Thoughts on the literary followup to Eat, Pray, Love

I’ve been waiting for a long time for the follow-up book to Eat, Pray, Love from Elizabeth Gilbert. I was psyched when I heard it was about marriage. I’m married, and it frequently feels like playing a chess game while blindfolded and with the rules constantly changing. It feels like Calvin-Chess-Ball. Oh, and it’s culturally expected that I’ll handle it correctly the first time with dignity and grace. Clearly, culture doesn’t know me.

So when I heard that her next book was about marriage and the cultural differences, I was elated. I like her writing style. I like her research methods. I was looking forward to some fresh perspectives…for the sake of balance and sanity.

About the author herself: I’ve spoken with a lot of people who thought the author was indulgent and whiny about her year-long trip around the world. She should get a job/husband/self-control/etc. Whatever. I’d take just about any amount of criticism if I had the opportunity to travel the world for a year and the literary skill to write about it.

On to the book:

As per usual, I dog-eared the hell out of a book. I always do. Here are some of my own personal highlights out of it:

1) On Hmong women’s reaction to the Western practice of placing the marriage relationship at the center of their lives: “[None of the Hmong women were] placing her marriage at the center of her emotional biography in any way that was remotely familiar to me…I did not see [the Hmong women] weaving overexamined myths and cautionary tales about their marriages…nor did I see the Hmong women crafting the character of ‘the husband’ into either the hero or the villain”…(pages 35-37)

(Here I will interject- I love the phrasing ‘at the center of her emotional biography.’ I don’ think too many women think of their emotional investments this way, but it is an interesting way to phrase what is a huge part of our lives and motivations.)

2) On divorce as a social issue: “If you honestly want to have a society in which people choose their own partners on the basis of personal affection, then you must prepare yourself for the inevitable. There will be broken hearts…broken lives. Exactly because the human heart is a mystery, love renders all our plans and all our intentions a great big gamble. Maybe the only difference between first marriage and second marriage is that the second time at least you know you are gambling.” (page 83)

As a child of divorce, I was raised without a negative stigma attached to divorce. Or, at least I was moving too fast and being a kid, too busy to notice adult politics until I was at least….23 or so. Late bloomer. To me, marriage is as fallible as humans are. We have good intentions and we want to pretend that if we attach those intentions to our concept of God, that we will be more successful. Respectfully, I disagree.

3) “You cannot stop the flood of desire as it moves through the world, inappropriate though it may sometimes be. It is the prerogative of all humans to make ludicrous choices, to fall in love with the most unlikely of partners, and to set themselves up for the most predictable of calamities.” (page 95)

4) “[Statistically] marriage as an institution has always been terrifically beneficial for men…we have to start with the cold, ugly fact that marriage does not benefit women as much as it benefits men.” (page166)

Again, as a child of divorce, I agree with the main thrust of this statement. I’ve seen it to be true the way stereotypes are true…there’s always no shortage of exceptions, but overall it is fairly accurate. (Notice I said stereotypes and not prejudices? Yea, remember that before anyone flies off the handle and comments on that little jewel.)

5) On why the ritual of marriage is so important (and all rituals in general): “[Ceremony] is the circle that we draw around important events to separate the momentous from the ordinary. And ritual is a sort of magical safety harness that guides us from one stage of our lives into the next…what my friends and family wanted when they were asking for a public wedding ceremony [from me]…was to be able to move on with their lives knowing with certainty where everybody stood in relationship to everybody else.” (page 249)

6) “People don’t wait for permission…they go ahead and create what they need.” (page 263)

Beautiful.

I ended up dog-earring about 18 pages of this book that I wanted to go back and re-read. Unfortunately, by the time I went back to some of the pages, I’d forgotten what the older Me wanted myself to re-read and re-member. All in all, it was a thoughtful journey. I’m not as skittish about the state of matrimony as the author is- though I have reason to be. But I like the sisterly support of another point of view. It helps me sharpen my own.

I highly recommend this book whether you are married or not. It’s got a good perspective that is utterly Western in it’s flavor.

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