Saturday, February 13, 2010

Committed - Elizabeth Gilbert

In Gilbert's memoir Eat, Pray, Love, she falls in love with a Brazilian named Felipe. In her latest, Gilbert tells the story of how she and Felipe came to be married, despite their adamant belief that after their painful divorces, they would never enter into the instution of marriage ever again. I was skeptical when I picked this one up. I thought it might be preachy - or an annoying attempt to justify why Gilbert's marriage was worthwhile, when so many others aren't. I thought it would be just another self-indulgent memoir. But, I was pleasantly surprised to say the least. While this is certainly a memoir, and Gilbert goes deep into her own personal relationships and feelings about marriage, this book is also a study of marriage - what it means in different cultures and religions, why people ever invented the institution of marriage, what it meant to women 100 (or even 20) years ago, and what it can mean for women today. Gilbert has done a lot of research - and sure she picks and chooses the histories that are relevant to her own life, but this one really resonated with me. As someone who never wanted to get married, but after 30 years came to terms with my own wedding, I really appreciated Gilbert's honesty and curiosity about her fears, her expectations in relationships, and her resentment toward a society that often defines marriage in a way that enforces and imposes gender stereotypes. As someone who has chosen not to have children, Gilbert also has intriguing viewpoints on how remaining childless impacts a life-long union (in bad and good ways). This is a great book for sparking discussion about the meaning of marriage - a hot topic certainly in California right now with the passage of Prop 8. And, I thought, a valuable tool for assessing one's own partnership - in terms of how it has lived up to one's expectations, or far exceeded it. I think I (and Gilbert) will always have some ambivalence about the institution of marriage, but learning more about where it came from and how others view it, certainly empowered me to feel like I can remain a feminist while still appreciating the wonder that comes from sharing my life with another person (in a state-sanctioned way). I can see how Glibert's tone might offend, or more likely, annoy many readers, but probably because I share many of Gilbert's inital notions about marriage, I appreciated this exploration of it.

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