Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Committed- by Elizabeth Gilbert

I recently read Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert, who was the author of Eat, Pray, Love. I read this book in a week...and I must say it was an interesting read, though I enjoyed Eat, Pray, Love much more. I decided to write about the book here because it was all about marriage and I find studies on this topic very interesting. Gilbert looked at marriage in other countries, in our country, what works, what doesn't work...and basically tried to come to terms with the fact that in order to keep her boyfriend in the U.S. with her...she had to get married. This clearly absolutely terrified her because of a really bad experience with her first husband that resulted in a messy divorce.

I must say that I take Elizabeth Gilbert with a grain of salt. I think she has a lot of great things to say, and interesting viewpoints on life, marriage and relationships. But her and I think so differently about marriage, family, and children that I personally find it hard to really connect or commiserate with her. I feel bad that her first marriage messed with her head as much as it did. She trash talks her old marriage so much that it makes me wonder whether she's truly over it. Though to be fair, she does admits that "one never really moves past a bad divorce." But, she also speaks in such vague terms about the cause of the divorce (perhaps for legal reasons), that I truly want to know what the hell happened?  I hear her ex-husband is writing a book that explains "his side of the story" and honestly, I'll be first in line to read it.

In delving into the mysteries of marriage, she quotes an old Polish adage that warns: "Before going to war, say one prayer. Before going to sea, say two prayers. Before getting married, say three." I'm all for the occasional joke, but I tend of get tired of those "my life is ending" "jokes" about marriage. Ha.Ha.Ha....Let's all laugh how marriage is worse than going to war? I guess that's...funny? I suppose that these harsh feelings toward marriage due to a bad divorce is something that I can't (and hopefully will never) understand. But, the lessons she claims to have finally learned at the age of 40 from her failed first marriage, I think are slightly obvious...and I'm 25. I know that people change with age and experience...and maybe my optimism about marriage Gilbert would call utter naïvetéI read somewhere once that a pessimist is just an optimist with experience. Or worse yet, this one: "An optimist is a man who looks forward to marriage. A pessimist is a married optimist." It's sad, but understandable and when you go through something bad, it's easy to get swept up into pessimism.
One thing that I cannot relate to Gilbert on is the fact that she has absolute zero desire to have children. This isn't something that came about because of her divorce...but was actually partly the cause of her divorce. She said that she never thought to discuss children with her first husband before they got married. THIS is an example of something I can't understand. Why wouldn't you ever discuss your goals and future plans in life and family with the person you are planning to marry?? She blames her age; that she was too young to know or understand this. In my opinion, she wasn't that young...and that topic should obviously have been layed out on the table before they got married. But for her not wanting kids at all? Ok, I guess I get it...she travels the world. She clearly has an intense desire to see, feel, touch, and experience everything she can possibly fit into a lifetime. Believe me, that are aspects of her life that I envy and that I will never experience. She doesn't want to give up her freedom, her spontaneity, the ability to pick up and go anywhere at the drop of a hat. But to never want kids? I know it's an innate thing that many people either possess or don't possess for one reason or another. She happens to not possess that desire...and I do, so...that's that.

What she does talk about are the many joys of being an Aunt. She enjoys being the "cool" Aunt, spoiling them rotten, and loving them as much as she can...without having the actual responsibility of raising kids, which is what she doesn't want. She discribes this whole "Auntie Brigade" of fabulous Aunts who are close with their neices and nephews. But then to back up her claim of how awesome it is being an aunt, she mentions some famous people in history who were orphaned young, and ultimately raised by their Aunts (John Lennon, Coco Chanel, Leo Tolstoy, and Truman Copote). She says these women were amazing, heroic women (which they were) and she was proud they were part of her "Auntie Brigade". But, if you're raising children from infancy or early childhood on...your essentially...a mom, right? You'd be making the same sacrifices and changes than if you were raising your own children. If she were to find herself in that situation, how would that be different than "not having any kids" other than the fact that she didn't go through actual pregnancy and labor? Is she afraid of the act of raising children as she states, or is she afraid of the actual birthing process? (In which case..I hear ya sister.) I just think those examples weakened her "Auntie Brigade" claim.

Moving on, Gilbert talks about the 50% divorce rate that is plaguing America today. "With a 50% divorce rate it is astonishing that marriage is still even legal." She researched and found that the younger you are when you get married, the more likely you are to get divorced later. "You are two to three times more likely to divorce if you marry in your teens or early twenties than if you wait until your thirties or forties." So, the curve is thrown off by 18 year-olds who wed and have a 75% divorce rate....but thrown back again by 50 year-olds who wed and have a 25% divorce rate. She also notes that if gay marraige was legal, that divorce rates could very well go down. The studies don't take into account the many successful long-term gay unions that are out there. (I love her section on gay marriage. I think she eloquently states what I always mean to state when talking on the subject, but never had the eloquence to state in the manner she does. It was long and I couldn't summarize it correctly here but it was good!!).

She studied tons of books and reports on marriage. She traveled to other countries and asked about their marriage customs, which were all extremely interesting. One report in particular that she liked came out of Rutgers University and was called "Alone Together: How Marriage is Changing in America." This report seemed to support that the magic cutoff age for getting married was 25. "Couples who marry before age 25 were dramatically more likely to get a divorce then couples who waited until they were 26 or 27 and the statistics only go up the older you get." Yay for me! When we marry next year Chris will be 3 months shy of 26 and I'll be 26. Gilbert all along has been blaming the fact that her and her first husband were too young to get married when they did...newsflash: They were 25....I think they were also probably extremely immature.

Besides age, other studies of marital resilience in the Rutgers Report included:
Education- The more equally educated and the better educated you are, the less likely you are to get divorced.
Children: Couples with young children had higher divorce rates. (Interrrresting...John and Kate anyone?)
Cohabitation: If you live together before marriage, you had a slightly higher divorce rate. (This surprised me)
Social Integration: The more tightly woven a couple is in a community and with friends, the stronger their marriage will be.
Heterogamy: The less similar you are in race, age, religion , ethnicity and cultural background, the more likely you are to get divorced.
Religiousness: The more religious the couple is, the more likely they are to stay married. (However, in my opinion this does not necessarily mean the marriage is better. There are many religions that forbid divorce and make it hard to divorce which would cause two people to stay in a loveless, nonworking marriage just because they can't get out of it.)
Gender Fairness: Where man and woman share an equal place in the home with chores and responsibilities. (Gilbert boasts that her husband once said "I believe a woman's place is in the kitchen...sitting in a comfortable chair, with her feet up, drinking a glass of wine and watching her husband cook dinner." I love this statement, but think it was wrongly placed in the book. Wouldn't that be an example of gender unfairness? If this statement was reversed and a man was sitting in a chair drinking wine while his wife cooked for him, it would be "sexist" and "horrible". Is it considered gender fairness if the man is doing all the typical "women" duties? Isn't this exactly what we're trying to avoid by saying gender fairness? Oy....I digress...)

Part of the reason that people are marrying later in this day and age is because women have become more educated, are working more, and therefore earning their own money. She mentions that "one of the first things that changes in any society when women start to earn their own income, is the nature of marriage." The more financially stable a woman becomes, the later in life she will get married, if ever. This seems to be a huge part of what's driven up the divorce rate. Years ago, women used to stay in bad relationships because they had no money to get out of them. So, this makes me wonder if we are really heading for disaster by saying there is a 50% divorce rate in America, or are American men and women ultimately happier and "freer" in the long run because they are getting out of a bad marriage?

I could write for days about this book, and I feel like I already have (I didn't even have time to quote anything from the last hundred pages because it was due back to the library!!) I'll be very curious to see how her marriage turns out a few years from now. Did it end up being as scary as she thought it would be? Did their marriage really change anything? Is she still pessimistic?? If you read this book...I'd be interested to know your thoughts on it as well, so please share!

"There is no greater risk than matrimony. But there is nothing happier than a happy marriage." -Benjamin Disraeli.

 For now, I still remain a hopeful optimist :)

A good quote from the book: 
"Sometimes life is too hard to be alone, and sometimes life is too good to be alone."


Molly said...

I'm so glad you read this! I actually disagree with you on a lot of the points that you make, which is of course okay and maybe to be expected, since we are different people, but I won't post a page-long comment going into all of that! Maybe we can discuss this next time we go out to lunch or dinner without the boys :) Love your analysis and love you.

LWoodsNY said...

Haha! Didn't we have very differing p.o.v's on Twilight too? I can't remember if we agreed or disagreed, but yes!! We must discuss soon..I want to hear your take on it! I think I need to reread it again though before I debate because just like when I watch movies...I always forget things!

mom said...

Wow! You've put a lot of thought into this. John Gottman has a lot of interesting research on marriage which is backed up by research from Colorodo University. One of the things he says that makes a marriage successful is the man's willingness to accetp direction from his wife. Interestingly, he noted the opposite is not necessary because women are already taught to acquiesce to the man. Gottman's research also found that beligerant husbands had wives who were sick more often. Isn't that interesting?

I do agree with you on marriages in the past being a legal but often unhappy union for women who couldn't afford to leave. Many unhappy, unfullfilled marriages in the past. Divorce rips you to the core though. Very painful. I've seen too many people really torn apart by divorce yet I would say the majority of them recover and grow into healthier people.

We really need to redefine marriage (and family for that matter) in this country. Neither should cost you your health! But if you ever want to read more on the subject of marriage and family I have a whole filing cabinet full of material! haha.:)

And be an optimist--pessimism sucks! Life is so much richer when your glass is half full!

Erin said...

What a wonderful book review! You have now gotten me interested in reading this book! I already have a feeling I will agree with most of what you were saying and making your points about... That being said, in my opinion, it is best to stay optimistic within your marriage. Obviously don't be naive to the problems that can arise and cause people to drift apart during a lifetime together, but if you are headed into the journey with your best friend, a level head and the willingness to compromise, I feel you are well equipt. Also (and this is coming from my INFINITE wisdom after being married for a year and a half haha), being married isn't all that different from not being married... if anything it's more fun!

Kate V said...

This is an amazzzing review of the book. I really enjoyed your thoughts, especially since you are on the verge of tying the knot. When I saw you with a copy in the hallway, I was a little scared for you, but I am glad to see that you enjoyed it lol. J/K. I found it was actually a pretty pro-marriage book...she just really looked at the history and current state of marriage and went into it eyes open.

One of my fav parts of the book was at the end when she discusses Greek v. Tribal (old Testament? I want to say Judaic, but that doesnt seem right!) viewpoints on the world. That's something that has oddly stayed with me.