A few years ago I stumbled upon a copy of a book that I hadn’t yet heard about (which is now hard to imagine). It was sitting in the mix of new books at my local library and the title captured me. Three simple words – Eat, Pray, Love. I added it to my stack and, in just a few nights, I read it cover to cover. I had no idea it would become a best seller or be made into a movie starring Julia Roberts. I just knew I loved this story.
Then, a few years later, I noticed another book on the new book shelf. It was by the same author, Elizabeth Gilbert. This one only had just one word in its title – Committed. I snatched it up and cracked it open that very night.
From the first page, I loved this book. Because I’m nosy, and wonder about this kind of stuff, I was thrilled to find an author’s note before the first chapter, an explanation of how the success of Eat, Pray, Love caught her totally by surprise, and how it changed her life. She explains how hard it was to write this next book, Committed, because she felt the expectation of millions of readers. It was that kind of honesty that made me eager to dive in.
By the time I started on chapter one of Committed, I was ready to hear ‘the rest of the story’. And that’s exactly what this book is, a description of what happened with that life-changing man she met at the end of Eat, Pray, Love, and how their life unfolded together. But it’s a bit more complicated than that.
Eat, Pray, Love opens with the author’s painful, bitter divorce, and ends with her finding new love. Her new love had his own painful past, that also included a messy divorce. It made perfect sense to the new couple, that they would never again marry, and only commit to each other without the added stress of laws and paperwork. But life never seems to be that easy.
Complications with her new life partner’s visa meant that the couple had two choices – live outside of the United States for the rest of their lives, or get married. Both deeply desired to maintain their life in the States. The logical choice was one they had so firmly committed to reject. But even that decision wasn’t an easy one to implement. Her boyfriend had been exiled until he completed an amazingly complicated list of immigration requirements.
While they worked on getting him back into the country, so they could legally (reluctantly) be married, Ms. Gilbert and her boyfriend became nomads, living as cheaply as they could in foreign countries, mostly Asia. The book that spelled out their meeting had not yet hit the stratosphere and there was no hint that it would. So for a year, their life was in limbo – financially and emotionally.
It gave the author plenty of time to research and ponder this thing called marriage. Much of the book details the physical journey she lived through, but just as much chronicles her angst about joining this club, the sacred union of married people, that she was still pretty sure she didn’t want to be a part of. To keep herself sane, she spoke to women of many cultures, the women she found around her in her exiled state. Their perception of the purpose of marriage makes for an interesting cultural study that I found extremely eye opening.
Mixed into the chapters are the results of anthropological research she did, studying the marriage union through history and cultures. I was especially interested to read her break down of the tradition of arranged marriages, and why the divorce rates in countries that practice it tend to rise as more couples choose their own spouses.
She then ponders and plots, trying to figure out how she and her new fiancé can beat the odds and find success in their union. What she ends up with is a pretty straight forward formula, accepting the fact that, in some ways, marriage is truly like a business partnership. The love factor and mutual attraction are important. But just as important is ironing out the wants, desires and expectations of each spouse, much like you would in a meeting with business colleagues.
Having been married for over two decades myself, I found myself agreeing with much of what the author spells out. True love has very little to do with Valentine’s Day. Day to day life is the battlefield where marriage is played out. It’s important that my spouse and I see each other clearly, and understand each other’s true needs, if we hope to find happiness on this journey.
It’s more about showing practical love every single day of the year. Living with a man who is always thinking of ways to make my life easier, every single day, is what I want for this special holiday. The fact he scrapes the ice off my car for me, or picks up milk on the way home so I don’t have to, means so much more to me than how many roses he brings me on one day of the year.
Some have criticized Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, Committed, for being too long. It’s definitely a lot more a practical study of life and people than Eat, Pray, Love. But because that study is mixed in with some pretty interesting life and cultural experiences that relate to how people ‘do’ marriage in other parts of the world, I was captivated through the whole book.
The publisher graciously sent me a copy of the book, recently available in paperback, and I loved it just as much the second time around. So many parts had me turning to my spouse and saying, “Did you know….?” It led to many healthy, lively discussions, of marriage in general and ours specifically.
This Valentine’s Day I’ll make him (and the geek kids who share our breakfast table) pink, heart shaped pancakes. I’ll buy a small box of his favorite chocolates. And maybe I’ll give him an extra kiss or two (in front of the kids even!). But like Elizabeth Gilbert’s book points out, I’m committed to this man for so many more reasons than how he impresses me on one day of the year. As long as we keep adapting and adjusting to each other’s changing needs, we’re in for the long haul.