Elizabeth Gilbert's new book uses history to convince her skeptic self to marry.
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.
Over the course of writing Committed, Gilbert found that there were many reasons to fly in the face of present-day, negative divorce statistics and commit... and none of them had to do with shared health benefits, joint tax returns or life insurance payout. We Married For Health Insurance
One experience stands out from Gilbert's travels. Near the beginning of the book, she sits down with a Hmong family to talk marriage and wedding traditions. The Hmong are a "small, proud, isolated ethnic minority... who inhabit the highest mountain peaks of Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, and China," and Gilbert is eager to learn of how their attitudes toward marriage differ from those of the Western world, especially considering that their divorce rates are so low. What she finds is that, among the Hmong, "you don't necessarily expect your husband to be your best friend, your most intimate confidant, your emotional advisor, your intellectual equal, your comfort in times of sorrow." The Hmong understand that you can't look to your spouse to satisfy every one of your needs—to complete you. You need to look to yourself, and to your "tribe," for that.
Perhaps because friendship is still a very good reason to marry. As is companionship. Or security. A husband or a wife can still be a good confidant, at least when it comes to those things in life that don't directly affect the two of you. Maybe your spouse is your intellectual equal, someone you have long, satisfying conversations with about life, the universe and everything. Perhaps the only real reason you want to commit to someone is the fact that you miss him when he's not around, or because her happiness is integral to yours.
Whichever reasons you have, don't let them be all of the above. Don't let your spouse be your everything, Committed tells us. Because if your lover is also your heart, your blood and the air that you breathe, the two of you might not survive.