Book Review: Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert

The Kiss - RodinI know there are a lot of Elizabeth Gilbert haters out there, but I think she is actually a very good writer, and just because her books have been popular does not mean that her writing is mediocre. I find her writing style personable and engaging. I enjoyed Eat, Pray, Love, all the while envying her ability to travel like that – would that we could all take a year and visit three amazing places on our bucket list! Some complain that her divorce as portrayed in the book wasn’t “real” enough, even though her divorce isn’t actually the center of the story – her recovery is (and shouldn’t we single gals be supporting each other instead of tearing each other down with “if you think that’s bad” stories?).  When Committed came out, I actually bought it in hard cover (not a planned purchase, just one of those see-it-in-the-bookstore-and-think-what-the-heck purchases).  And I read it and enjoyed it, how it weaves anecdotes with research, and I learned a heck of a lot more about matrimony than I had ever known before. I like books where I learn stuff.

Here I am, on the cusp of getting married again, to someone who is not-scared-of getting married, but shall we say, a little anxious, not having been married since the mid-eighties. And I remembered this book, sitting on my shelf, about a man and a woman facing marriage, and who are also a-little-more-than-anxious about getting married. I decided to read it again, to see if I could gather any insight into my fiancé’s perspective, and explore my own feelings on the subject.

Ms. Gilbert says, “It’s been famously said that second marriage is the triumph of hope over experience, but I’m not entirely sure that’s true. It seems to me that first marriages are the more hope-drenched affairs, awash in vast expectations and easy optimism. Second marriages are cloaked, I think in something else: a respect for forces that are bigger than us, maybe. A respect that perhaps even approaches awe.” I tend to agree, although I think hope is the wrong word here. I think first-time marriages are the epitome of naivete (sorry – can’t think of a better word!), thinking that divorce will just not “happen” to them, because they think they are in control, while second marriages are hopefully careful, acknowledging that there are forces within and around a marriage that are just not in our control, but that being aware, and having that experience may actually give us an edge.

I take exception to her terminology and jaunt into singlemomdom, when she uses that washed up old term “broken home” to describe a single parent family. Although she does stress that her point about kids doing better in two-parent homes is actually in reference to the consistency and stability of a family, rather than the actual numbers of parents, I really just wish she had said that instead of the whole “kids do better in un-broken homes” section.

But the stories about the people she encounters on the other side of the world, and how silly her questions may have sounded, and the over-analyzing of the marriage statistics…  It all makes sense to me.  Because I do the same thing when I am anxious about something.  I’m not (very) anxious about my own second trip down the aisle, but as I said, I get it – I completely understand why anyone would be.

Another point that resonated with me was the discovery that early western marriages were in spite of the Church, who wanted no one between an individual and God, not even a spouse. Early western marriages, then, were alliances between a man and a woman, in effect, against the world. I like that.

I spoke with a friend today who is at the beginning stages of her second divorce, and she is obviously bitter about marriage in general.  She can’t be happy for me, although she is trying – and I understand.  She said, “Why can’t you just be happy together?  Why do you have to get married?”  I had no reply, because I understood.  But my question back is, Would your heart hurt any less if you had never gotten married this second time?  Or would it still be messy and ugly, this breaking up stuff?

In any case, this book is a thinking person’s book for anyone, not just those contemplating a second marriage. Ms. Gilbert tackles tradition, cultural differences, expectation, and anything else a skeptic would research before coming to terms with something as important and life-altering as getting married, for the second time.