this from such a different starting point. For me, the journey got more real when I took on the obligations of parenthood and domesticity (of a sort). Being responsible for my daughter meant I had to clean up my act. It was hard. (Thank God for the single moms I hung out with. They were my support group and without them I don’t know what I would have done.) Raising my daughter is what got me into freelance writing — I needed something I could do from home — and the first piece I wrote for publication was about being a single father and what it taught me about feminism and about male privilege.

    I just dug out the article, dated Nov. 16, 1984. Here’s the last paragraph, as true today as it was 16 years ago:

    “I understand better what Adrienne Rich meant by: ‘I wish for my sons the strength of women.’ It’s what I wish for my children, and for myself.”

    1. Osha, thanks for sharing this…I just got back now from seeing the film and there were moments in it that moved me to tears because they resonated so powerfully — whether the endless challenge of forgiving oneself or the joy of finding new, deep friendships wherever you roam.

      I have lived a lot of what she did/does, from a failed marriage to world travel alone to being very frightened to give it all a go once more. If people were open to those larger messages, and not beating the rich/white/colonial whatever thing to death, they might see and appreciate it. But people see what they want to see. Or need to.

  107. There is nothing wrong with a woman reclaiming freedom. I read the book, found it to be inspiring, not shallow at all. On the contrary, it takes courage to do what the author did but so often, women are afraid of their own power. We get caught up in the dictates of society, believing it’s the only way to survive. Well, kudos to Elizabeth! She did what she needed to do, and as I always remind myself, I have to love myself first, be happy with who I am before I can shed my light and love onto others.

  108. autonomousblogger

    I enjoyed the movie! I was given the book a few years ago when I went through my divorce. Unfortunately I couldn’t get through it. BUT, I loved the movie…cried five times. Maybe it is because I have more of my own issues to work out still. Maybe the cries were because I understood a little too well how she was feeling. My only disappointment is how she “again” ended up in a relationship in the end, but c’est la vie.

  109. You mention a Double Paradigm, a double standard, that men are allowed this freedom (as in Easy Rider) but women aren’t (as in Thelma and Louise). Since you are the one bringing up this paradigm, I think you should realize that in Easy Rider, the two guys also get killed. So where’s the Double Standard?

    This reminds me of the “Double Standard” that says women don’t get asked to play in action films, when in fact women have starred in many many action films over the years, with varying degrees of success, just like men.

    Let’s get off this Men vs. Women bullshit and start realizing the facts about each gender: each gender has it tough, and many members of each gender are sexist. This is not about “working together” or some gushy-feel-good crap. It’s about seeing reality.

  110. Are critics responding to the gender of the protagonist, or to, what I also experience, the slickness of the book, the huge advance that Gilbert apparently received it, the triteness of so much of her experience, and a sense, perhaps, that memoir has been milked for all it can be?

    I, for one, am very weary of memoir. Few people lead lives that are so interesting they can be transformed into meaningful, memorable books and movies.

    What has happened to story?

  111. Saidah

    So, I’m not reading the 200 comments to figure out if someone already said this. But my problem with the book is the Elizabeth Gilbert in this book cannot be real. She funded her little romp around the world with a rather hefty advance… for writing the book… That’s not self-discovery. That’s opportunism. Basically she trashed someone else’s life for a vacation and book deal. Talk about girl power. How sad.

  112. I saw the movie yesterday and I thought it pretty good. Now I actually want to read the book. Backwards I know. It’s refreshing to see a woman let go and experience the things she wants to in life without having to worry about what other people think. Even better to have your loved ones support you in that journey!

  113. Before one can provide to others- either to a companion or a child-they must first fulfill their personal needs and dreams. Every year, I take a solo trip somewhere for about 3 weeks. Last year was Brazil, this year is Africa. That doesn’t however mean that I do not fulfill my role of being a woman- cooking, cleaning, working, etc. There is indeed a word called multi-tasking!

  114. Coincidentally, I picked the book up off my shelf (where it had sat, a gift from my mother, for nearly 2 years) when I was considering making some major life changes of my own. I had no idea what it was about, but it ended up confirming what I already knew – “conventional” lifestyle choices are not for every woman. Yet, from the time we’re little girls, we’re taught via family, peers, and pop culture that the key to happiness is finding “Mr. Right.” The only thing that’s changed since my mother’s youth is that oh yeah, we can have a career now too.

    My husband is supporting me in my decision to do a work exchange in Costa Rica for a couple months while I explore options for what I really want to do with my life. I’m only 27, and I realized over the past couple of years that sitting in a gray office cubicle is simply not for me. You wouldn’t BELIEVE the criticism we have both received from various “friends” about this decision. The men – primarily military – think it’s atrocious that my husband would “let” me leave home for so long. But I see the look of envy in their wives’ eyes and take it to heart when they tell me how lucky I am. Lucky not only because I’ve made this opportunity for myself, but that I’m fortunate enough to have a husband who’s secure enough to support me in achieving my dreams.

    While my heart was set before I read Elizabeth’s book, I thank her for sharing her story. I admire her bravery for facing the onslaught of criticism – what I’ve experienced is minor in comparison. Women SHOULD learn from her – though if Elizabeth taught us anything, it’s how to start ignoring the “shoulds” in our lives and start listening more to the wants.

    1. Katie, sounds like a great adventure! If more women took these chances — and more other women and men backed us up when we make them — maybe we’d see a change. But you’ve felt firsthand the pushback. It depresses the hell out of me that women are still jammed into narrow roles, many of which simply don’t suit them. No one has still — even after 200 comments — managed to explain to me why it anyone choosing a different path is so insanely threatening to all these other people. Really, get a life!

      Just because I do something differently than you means….nothing. Those are our choices to make and enjoy.

  115. I’d hardly say Elizabeth Gilbert was a middle-class woman before she wrote Eat, Pray, Love; she’s certainly not middle-class since. Interesting that it ends with her liaison with a much-older man. Then she gets another hefty advance to write fund and write about their four locale romance. But hey, I’m all for writing life. We like reality TV. In many ways, this is the same thing…. tweeked, edited, arranged, parts omitted for convenience and artistic license.
    What’s new about this? Nothing. The irksome thing for some, perhaps, is the shroud of “normal” or “middle-class” when her success as a writer, her life and travels before the book and after are really anything but mainstream.

  116. I too am saddened by the vitriol aimed at Ms Gilbert by so many women who gripes sound more like sound more like sour grapes. The book, or the very ACT, of doing what she did was self-indulgent – well, it’s difficult to lose yourself and try to find yourself without indulging in self. She didn’t lose her neighbor – she lost herself.

    The book is all about her – how DARE she pick such a self-centered subject! Women are supposed to don birkenstocks, sacrifice and do volunteer work to find themselves, not have a wild time globe trotting, eating fabulous meals and learning Italian!


    Her female detractors sound like jealous harpies. Too many women see others success as their loss. Men by and large may envy another man’s success, but because they play sports from an early age, they are more understanding of personal goals and personal success. They celebrate together rather than impugn the motives of their competitors.

    Her book didn’t make her rich because she signed a movie deal. Her book made her rich because she followed her passion, and in the retelling of her story, it resonated with millions of women. Starting with Oprah, another woman who followed her passion and hit the jackpot.

    Even if we do not share the particular passion or path Gilbert took, we women should ALL be happy for her success. Her gain is not our loss. No virgins were sacrificed. No small animals were killed.

  117. I am a 40 year old woman and I actually found the book so dull that I couldn’t finish it. I still have 20 pages to go and I started it over a year ago. (Usually, I am a voracious reader) So, I can understand both sides of the argument. I have no problem with a woman going out to find her true self but it’s not necessarily a story that will enthrall everyone. I just got so bored with it.

    1. I am so with you on this, mumabroad. Voracious reader, finding oneself, and traveling to do so (been there and LOVED it)… and, I was so bored by the book zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz . Only read because my book club chose it. Otherwise, I would have skipped it after reading first chapter in a book store.
      Thanks for saying it so simply.

      P.S. One of the many books I enjoyed about life change was “Crossing to Avalon.”

  118. Well, I haven’t seen the movie yet but I plan on it, even though I feel like I’d be cheating somehow if I don’t read the book first. That aside, I was looking for a review (of sorts) and I love your perspective! Oh, what I wouldn’t give for a sexy Brazilian man 😉

  119. I don’t think she’s selfish, I think most people live life for themselves and do the things that they think will make them happy. It seems for the most part people don’t care what others do and do whatever they want anyway.

  120. Jesselyn Girl

    I love how riled up Liz Gilbert makes people! 200+ comments is a testament to that. Apparently, you either love her or hate her. I read the NYT movie write up and the many, many comments. Honestly, I was more entertained by the comments than by the actual article.

    I am firmly stuck in the “love her” category. I usually cannot abide whiny people and in truth I fail to see how she is whiny. I guess as someone who had been clinically depressed for a long, long time, I can very much empathize with the poor woman. I have also been in relationships that were good but not right. Nothing neccessarily wrong with the guy or the relationship but not a forever scenario. I just happen to be fortunate enough to have the foresight to not actually marry any of them. Though would I have divorce a man for a not perfect, not wrong relationship? Probably not. But then again, I haven’t been there.

    I found her writing to be entertaining and easy to read. She seemed approachable and friendly. Yes, someone paid for her trip. Yes, she might have “found herself” in the States. She does acknowledge she was very lucky. If someone gave me a boatload of cash and I found myself newly single and depressed, I would probably pack up and go find myself in every country beginning with the letter J. She had fun. She learn something. She learn to love herself and then learn to love another. To me, that sounds wonderful.

  121. msambrato

    This guy named Henrik Ibsen wrote this play in 1879 called “A Doll’s House”. You may have heard of it. At least Ms Gilbert had enough self-awareness early on to realize that’s she’s far too self-involved to have children. Otherwise she would have likely pulled a Nora Helmer and decided somewhere along the way that she had a measure of responsibility owed to herself and dumped the kids on her ex-husband.

    Clearly Elizabeth Gilbert is a raging feminist, but since she’s was smart enough to know that family life wasn’t for her and left little to no real damage in the wake of her journey of self discovery – who cares? Go do what you like. No skin off my nose. There’s lots of men out there who know that family life isn’t for them. Just like Gilbert they’re smart enough to know not to inflict their selfishness on poor unsuspecting offspring. So these lifelong batchelors seek out an existence defined by Jack Lemmon in his 1965 movie “How to Murder Your Wife” – well the existence he had before he got hitched to the blonde Italian bombshell Verna Lisi and learned that getting your brains baffed out all the time on a full stomach isn’t such a bad thing after all, but I digress.

    Elizabeth Gilbert broke free of the prison of being a doll living in a doll’s house. She travelled the world, ate, prayed and screwed. Its good to see that women can descend as deeply into self-indulgence as men. Bravo. Now women from all walks of life can read the book, see the movie and be a bitch to their husbands for a little while afterwards while fantasizing about being free. After that’s over, they’ll go back to raising their children to adulthood, and enjoy the grandchildren and the rest of the rewards that come from years of building a life together with their husbands. Meanwhile Elizabeth Gilbert will end up barren and alone – her sexy Brazilian husband having either left long ago or dead as he’s 17 years her senior (How sexy can a 57 year old man be?).

    I applaud all people – men and women – who seek a life of self-indulgence. As far as women are concerned, they are free to discover the folly of egocentricism. No one is going to stop them – or really care about it. If what Gilbert did/does makes her happy then great, but it is what it is. The reality is that there are certain trade-offs when pursuing a life of adventure – for both men and women. The value of those trade-offs is measured uniquely in the heart of each decider.

    1. Wow. Such bitterness. Barren? 57 = sexless? Of course, I’ve heard of A Doll’s House and have seen it many times. Your loathing of people who choose not to marry or procreate is intense. Good luck with that.

    2. Geesh, I just turned 60. Guess that means no sex for me!

      Why must it be an “either/or” proposition? You can lead a full, rich, textured life ONLY if you sign on for kids, hubby, a mortgage and a house in the burbs??? Says WHO?

      Single women “of a certain age” are well aware of the trade-offs between wife/Motherhood and single/independent. And believe it or not, many of us lead wonderfully complete lives, and still have time to be great aunts, sisters, friends in the larger community of women that include wives, mothers and grannies.

      Maybe you can’t ‘have it all.” But you can certainly have what you want most, if you are willing to go for it with passion and accept the consequences.

      Sounds like Gilbert knew what she was sacrificing and also understood where her true passion lie. To hang around until she was middle-aged and bitter would have been what too many women do, in the name of sacrifice. Remember, the first rule when the plane loses oxygen is PUT YOUR MASK ON FIRST.

      Since Gilbert is still a young woman, only she can write the next chapter and the one after that. She may opt for Motherhood or she may, like many married women, decide she was right when she decided early on it was not for her.

      Why does her decision make her the villain in YOUR life?

  122. My impression based on what I have seen so far: There is more vitriol directed against those who disagree with the book than there is against the book it self. Correspondingly, it may be a good idea for those pro-Gilbert to examine their motivations (most notably whether this criticism is objectively justified and proportionate based on what the recipients have actually claimed and how many they are—including, as pointed out by some, factoring in the possibility that professional reviewers may simply find the book lacking in craftsmanship or literary value).

    1. The problem is the utter confusion of issues.

      1) Maybe the book is extremely poorly written; i.e. Gilbert is a poor writer. Subjective.
      2) Maybe the subject matter is boring. Subjective.
      3) Maybe the subject matter is deeply annoying — rich white girl finds herself. Yawn.
      4) Maybe the reason some people hate the book so much is because its message — regardless of the writer or the quality of the writing or even the story’s specific details — is so deeply provocative. To some. Not to others.

      I, for one, will defend the book and Gilbert for the 4th and final reason. Women need to claim their lives and do so joyfully, not apologetically. As this interminable thread makes clear, many people think women should stay home, marry and make babies. See the comment just above from msambrato. Just shoot me!

      That alone is enough to make even the mildest fan of EPL turn rabid, not in defense of the book or its author but the principles espoused therein.

      1. I agree about the confusion of issues. The problem I see, however, is that many of its defenders presuppose that the criticism against the book is rooted in 4. Note here the crucial difference between giving a book value or a raison d’etre based on 4, and attacking its detractors for having used 4 as their argument. In analogy, not everyone who critizises Obama is a rasist—in fact, the majority will not be.

        You mention msambrato’s comment. Interestingly, it was the tone of your answer to that comment which finally nudged me over the line where I felt that my comment was worth the effort. Yes, the tone of msambrato may also have been unsuitable, but you will find that he does support her right to do whatever she wants, while pointing to the risk that this may back-fire. Whether Gilbert will end up lonely and deserted in the future can be doubted (in particular, with a bit of fame and fortune); however, that is a very real risk that women run when they leave a marriage. Making life-changing choices brings risks—no matter how right, even necessary, they may feel. (Applying to both men and women, and a number of other cases, including quiting a job, starting an own business, going back to school, running for office, buying a house, …) He also, correctly, points out that most women will take the book or movie as few hours of enjoyable fantasy—and will then return to their old life. You may or may not be correct in your overall interpretation of his comment, but the point is that there is a considerable possibility that you are wrong and that you should have applied Hanlon’s Razor.

        Even looking back at your original post, there is scant evidence: I originally took your review quote to be someone giving a counter-point to the “outrage”. Only having a look at the post again, I realize that you probably used it as an example of the outrage, which, frankly, is very hard to justify—basically, one has to read between the lines with a preconceived opinion of what the author means. This opinon, again, may or may not be correct; however, the chance that it is wrong is very, very considerable.

      2. sambrato’s comment was hateful and contemptuous of men and women alike. Many bloggers would simply have trashed it.

        Neither you nor he know what “most women” will do or want. Neither do I. Utter arrogance to assume otherwise. This is culturally determined, in addition to all the other reasons women choose a course of action.

        Why is it so naturally assumed that a woman who eschews marriage and motherhood may end up….alone, miserable, bitter and regretful? Why, really? There’s no other life? No better life?

        Ask any woman who has shed an abusive husband. She may in fact be thrilled, not miserable every single day.

        Do you make exactly the same assumption about a man who makes that choice?

        Women who choose to leave misery may find more or it. Or, as my headline suggested, they may find joy. The joy may come from the sheer act of leaving misery behind. The pressure to wallow in it, winning approval for your sacrifice, is relentless and absurd.

        Every act, and every decision not to act, carries consequences. For men and women alike.

        But women’s (unpopular) choices generate acres of indignation. Why not men’s?

      3. Most of your comment goes beside the point of discussion (and I have no intention of getting involved in a long back-and-forth anyway), but:

        o While I dislike the tone of msambrato, your statements are too fargoing.

        o You are wrong that men’s choices do not generate indignation. The indignation shown against a man who takes of from his (presumably) faithful wife to live life and a find a Brazilian girl-friend would, if anything, be stronger.

        As an aside, I note that a very considerable part of the anti-Gilbert sentiments seem to come from other women, which makes it dubious to discuss this in terms of different conditions for men and women.

  123. It is pretty funny how men are expected and encouraged to have those kinds of freedoms but for women it’s unacceptable. Kudos to Elizabeth Gilbeth for going on such an amazing journey and writing such an incredible memoir that inspires women to never follow the norm and follow your heart instead!

    Great post! 🙂

  124. I loved The Motorcycle Diaries and Easy Rider, two terrific films about two men exploring the world on their motorbikes. Guys are allowed this freedom. We expect it of them.

    And what happens when guys choose not to have adventures and travel to gain cultural enrichment and other survival skills? Does society think any less of them? Perhaps, perhaps not, depending on the fellow.

    A woman who does not wish to be married, and if she has a successful professional life, she may be admired for having conviction or knowing what she wants. A woman who gets married and chooses not to have kids…might be viewed as selfish (unless the husband doesn’t want to have kids either, in which case they may both be considered selfish).

    Might the woman who gets married, may or may not have a child, and is financially secure …but then realizes she’s still unfulfilled, might she be the worst of all? Echoing your words, how dare she change her mind, how dare she be so introspective as to discover she’s unfulfilled.

    1. I asked my male partner if men are as utterly unforgiving of one another as evinced here…he said yes, but for different reasons…For them it’s money, power, status. If a guy isn’t hitting his age-appropriate targets on time, it’s open season for them, too.

      If woman’s traditional (hello, 1820?) status derived from marriage and motherhood still holds true….I am to be totally condemned for meeting neither metric. Bring. It. On. 🙂

      The entire point of feminism — to me — is for women to make the choices that work best for each of them, as individuals, not desperate spinsters with inoperative uteruses.

      A woman’s most powerful organ is her brain. That is very, very frightening to many people. So much easier if she’s just too…busy/tired/overwhelmed with others’ needs. So much better for everyone (except, oh yeah, the woman) if there’s just no time to think!

    1. I agree with illumeateight. Though, my joy and adventures are mostly derived from the movies and books.

      I have no desire to marry or to have children. Fortunately, nobody is guilt tripping me about not doing my part in the survival of the species.

  125. shakabry

    Let me first say that I am male and no, I have not read it, and no I don’t really have any plans to. That said, I’m sure it’s a fine read. I applaud what’s her name for doing what she did but then again… she’s a writer. She was doing this with a purpose. To get a book out of it, right? Did she even have a book deal before taking off on her adventures? That I would really like to know. I could look it up but it’s too much work and I’m a lazy man.

    I hope this book isn’t making anyone quit their jobs, leave their families, burn their houses down, and/or leave it all behind. The world needs to keep spinning. And if anyone still wonders who is John Galt, I’m gonna scream!

    Live responsibly.

  126. alinefader

    Haven’t read or watched and won’t- I also don’t read memoirs by men of the same ilk. I am in my mid-thirties and have not followed a traditional marriage or career path. The part that is so unappealing to me is the commercialization of an inner journey. I have traveled to 2 of the three places in the book and many others beside, and have learned a lot about myself. One of those things is that reading someone similar’s experiences is a hollow empty substitute for living my own life. And quite frankly the subject matter does not seem to offer any new perspectives and certainly from the discussion here it appears it is way more interesting to talk about the reactions to the work than the actual content of the work itself.

  127. Re-invention is the way. Male or female, whatever…I was a radio professional…that biz contracted due to technology and corporatization; I worked various desk gigs…not to my liking…working with a neurotic drama Queen in an office who increasingly telecommuted, leaving me in there all alone, showed me the light showed me the light of the bed to living room commute…now I just have to perfect it so that it pays the rent and utilities and I have it made…great post.

  128. My comments were posted at another blog which was negative about the movie.

    Not hard to pick me out in the forest of comments in a cycling helmet amongst the ladies here. My comments were in the same spirit of poster here (medlina):

    “The difference in Ms. Gilbert’s book is that many in the masses are right — there’s a LOT of selfishness in the book, a self-centeredness, actually. Lots of female travelers in the past have concentrated on “others” — other cultures, customs, the places they’ve been and life they’ve seen — rather than indulging entirely in themselves, their problems, and self-pity. If you scan the classic travelers’ tales you’ll find strong women like Rita Golden Gelmen’s Tales of a Female Nomad, for example, which in many ways is better than Eat, Pray… It’s less self-centered and more centered on the larger world. I think that’s why people have complained…NOT because a woman shouldn’t buy a ticket and take off on her own. Strong women just can’t empathize with whiney ones!”

    I’m sure the book is better than the movie because a movie sometimes amplifies a more self-centred world in a huge screen with the foreign faces and foreign surroundings as a wonderful backdrop. A book requires a person to imagine and enter into the heart of the narrator. Very different end result.

    I haven’t seen a theatre movie in the last few years, due to cost. I find my entertainment elsewhere more cheaply. Of course riding a bike for long distances is free, and one does learn alot about self while partaking in the bike journey.

    Will I read the book? I’m too absorbed in reading a totally different travelogue book by a solo woman kayaker doing her trips out in the ocean and explaining more about the world outside of her own self. She too gains strength and self-knowledge but through learning about what wild nature teaches her and skills of self-survival at sea and on isolated beaches. I guess she has a hubby or boyfriend in her life which she barely mentions. And her father, her mentor died..mentioned at the beginning of book as a dedication.

    I admire such personal mental and physical strength to endure yet marvel the world around her for what nature and good-hearted strangers can be.

    i’ll let you figure out if I would be truly interested in Gilbert’s book.

    i ride my bike, my destressor and companion in travel in home and abroad!

  129. Book that i’m reading for 2nd time:
    ‘Spirited Waters: Soloing South Through the Inside Passage”. By Jennifer Hahn.

    Inside Passage is the whole coastal water area northern Washington and along British Columbia.

    It’s a great learns so much about the flora, fauna, sea life and ocean. She also ties it in with native Indian legends, her knowledge of edible plant foraging (for survival), etc.

    I don’t know the author (or hardly any Americans personally at all).

  130. A bourgeois woman is not somehow an idealist form of Woman. She’s a created subject. Her tale does not liberate anyone, least of all herself. This woman should not be applauded for anything, and she *certainly* did not defy patriarchy by indulging her middle class psychology through some outrageous orientalist extended vacation. Furthermore, the eyes of the Western subject do not see “the World” as it is. She found nothing but a mirror in which to see her and her petty secular bourgeois ego in every marketplace, every tree, every local. *That* is why she should be opposed, not because she doesn’t search for a man.

  131. sergeantsparrow

    It makes me think of the Razor’s Edge by Somerset Maugham. The protagonist is a veteran pilot of World War I who abandons his wealthy friends and lifestyle to travel and seek enlightenment after he was affected by a friends death in the war. It too was made into a movie. I wonder if people had the same sort of view of him as a man, setting off. A woman does exactly the same thing more than 50 years later and she is considered selfish. Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha also strikes a similar story line. The pursuit of happiness and enlightenment is not a gender oriented journey. It is not selfish to seek ones inner fulfillment or to try and discover a greater meaning for yourself in this life.

  132. Lisa

    The book was brilliant and inspiring – got me to go see Bali, which was gorgeous, and I had the opportunity to go visit some of the places where the movie was shot. This will be a bonanza for the village, which is so full of art and color and vibrant, engaging people that you cannot come away from a visit and not feel that you have been to a magical place.

    I don’t think anyone has the right to judge anyone else’s life, as some are judging this book, good or bad. It’s simply someone life, very eloquently written (you can feel her pain and confusion in the pages) – and if it inspires anyone to look at life differently, or to travel and get out of their “routine” to see things in a new light (because new environments ALWAYS bring new perspectives) – then it is a gift to this world.

    We all need different experiences to find our own truths. If this book made you view Elizabeth as some “enemy”… you might want to dig a little deeper to see what sore points her words are touching… because many people simply enjoyed the adventure, and were happy for her at the end. As you should be for any friend going through a struggle, and going to find clarity somewhere, whether it’s lying in bed at home, or traveling abroad. I am happy for her, and I loved the book, and though I think Julia Roberts is one of the most overrated actresses on the planet… I’ll see the movie anyway, just to see Bali again.

    1. I’m ready to see the movie again and I just saw it yesterday. Much of it resonated for me. Not the scenes in Bali, (which made me want to go right away!) but that spartan little room in Rome and the friends she made there. Mine was in Florence, on the via del Presto, in 1980. I’ll never forget it. Or how I felt there, alone.


  133. msambrato

    Ha ha ha… I guess those that took offense to my comments never saw “How to Murder Your Wife”. For a very long time the image of lifelong batchelor has always been heralded as a life of adventure or some kind of stressless bliss of freedom. While for 20-30 years that may be true, but as the sun begins to set on your life the romantic adventure gradually evolves into a prison of madness. I have personally witnessed the sad existence of more than one elderly batchelor as the last chapter of their life came to a close. It is shocking horror. If a gentleman is lucky and managed to save a few pennies maybe he can marry late and avoid the Munch portrait of an old age home and die in something he considers to be his own bed. That’s far better than some estranged unknown nephew flying in to commit you after you’ve had a fall.

    Obviously those who shed the ‘burden’ of family in favor of a more ‘fullfilling’ life have never watched the wretched alone-ness tear the sanity from a person’s mind. I had to wonder if it was truly dimentia – a bio-chemical process invoked by nature – or if it was something else. As an individual marches to the ineviatable gate and the senses the nearness of the destination the sum of their existence reaches convergence. Will they slip from life satisfied and at peace or will they twist in regret and drown in their own shallow pool? I’ve seen the latter and trust me – its not pretty.

    I laughed to myself when I was perceived as a mysogenist. FYI, for more than a year now I have been a stay at home dad, my fiancee is a professional woman who makes a good salary. I’ve done the cooking and the cleaning – as well as the outside chores. I’ve changed scores of diapers, given the daily baths, presided over naps, prepared and manitained diaper bags, sung lullabys and have even prepared my own baby food from scratch. Do not mistake me for a man who seeks to keep women barefoot and pregnant. You completely misread me.

    What I read from you and from many like you is that you bear a bit of disdain towards the perennial batchelor, or any type of letcherous male and his womanizing ways. Elizabeth Gilbert turns the tables and that gives you a thrill. Anyone criticizing the paradigm is compartmentalized into the troglodyte trying to hand you the whalebone.

    That’s utter bullshit.

    My point is simple. Whether you have a penis or a vagina it makes no difference. The self-seeker loses in the end. The brand of loss may vary slightly between the sexes, but they certainly rival each other in profinity. However, it is a free country. Do what you like. Keep in mind that in today’s world, the husband and the wife are equal partners. Usually both work or at the very least the defined roles – which generally change during the course of the marriage – are seen as each standing on level ground. The point is that couples build lives together around the family. Its not a bourgeois lot prone to condescension. Its the best way to reach satisfaction – seeing the children – the grandchildren – the great grandchildren about you being joyful. That gives life meaning. And please, don’t give me that crap about being the wonderful aunt who vampires off a siblings extended family – like the grasshopper living off the ants. That’s a fantasy. People generally get way too caught up in their own family to worry about weird Aunt Liz and her cats. A life predicated on shallow self-indulgence generally steers you away from being Aunty Klingon. What it gives you in the end – is something you don’t want.

    So if you want me to wish you congradulations, then so be it. Kudos for arriving at man’s folly of the self-seeker. You are now truly like a bird free from its cage – free to dilute yourself as you see fit.

    Now don’t get me wrong, there are people out there who don’t marry, but not because of selfishness. It doesn’t happen for everyone. I can find no harsh criticisms for these folks. Generally these are the types that do remain close to family. I had a Great Aunt like that. She never married, but was kind and had good heart. Her sisters and her nieces loved her. They lived close and saw much of another. There was a certain sadness to her, but it was often lifted from her by our greater family. When she died, even though she never experienced a family of her own, she went with the knowledge that she was loved and made a difference in people’s lives.

    Life is full of choices grand and small and we often blind ourselves to the impact of those choices. We often think that we will live forever, but when the realization comes that we do not – it comes hard.

    If you truly want to transcend the past in terms of the feminist view, then understand that you do not have to embrace all forms of equality. It’s an a la carte menu. You define yourself with the guidance of God. You make choices. You accept consequences.

  134. Miss Rosemary

    Amen!So what if a woman wants to do that? I say good for her, I hope she has great sex with the Brazilian man and she should get really rich off the book and the movie. Men have fared much better for doing far worse.

  135. Pingback: 29. Teenage Dream– “Things Were Kinda Heavy/ You Brought Me to Life” « magical mondays

  136. Zawmb'yee

    I should read the book and see the movie. The critics almost made me not. As new temporary High Priestess, I have a lot of resources at my disposal and perhaps I should travel the world, but I’ve been busy attending to Kmpamew intrigue. I only just recently was shown the secret-cave palace and I don’t know if I can trust my Regent or my tutor. How are Brazilian men? I don’t know: I haven’t yet assimilated fully into the up-top world. My cave society is in turmoil…but anyway, I like your article. Thanks for the tip.
    Zawmb’yee Nuje

  137. Plain Woman

    I am soooo looking forward to seeing this movie. And I am intrigued just lately by the word “freedom”.

    A very wise woman once asked me, late in her life when we met again by chance after decades of not seeing each other, “Has your life turned out as you expected?”

    I had to admit that it has… married, two children, and all that entails… But it certainly has not turned out the way I dreamed.

    As my children grow up and leave the nest, I find myself ready for the next volume – not just the next chapter – of my life… But I do not feel free to pursue it – the expectations keep me bound. I’m hoping Gilbert/Roberts will allow me the vicarious pleasure of following those dreams, and maybe even inspire me to shed the shackles of expectation and go live a few of those dreams!

  138. Great post. I just started reading this book yesterday and am just lingering around page 75. I’m hoping to catch the movie but wanted to read the book first. It’s amazing the controversy that this brings!

  139. I’m going to say right now that I haven’t read the book, so everything I’m saying is hearsay. I do, however, run a book group on, and I’ve seen quite a few people reviewing this book. I get about half and half love/hate–people either really love the book or they really hate Gilbert. Those who really hate the book have always complained about the tone; narcissistic and whiny. I don’t think it’s the subject matter that puts people off as much as it is her personality–after all, if you’re going to write a book about yourself, what you’re really selling is your personality, not your actions by themselves. People don’t so much mind the sequence of events; it’s a book and readers love a good story, even if it’s not something they necessarily agree with. An unlikable main character will get you every time, though.

    1. The basic challenge of any memoir is that the central character is a real person, not someone the writer has invented and manipulated to some specific end.

      I’m writing my own memoir and acutely aware that readers will not only judge the story and how I tell it but will also judge me, my personality, my choices, etc. Which is somewhat ridiculous — people are who they are. You find them sympathetic, or not. Witnessing the enormous hostility Gilbert has received, I shudder to think what some people will (very likely) say about my story. It’s one thing to be attacked because people find your writing weak or your story uninteresting. But when it’s you…

      I’ve read, for example and contrast, one of Augusten Burrough’s memoirs (Running With Scissors) and one by Mary Karr (Liar’s Club), both of which were huge best-sellers. Not for me. It’s deeply subjective. What people seem unable or unwilling to do is separate the woman from her message from the basic fact that every memoir is only one piece of a larger life story.

  140. Pingback: Enlightened Self-Interest or Just Selfishness? « The Yoga of Living

  141. me

    This books is stupid and sucks. I’ll tell you why…

    It encompasses the late 20-early 30 modern American woman’s crisis to “find herself, the means of which is usually done by abandoning western practices and adapting “spirituality” rather than religion. You see it all the time. The “have it all girl” who after her post-college internnnnship and stint in the real world has some bullshit thought that “this isn’t really life”, freaks out, and tries to change her ways.

    And I loathe this book for the reason that so many women, especially here in NYC (you know, the nyu grads in their late 20s, who are basically the former snobby girls from high school), are trying to liken and change their lives to this book’s preachy lifestyle. UGH. Just be yourself. You don’t have a f**king crisis! And if you do? Fix it by your own means, not that of some Oprah club junkie.

    1. It’s only as stupid as the way you choose to see it. So, you disapprove of Gilbert and her choice. Fine.
      It worked for her. Sitting on a park bench might work for you, or someone else, or not.

      American women are brainwashed from birth to be skinny, cute, real friendly, get married and have babies. Those who deviate from that course of action — imposed by others for their commercial or emotional convenience (unless they’re Mother Teresa) — are pilloried for daring to pursue their own path and their own pleasure. What do you care what any other woman chooses? Why does her choice affect you in any way?

      That this book and this choice continues to elicit such hatred is so much more revealing than the book or the author.

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