Tag Archives: Elizabeth Gilbert

Don’t expect to learn about marriage from an author who thinks she’s written the book about it

February 19, 2010

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Committed cover“Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace With Marriage,”

by Elizabeth Gilbert

Since her last book — “Eat, Pray, Love” — sold 7 million copies, I hoped for something worthwhile out of Elizabeth Gilbert’s supposed “making peace with marriage.”

What a waste of time.

If she hadn’t been an author with a  recent success, I wonder if any publisher would have bothered with this 280-page memoir that’s part pity-party, part narrow-minded opinion-spouting, anti-Christian, too much about her birth family and not enough research about the marriages of real people outside her circle of friends or Third-World villages.

Dozens of therapists, priests, counselors and pastoral ministers have written much more useful works about the sacrament, and they didn’t have to consistently bash organized religion over and over and over in order to do it.

Gilbert’s obviously writing for those who haven’t use for anything so trite as religion or church. Her consistently going back many centuries to bring up outdated views held by some church leaders in the distant past gets annoying, especially when she rarely quotes the sources of the “facts” she’s spewing upon the public.

Selective history

She attacks the concept of marriage as a sacred union between one man and one woman, spending page after page proclaiming the rightness of her belief in same-sex marriage. She claims marriage hasn’t historically been between one man and one woman, but it took all of six minutes for me to flip through Paul’s first letter to the people at Corinth to find in the seventh chapter of his letter, “every man should have his own wife, and every woman her own husband.” That’s something he wrote in the first century, which to me makes one man, one woman marriage pretty historical.

Lord knows the Catholic Church through the ages wasn’t perfect, that abuses occurred, that religion was used for power by some. But Gilbert misses the point when she charges that churches are trying to “rule” when it comes to defining marriage; rather, churches and church leadership are working extremely hard to inform, advise and help society see the wisdom of one man and one woman as a relationship expressed by the word marriage, and that it is so much more than just a commitment.

Gilbert seems to get that when she finally works her way — painstakingly for the reader through her personal journey — to the contribution of a community to marriage.  There is a “collective accountability” about marriage that is supportive. As Gilbert puts it, “Maybe all our marriages must be linked to each other somehow, woven on a larger social loom, in order to endure.”

She seems to get it, too, when she makes the connection that a person can be happy in marriage because they know they are indispensable to somebody else’s life, because they have a partner, because they are building something together, something they both believe in.

Then she goes and ruins it again by male bashing — which I suppose an author is supposed to do in order to be published by someone like Viking and make it with the in crowd. Men, the claim goes, get more out of marriage than women do. What a one-sided, pessimistic point of view!

The world is bigger than Gilbert’s world

Perhaps it’s that attitude about “Committed” that bugged me the most. This is a writer who is so into her own world — her own issues — that’s she’s pulled together a bunch of research to fit her own views.

She’s ignorant of the views of one helluva lot of other people and makes leaps of judgement about the rightness of her own views.

My journalism professors in college would have graded work like “Committed” a “D” at best, marking it up in red with the questions, “Why so few sources?” and “Where’s your attribution?”

The single piece she writes that hit home was her analysis of the result of the intimacy of a long marriage: “It causes us to inherit and trade each other’s stories. This, in part, is how we become annexes of each other, trellises on which each other’s biography can grow.”

Other than that, isn’t until page 214 that Gilbert gives readers much of value when she quotes true experts on marriage — John Gottman and Julie Schwartz-Gottman — about conflict resolution.

My advice? Google Gottman and you’ll get good stuff on marriage from folks who one, know what they are writing about, and two, aren’t so self-absorbed as Elizabeth Gilbert. And, if you want to read a worthwhile memoir, try Patricia Hampl’s “The Florist’s Daughter.”  (see the review at http://bit.ly/cGydew) – bz

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