Elizabeth Gilbert, the contemplative yogi, pasta lover and author of Eat, Pray, Love, surprised her adoring fans in 2007 when rumors circulated that she'd married her beloved "Felipe," the man she falls in love with at the end of her 2006 memoir.
Gilbert's international adventures in Eat, Pray, Love were born of her divorce from her first husband, and the book follows Gilbert's efforts to find herself outside her perceived constraints of marriage and baby expectations. Finally, with the release of Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace With Marriage (Viking), Gilbert's new book, we get the full story on Gilbert and Felipe, plus an exhaustive exploration into the history and traditions of marriage.
When Gilbert's foreign-born Felipe was threatened with permanent exile from the United States, she vowed to marry him so that he could attain U.S. citizenship, and so that they could spend the rest of their lives together. But first, she had to come to terms with the institution of marriage itself, an arrangement that had failed her in the past, leaving her loath to ever marry again.
From Gilbert's curious mind to yours, here are some historical and statistical factoids you may or may not know about matrimonial unions as we know them today:
—In some countries, marriage was once considered to be a union between one man and several women, one woman and several men, two aristocratic men, two siblings, two children, or even between the unborn. I Have Two Husbands: A Polygamist's Diary
—Historically, marriage existed for a variety of reasons, most of which were completely unrelated to love.
—Christians once renounced marriage entirely, imploring all humans to aspire to live like the angels (celibate, that is). When they found they couldn't control others' inclination to marry, both governments and religions began controlling it as much as they could. (This historical tidbit led Gilbert to begin thinking of marriage as less of a life sentence, and more of a rebellion, a means of carving out a life for oneself on one's own terms.) Marriage. It's Complicated. Is It Worth It?
—In Iran, young couples can ask a mullah for a special marriage permit that allows them to be "married" just for one day. The "sigheh," serves as a 24-hour pass permitting the couple to be seen in public together or even, legally, have sex.
—In China, once upon a time, there could be a union between a living woman and a dead man. It was called a "ghost marriage" and was used to seal the bonds of unity between two clans.