Sunday, February 7, 2010

Committed - Elizabeth Gilbert

I read "Eat, Pray, Love" back when it was the thing to do, and totally loved it. There was no question in my mind, when I saw that she had a new book out, but that I was going to read it, and I'm really glad I did.

Committed is a story of how, having totally failed at marriage once, it is possible to decide to try it again. I know this isn't going to resonate with everyone, but it sure resonated with me. So much of the emotional turmoil she describes is exactly what I went through. The feeling that getting married is somehow going to ruin a totally reasonable relationship, that it is going to turn you and your partner into strangers. That things will inevitably go wrong and then you're going to get dragged through the morass of divorce once again.

I learned a lot about marriage that I didn't know. Turns out that divorce used to be quite a common practice back before the Christian Church got involved in solemnizing marriages. Marriage is society's way of acknowledging that you are now a partnership, that you are taking joint responsibility for children and property. It lets you relax and know that the other person isn't going to just walk out the door on a whim. But I think that the possibility of divorce should always be there. Honestly, promising to love and be faithful to one person for the rest of your life just doesn't make any sense. People change. Situations change. Often divorce is better for everyone involved. Acknowledging this from the beginning - either formally with pre-nuptual agreements, or just informally as something that might happen but will be dealt with gracefully - goes a long way towards removing the incredible pile of guilt that often accompanies divorce.

I wish I'd had this book back when I was deciding to get married again. It would have made things easier. On the other hand, it is very reassuring that we both came to very similar conclusions and seem to have wound up in similar second relationships is both interesting and reassuring. The different cultural perspectives on marriage were totally fascinating. Having your whole community come together to do whatever it can to try and save your marriage is pretty crazy. It seems like such a fantastic idea, and yet I wouldn't want it to happen to me. And Elizabeth explained why: when women can earn enough money to support themselves, and when they can decide whether or not to have babies, they can hold out for better things in a partnership.

My favorite bit was when she interviewed a young man in a small town about their marriage customs. Everyone they know is invited, and people will often bring friends as well. This couple had over 700 people at their wedding. Each guest gave money in a small labelled envelope, and the new bride very carefully wrote down the precise sum given by each guest. This part was very important because when someone else gets married, the couple is expected to give back exactly the amount originally give them, plus interest! This means that every new couple essentially gets a loan from the community to help get them started. And the community has a vested interest in making sure the couple survives so that they can return the favor down the road.

I absolutely loved Committed, but I'm quite curious to know how other people react to it, specifically people who haven't been divorced.

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