Friday, January 15, 2010

Life in Pages: Elizabeth Gilbert Gets 'Committed'

"To be fully seen by somebody, then, and to be loved anyhow--this is a human offering that can border on the miraculous."
-Elizabeth Gilbert

I paid $12 for Elizabeth Gilbert to be my best friend, my guide, my sage for three days in early 2008. At the time, I was at the lowest point in my adult life, and she helped me cope with the end of my marriage by chronicling her own autonomous post-divorce journey in the bestselling memoir, Eat, Pray, Love.

Now she has a new book out, chronicling a whole new journey. In Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage, Gilbert's sentenced to marrying her partner Felipe (a fellow survivor of divorce whom she met at the end of her journey in Bali and with whom she vowed never marry). When Felipe is deported from America, the couple is given two choices: build a whole new life outside of the U.S. or marry.

The book is her attempt at coming to terms with committing to a second marriage: "Maybe the only difference between first marriage and second marriage is that the second time at least you know you are gambling," she writes.

Having been married and divorced, I'm not as eager to embark on another marriage. Having a wedding would be nice. As a product of Disney princesses from Belle to Ariel, I've been implanted with grandiose visions of a pretty white dress, chic bridesmaids, and the witnesses who see that YES, this man has picked me, only me! That's all nice, but a marriage is more than a party and the subsequent romantic getaway.

To embark on marriage, taking that leap into matrimony, is all about building a life together.

Gilbert details her grandmother's choice of sacrificing her autonomy, her freedom, her life to raise seven children on a rural farm. She doesn't understand why she gave up so much for marriage, but she soon realizes this: "She was happy because she had a partner, and because they were building something together, and because she believed deeply in what they were building, and because it amazed her to be included in such an undertaking."

But I also know that with my lofted expectations, another marriage will be hard work, as Gilbert echoes, "Marriage becomes hard work once you have poured the entirety of your life's expectations for happiness into the hands of one mere person. Keeping that going is hard work."

And that's the thing about marriage and relationships: managing expectations. But, in the end, getting married is a choice. One can live a very full life with a partner and children and a home, building an entire world of your own based on friendship, trust and love, but it's the declaration of being publicly committed to someone that leads many to marriage.

"Emily Dickinson wrote, 'Of all the Souls that stand create--/I have elected--One,'" she writes. "That right there--the idea that, for our own private reasons, many of us do end up electing one person to love and defend above all others--that selection, that narrowness of intimacy is maddening to anyone who longs to control you." And that's why we have marriage--to control the intimacy, the bonds that bind two people together.

"What passes between a couple alone in the dark is the very definition of the word 'privacy,'" she says. "Every couple in the world has the potential over time to become a small and isolated nation of two--creating their own culture, their own language, and their own moral code, to which nobody else can be privy."

While I'm a bit disappointed that she ended her book on their wedding, she did make me cry when she thanked the man that is now her husband, "a private person by nature," for letting her write about him to millions.

"I believe this has been a great act of love and compassion on his part," she writes. "Somewhere along the line, this wonderful man seems to have recognized that my life would not have a coherent story line anymore without him at the center of it."
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